Prove it

Jun 25, 2018

If you want to empower your millennial team members, you have to offer them choice, provide purpose, and safeguard the organizational trust.

Millennials are part of the “prove it” generation, and their trust is made of glass. No matter how uncomfortable this makes you feel as a firm leader, the millennial mindset permeates modern business, and life for that matter, in every way. Organizations should not begrudge such a paradigm shift. They should accept the new reality and use it to their advantage.

I am a person who loves quotes, in part because quotes show how timeless some shifts are in society. In his “Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence,” Tolstoy wrote, “I sit on a man’s back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back.”

I believe we can start there. Are you an organization that recognizes what the shifting needs of the millennial generation are, recognize general frustrations, promise to change them, and then do all but implement such change? For young people, this will obliterate trust. It matters very little why the change hasn’t been made. You as a leader recognized an issue, recognized the frustration, made a promise, and then did nothing.

Put another way, your words were great, your concern was appreciated, but your action was found wanting. Prove that you want to make a change by actually doing so, or you will shatter that fragile trust I mentioned earlier. To avoid doing that, try these recommendations:

  1. If you’re not going to include employees within the millennial demographic in final decisions, which is perfectly fine, assess your time and resources before asking for input. Most requests for input will solicit a response that has an expectation of execution attached to it. Token requests are not enough; it is better to not ask for input at all if it consistently appears that inclusion is a nuisance or a mere formality.
  2. Become comfortable with the chaos that choice brings. Choice is needed if you want to truly get the best out of our generation. It is my experience that leaders who label our generation lazy tend to be leaders who are the least adaptable operationally, the least able or willing to communicate up and down the organizational chart, and the least capable of gathering consensus in an organization. “Because that’s how it’s been done” and “Because I said so” are sometimes truly the response employees need to hear and that must be accepted. But the frivolous use of these phrases or approaches will drive down efficiency, retention, growth, and scalability. Choice, even though it can be messy, opens up endless possibilities.
  3. Last and possibly the most important, is path and purpose. It is imperative for young people to know the path and thus the purpose of not only their place in an organization, but also the organization’s place in its industry. If you don’t know these things, you will die a slow death. This takes thoughtfulness, a unique awareness of all personnel, and a clear-eyed view of what the firm’s ultimate goal is. It should be clear how the firm will get to its goal, what are the check points along the way to reinforce that the organization is going in the right direction, and how all individuals and teams play a part in that organizational journey.

These three recommendations, which I will talk about in more depth moving forward, are not just about making life with millennials easier. They also happen to light the path for today’s organizations in a rapidly changing and hyper-competitive business landscape.

Brenden Sherrer is a consultant with Zweig Group’s M&A services. He can be reached at

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.