Published: May 18, 2016
A few years ago, I was in a meeting with several recruiters and HR personnel at a big Wall Street bank. The employees at the bank (which will go unnamed) openly expressed frustration with their inability to communicate with young job candidates—so-called millennials. At the time, I was surprised at how candid the bank was about its lack of understanding of how to connect with the younger generation. And, in hindsight, I'm impressed with its foresight, because being able to communicate effectively with the generation that makes up more than 50 percent of the U.S. workforce is now seen as essential to economic success.
Enter the intergenerational consultant, the millennial consultant, the millennial expert. No matter what you call them, they are here, here for hire, and they don't work for raw cashews.
Intergenerational consulting barely existed a few years ago, but these are boom times. Source Global Research, which tracks the consulting market, estimates that U.S. organizations spent between $60 million to $70 million on generational consulting last year. More than 400 LinkedIn users globally list themselves as a “millennial expert” or “millennial consultant.”
Apparently, you don't even have to be a millennial to be a millennial expert. You can be a slacker, or even a boomer.
Consider Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, ages 73 and 72, respectively. Together, the principals of Mike & Morley LLC have written three books about managing young workers and counsel organizations such as commercial-production firm Furlined LLC and the University of Washington in strategies for engaging young adults.
“We want older generations to understand this young generation, and not make the mistake of ignoring or resisting their influence,” Mr. Winograd says in a promotional video on the duo’s website, mikeandmorley.com.
But having a millennial on your consulting team might be a good idea. And keeping it in the family is another tactic that's worked well for at least one millennial expert firm.
Lisa McLeod, a 52-year-old independent consultant, has addressed Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other companies about engaging young workers, and boasts a millennial of her own, her daughter Elizabeth, age 23. The elder Ms. McLeod typically charges up to $25,000 for a keynote address; booking the Atlanta mother-daughter pair costs $30,000 ...
“All my friends have been wowed by foosball tables and all these benefits” some startups offer, the younger Ms. McLeod said, “but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty and everyone hates their job, no one cares about foosball tables.”
Indeed, forget the foosball tables and backyard fisheries. Instead, concentrate on fewer workdays, cronuts, and, of course, cracking a joke or two in front of the whole company before you reveal annual results.
Mr. Schawbel, a partner and research director at Future Workplace, an executive-development firm, said he advised managers at the Greenwood Village, Colo., burger chain to let corporate employees set flexible schedules. The company now allows corporate employees to take Friday afternoons off, and banned Friday meetings …
Mr. Schawbel said he also advised Red Robin to make its executives more visible. Chief Executive Stephen Carley now brings doughnuts or bagels into the office at least once a quarter and personally hands them out to employees, Ms. Cooney said.
Hmm, I'm having a hard time picturing CEOs hand-delivering vegan muffins to their staffs. Or envisioning them saying "Knock knock …" at firm-wide meetings.
Quarterly town-hall meetings also got a millennial-friendly makeover, moving from the company offices to Comedy Works, a local club, said Ms. Cooney. Executives take turns at an open mic on stage, peppering financial updates with gift-card giveaways, jokes and individual praise for employees seated at cocktail tables.
Beware, you can go too far in trying to satisfy millennials' needs, as Tony Kender, senior vice president for Oracle’s Global Cloud Human Capital Management unit, recently found out.
[He] granted a junior employee a three-month leave of absence to accompany a friend to a snowboarding competition. Mr. Kender said he deliberated about whether to allow the leave, but decided it wouldn’t hurt the employee’s ability to do his job long-term.
The employee never returned. Mr. Kender was frustrated. “There’s no playbook for this,” he said.
Indeed there's not. Which is why Oracle hired an intergenerational consultant to help it navigate the needs of its snowboarding foosball-playing millennial employees.
Companies’ ideas about millennials often are wrong, said Jessica Kriegel, who has a doctorate in education. Though she describes generational consulting as “a complete racket,” Oracle hired the 32-year-old in part to train managers and executives in communicating effectively with young workers.
Racket or not, perhaps there's something to this millennial consulting. Oracle's stock has risen 8 percent year to date.
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