The overwhelming question in the business world is how to motivate a generation that seems "impossible to motivate."


Companies go to great lengths to make things seem "Millennial-friendly." They put inspiring quotes around the office that say things like, Can't nobody hold you down. They put a coffee bar in the front lounge, with a barista and hip-hop playing from the speakers. They bring out a keg on Friday's at 3 p.m. They allow for extended lunch breaks. They do their best to create a "cool, hip" environment so that Millennials, or better yet, just young people in general, don't feel like work is really "work."

Can I let you in on a little Millennial-secret here?

Work will always be, on some fundamental level, work. And no amount of Friday kegs or chalkboards with motivational phrases written all over them will change that.

Now, that is not to say that those things don't certainly make work more enjoyable, and fun, and even instill the beginnings of a "culture." But they are a petty way of instilling true motivation within a person--and you know that.

Those things are just different versions of a carrot-on-a-stick.

Leaders, do you really want to motivate a young person?

Do you want that 22 year old you just hired to give you their all?

Then you need to give your all to them--and that doesn't mean just providing them with a paycheck. They can get that anywhere.

What you need to do is ask them this question:

What is your dream?

Can you see their eyes widen? When was the last time someone asked them that? Surely not their parents, who are trying to make sure they leave the nest with a nice, safe job under their feet. Surely not their teachers--they are long graduated. Surely not their friends, all of them faced with the same uncertainties of life, unconcerned with their ethereal "dreams" (until enough time has passed that Dreams no longer exist).

Ask that new employee of yours what their dream is--and actually listen.

Listen to them talk about wanting to travel the world. Listen to them shyly open up about their love for guitar, or painting. Listen to their app idea, or their desire to become an actor or actress. Listen to the way they talk about having a family one day, about wanting to start their own company, or just do really great work as often as they can.

Listen, and then say to them, "I will do whatever I can to help you make that dream come true."

Treat them like a friend, not an employee.

Because think about it: Are they going to work for you forever? No--or at least, highly unlikely forever. Is it really that difficult for you to take ten minutes every once in a while and check in with them, and ask them about that dream? Ask them what they're doing to work toward it? Ask them if there's anything you can do to help? No. It's actually extremely minimal compared to the amount of time you would otherwise spend trying to motivate someone you barely know with fleeting office frills.

Motivational quotes on the wall don't build culture. Office trips to the bowling alley don't build culture. Drinks with the team or Monday morning donuts don't build culture. Those things create the opportunity for culture to be built--and real culture is formed through the understanding of one another.

We are all human. We all have our own dreams, aspirations, hopes and ambitions.

If you call yourself a leader, then stop acting like a task master. Lead the person. Lead them in the same way you would want to be led. Ask them what their dream is, hear them, and even if what you hired them to do has no direct correlation--digital marketing and acting, for example--then help them see the bigger life lessons. Point out the opportunities to learn, and be a sounding board for them.

Remind them of their dream.

Help them work toward it.

And they will work harder for you than they would for any single other person.


Because to them, you are much more than just an employer.

You are a mentor.

You are a true leader.