Millennials. You can't work with them, and you can't work without them. So what's a business owner to do? Stop aiding and abetting them. That's right. Forget about perks--those are like Christmas gifts to spoiled children, interesting for a few hours when the box is unwrapped, then easily forgotten a few days later. Forget about dreaming up ways to help them feel implicated in a bigger more important cause than the tasks at hand--they'll just engage until they realize making a difference requires a lot of hard work, rather than just a few posts on social media. Forget about creating mentor programs so they can brag about having access to the top people at your company only to fail to make use of it. If you really want to help millennials become successful, there is only one thing you can do. Stop answering their questions.

Why? Because doing so will not only teach them important behaviors that their over-protective parents, over-indulgent schools, and undemanding university programs have failed to inculcate in them, but also because it will unleash their true potential. Millennials do want to contribute, they do want to do things that matter, and they do want to find value in their work. They just don't know how, because they have not learned to seek. They are used to having everything served to them--from allowances to grades, from opportunities to experiences.

Millennials start out every activity with one goal--getting on to the next. When an obstacle arises that keeps them from moving forward, their instinct is to ask someone else--not for help so they can do it themselves the next time, but for the answer, so they can press onward. Their questions are the equivalent of "googling". They want the answer, but they don't really care about the research that goes into providing that answer.

Our best defense as business owners (and members of society) is to force them to learn the process for getting answers to questions. We must show them that a quick answer has far less value than a complete one,that doing the research is not merely a means to an end, but a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. We must help them to see that answers may change, but the process by which we arrive at them is timeless. We must make them understand that an answer given is not the same as an answer earned. We must inspire them to dig, to discern, to investigate, to study, to examine, to scrutinize.

The only way to do this is to stop handing them the answers to their questions. That doesn't mean don't train them for the race, but it does mean that once you have gotten them to the starting gate, don't show them the shortcuts, don't let them skip a lap, and don't allow them to quit until they get themselves across the finish line--even if it takes them longer than anticipated, even if they grow frustrated, and even if they want to give up. This can be as aggravating for a business owner pressed to get something done as it can be for a millennial who just wants to get something off her to do list, but we must ignore the temporary discomfort, for our employee will learn invaluable life skills, and our businesses will be the stronger for it. As the old proverb goes: "give a man a fish and he will eat for a day--teach him how to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime". Millennial employees may think you're mean in the moment, but they will thank you for your stubborn insistence on self-reliance for the rest of their careers.

Published on: Mar 14, 2017
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