By Matt Mayes
Last year in a conversation with one of our college interns, the discussion turned to politics. While we all know it’s not advisable to discuss politics in the workplace, it’s not an a-typical part of the corporate culture at our small, 12 employee food manufacturing company. The topic was Bernie Sanders and our intern carried on about how much she liked him. What she liked was his position on free health care and free education for all. “Feel the Bern,” she chanted! While disagreeing with many of her economic views and offering an opposing view, I admired her positive attitude, enthusiasm, and idealistic hope for the future. Regardless of our opposing political stances, the traits she demonstrated during her passionate discussions of politics are important attributes I look for every time we interview a possible employee. This Millennial generation has a set of unique, and at times distinct, personal characteristics of individualistic expression, social awareness and minimalism that sets them apart from previous generations.
What is a Millennial? These young adults range in age from 15 to 35 years of age and have been labeled by many of my Generation X and older peers as lazy, lacking in respect for authority, lacking employer loyalty (some suggest Millennials will change jobs 16 times before they retire), and constantly seeking instant gratification. While this might be one view of our country’s next generation of leaders, I see it differently.
My personal exposure to the dozen or so Millennial interns I have worked with has lead me to see a wealth of value in these young men and women. While this viewpoint may seem unconventional, there is tremendous upside in this subset of young people. They are extremely talented, have flexibility both in their mindset and life, are socially aware, passionate for a good cause, and not necessarily driven by financial success; but rather, are driven by productive sustainability. Here’s why these personal attributes work within our small business model.
I see this generation can take on multiple projects with ease and requires little instruction or hand holding. As a small growing company, we are forced to do more with less and we welcome a workforce that is willing and able to take on a variety of tasks – no matter what the physical or mental requirements. These tasks include performing physical inventory, working on the production line, creating marketing presentations, working a trade show, or completing customer new item forms. All these are value added activities, and for a small company where resources are tight the Millennials take it in stride. Here’s a clear example of flexibility where there’s no specific job description – they are thinking and acting outside the box. Working multiple projects in a fast paced environment seems well suited for this generation. However, being flexible goes both ways: If a successful outcome does not occur in the timeline provided, they may need help to move on to the next project, perhaps in a different department all together.
Working for a Cause
It appears this socially aware generation is more interested in finding a purpose rather than just showing up for a paycheck. I am “Generation X,” and grew up in the Bud Fox, Wall Street era where “Greed is Good,” and money, social trappings, and status were everything. Outside of making the quarterly number, I could not begin to remember the mission statement for the investment management company I worked for right out of college.
This generation is different. I see discernment and desire to truly find purpose in life, and making money is not priority one. We have a mission statement, “To offer healthy food products that are Convenient, Tasty, and Affordable.” This simple motto resonates with all the Millennials that have worked for us. It’s powerful to see these 20 something’s not only know the company’s mission, but to communicate it eloquently at trade shows to perspective buyers, clients, or business partners. Ask yourself: Does your company have a cause and a purpose? Do all your employees know and understand it?
This generation has benefited greatly from technological advances made over the past 20 years: Millennials were practically birthed with a smart phone in their hands and Mac’s on their desks at home or school. This “Tech Osmosis” has allowed them to enter the workforce ready to add value. Activities such as marketing, advertising, and brand development are expensive to outsource and hard to justify for a small business. Yet, today’s college graduate has a foundation for this type of work as part of their daily social interaction, and they cost less to employ.
Making it Work
Overall, hiring Millennials has been a positive and productive experience. We have found success in moving interns around through different departments, and placing them where the work is, versus placing them in the department closely related to their major. We recently hired an accounting major to help the controller create a “walk forward” monthly statement laying out the detail of all activities tied to the prior month’s inventory. After several weeks on the job, we determined together, it was not the best fit for her and moved her onto a completely different area where she did a fine job.
Placing interns or even new hires in a static environment without opportunity for growth or creative expansion is not recommended. Keep it fluid, fast paced, and drive home the “purpose.”
In a larger more traditional corporate structure, where resources are more readily available, companies can create integrated programs, flattened structures or teams that rotate between departments. By harnessing the essence of the Millennial, many companies will benefit and will be pleasantly surprised from this youthful generation.
Matt Mayes is the President of San Antonio-based MaGi Foods. MaGi Foods manufactures products under the Louisiana Purchase and Kathleen’s brand names. www.magifoods.com