During the last month, hundreds of thousands of our nation’s college graduates have proudly crossed the chasm between college and the working world. With 21.9 million Americans either unemployed or underemployed and plenty of doting parents, mentors, and siblings dispensing advice on what they should and shouldn’t do, I thought I’d take the road less traveled. I propose we spend less time debating whether Millennials are slackers or savants and focus instead on how we as entrepreneurs and business leaders can adapt our companies to attract millennials. The way in which people work has changed forever, and those of us who don’t adapt will be left in the dust when competing for top talent.

The problem we OWGs (Old White Guys--that’s what they call us) have is that we built our companies’ cultures around the things that motivated our generation: money, career progression, and retirement plans. The Millennial generation has an entirely different consideration set for motivation, and given that they already comprise more of the workforce than GenXers and Baby Boomers, we need to invest time, money, and energy into creating workplaces that Millennial employees will love.

Here are a few considerations that I hope will help each of us to design and deliver a workplace that fits the way employees operate in the 21st century, and which will allow us to attract, connect, engage, and delight Millennial workers and optimize our company cultures for productivity, engagement, and results:

Money vs. Mission

What we wanted: When most of us graduated from college, we wanted a steady job that paid well.

What they want: This new crop of employees is far more motivated by their mission than by the money they make. They want to transform a broken industry, save the planet, feed the starving, etc.

What to do: If your mission this year is to improve earnings by 5% by either gouging your customers or gouging the planet, that’s just not going to get it done with the Millennials. Think again.


What we did: Our generation worked diligently for our boss in hopes of being tapped on the shoulder one day to move up the next step on the almighty ladder. We typically stayed at a company for more than seven years. If we had a collective psychological condition, it would be OCD.

What they do: This new generation works diligently in hopes of learning as much as possible and moving on to the next challenging project. They typically stay at a company for 1.5 years. If they had a collective psychological condition, it would be ADD.

What to do: Lean into the ADD by creating formal rotation programs, innovative leading-edge training programs like the one at Zappos, and work environments that leverage social media interactions instead of discouraging them, and you’ll see these Millennials become just as loyal as we were “back in the day.”

Place v. Idea

How we thought: We thought of the office a place you went from 9am to 6pm, had four grey walls, and was someplace you took vacation from three weeks out of the year.

What they think: For the new generation, the office is an “idea” that you work at whatever hours seem natural, wherever you are the most productive. The idea of vacation is (unfortunately) antiquated when you are carrying around a phone with more power than the Apollo space mission had.

What to do: Get rid of all offices, including yours, and let everyone work in an open space to foster collaboration. Get rid of any rules around hours in the office (except for call centers and stuff like that), and eliminate your antiquated vacation policy. Let them take “vacation” whenever they want.

Rules v. Judgment

How we learned: In our day, we were handed a guidebook on our first day on the job and told to read it. The rules punished the many for the mistakes of the few.

How they learn: These Millennials don’t like rules. They have an unquenchable desire to be treated like adults.

What to do: Throw out your employee handbook and start from scratch. Replace as many rules as possible with this simple guideline: “Use good judgment.”

Only 30% of the Fortune 1000 companies in 2003 will remain on the list in 2013. Why? Well, it turns out that we really are living in an age of massive change - it’s not just a platitude. If your company can transform the way it operates to match the way these new workers think, live, and work, you will reap the rewards. If your company is stuck in the ‘90’s and doesn’t make the shift, you will have to deal with a continuing rotating door of Millennial employees.