Whenever someone hears those words used in the same sentence, chances are they are referring to a Millennial. Unless of course, they are talking about an entitled coworker who is trying to eat a spoiled avocado sandwich. Stereotypes of this magnitude usually arise after behavior is associated with a group. The unfortunate thing is, stereotypes with generations have some truth to them. In that case, it’s important to know how to leverage stereotypes without offending and ostracizing employees in the workplace.
When I first started speaking about Millennials, I chose to stay away from using stereotypes because biologically, Millennials are mere identical to previous generations. There are more similarities than differences so why bother? Well, looking closer at trends and shifts that are happening with technology and workplace preferences, considerable changes are taking place. Rather, it being more about the genetic predisposition, it’s an environmental difference. Simply, someone in that environmental circumstance encompassing, political, financial, parental, and sociological changes, produces someone with different preferences.
Therefore, when confronted with a stat or rather stereotype that states:
90% of Millennials prefer Black Roasted Coffee on Monday mornings.
How do you leverage this knowledge without finding yourself on social media? The answer starts from knowing the difference between systems and individuals.
Systems and Individuals
When addressing the workforce, you have individuals that make up a company. The way that you address those individuals at large is the system. For instance, handling HR surveys is a way to handle the system to understand the individuals in there. And if you were to take the survey data and apply it to the individual, what would happen? Well, there would be a percentage that you are wrong because more often than not, a stat does not apply to 100% of the workplace.
In order to overcome the percentage that you will be wrong when applying data, addressing an each individual independent of the data is needed. A good way to visualize what this looks like within a company is the diagram below:
Individuals Within the System
Each individual person in the company has their own unique preferences and ways about doing work. However, they must act within the rules and policies that the company has. Each person with their unique history that cannot be catered to 100%, however, if a manager is to work effectively with an individual, they must see that person outside of the system itself. That is, with all of the data that the company has of their employees, the manager must recognize the individual outside of the system. That means not relying on data in one on one interactions.
System within the Company
A system within the company could be the marketing data, internal communication strategy, or even work from home policies. It is essentially the structure that the individuals work in. However, in order to create an effective system, collecting data must be collected internally whether qualitative or quantitative.
The tricky aspect to working within the system is knowing that the individuals are not the system, yet the system is created to make the individuals work as effectively as possible. A poor system will help only a small portion of the employees while a highly effective system will assist the majority. Therefore, a highly accurate system will make it easier to get confused between individual and the system.
From Theory to Implementation
To reflect on the example above, say there is a HR event planner who is preparing a kick off celebration for all of the new hires (mostly if not all Millennials). When reading this stat, how would someone react if they approached a Millennial who is not drinking the coffee and say, wow you are a Millennial, why aren’t you drinking black roasted coffee? The Millennial, understandably, would assume that they are being stereotyped. Hence, using this data for the individual is not effective. In this case, one should resort to leveraging this data for the system. Simply 90% of the coffee to buy, make it black roasted.
While this stat may apply to all Millennials and not the entire company, it would be better not to drag this data into individual interactions unless you want someone complaining on Twitter. I hope that helps shed some light on the effective use of data. It is often a political charged topic and my goal is to ensure that you can navigate this terrain effectively.
Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.