Generation Y. You know they're out there. But are you still scratching your head trying to figure out what to do about Millennials?
Accept them or not, they are here to stay. They're entering the workforce in record numbers, taking their first jobs with your companies, rising up through your leadership tracks, looking at your franchise opportunities as investments, and becoming some of the fastest-growing multi-unit owners in franchising.
Truth be told, they're even launching competitive businesses--often because they don't feel like they can grow fast enough in other companies. That should make you wonder: What messages are you sending them?
With a passive approach, you will inevitably experience Millennials and their impact. But if you see all of their potential (and yes, challenges) and instead want to harness this enormous pool of talent, nurture it, and lay a solid groundwork for the future success of your business, the time is now to start building a strategy that speaks to them.
I've been building programs and campaigns to reach Next Gen consumers and employees for some of the biggest companies in the world for two decades. Having also been raised in the franchise business, I've been thinking about the impact of this generation on the industry for a long time. Here are a few critical steps to start sketching out a Millennials strategy for your franchise.
1. Assess the scope of impact. Determine how the Next Gen most significantly affects your business--in segments (consumers, vendors, competitors, employees, industry influencers, etc.). Is the standard messaging you're sending out to each segment as relevant as it could be to this audience? Is it connecting with them? Moving them? Inspiring them to act and support you and your business?
2. Identify the Next Gen leaders in and around your company. Learn about them, study them, meet them. Try to understand what they're doing differently. What are the keys to their success? Keep an open mind about what you might find, or what norms they might be challenging. Odds are, they're employing different tactics, tools, and strategies than you are. If they're achieving different or better results, it's probably worth considering some changes yourself.
3. Create a Next Gen council, advisory, or affinity group in your company. When surveyed throughout the world, young leaders, more than anything, want a voice, a seat at the table, an opportunity to make an impact. Give them that chance and you'll be rewarded with greater loyalty, commitment, and fresh new ideas--and the gatekeepers will help you find the keys to reaching their peers.
4. Inspire and empower them. Give your younger employees and leaders, even franchisees, problems to solve. Think about your biggest challenges and ambitions and encourage them to work on solutions and strategies. Acknowledge them when they do. Be careful to clearly articulate what you expect them to achieve, but don't force the how. Coaching and mentoring are critical for Millennials, but they need room to do things their way, which is often different than yours. Try to keep an open mind. If you encounter any issues of entitlement or arrogance, give them very ambitious goals. If they fail, they'll be humbled and you can work closely to build them back up, using your tried-and-true processes. If they succeed, you've found your high potentials.
5. Look to them for innovation. Be open to the idea that your youngest employees or franchisees or customers might improve your processes. Millennials are multi-taskers who get bored easily. One of the by-products, when channeled, is that they find more efficient ways to get the same or better results, often in less time--like getting up-to-the minute sales reports or in-store security camera images sent to their iPhones for real-time reporting, or text ordering products or services. Strange as they may sound, give them some room to play with new approaches. They could be the best R&D team you've ever had.
6. Build a campaign. Long-term strategies are important, but when you're still testing the waters with this generation, try to think in terms of short-term, quick-burst, high-engagement initiatives that speak directly to them. Consider a 4- or 6-month program as a pilot. You'll build more excitement among your team, the pressure will keep people on their toes, your investment will be lower, and you'll quickly see evidence of what works and what doesn't. Then you can regroup and put more time and energy into doing it better next time. If you're unsure about what to do, bring in an expert. A marketing or PR consultant with a young staff, or a part of this demographic themselves, will no doubt have lots of ideas and insights. The right team can even help you execute the program, maybe even make it turnkey.
The beauty of these solutions and the myriad of others that can effectively help you reach and retain this generation is that you can choose what works for you, customize it, and implement it at your own pace. But don't wait too long. Once most companies start to build programs like these and see the results, they'll wonder why they hadn't started years earlier.
Jennifer Kushell is the founder of Young & Successful Media, YSN.com, and is author of the New York Times best-seller, "Secrets of the Young & Successful." A globally recognized thought leader on the next generation workforce, she speaks around the world and helps organizations and governments inspire and leverage young talent. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-822-0261.
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