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Sunday, August 30, 2009


Lisa Orrell - Millennials Incorporated - Author interview

Lisa Orrell, The Generation Relations Expert, took some time to discuss her insightful book Millennials Incorporated, 2nd Edition: The Big Business of Recruiting, Managing and Retaining the World's New Generation of Young Professionals, and her ideas and research into the fast rising Millennial Generation. Thanks to Lisa for taking the time to provide this valuable information on the impact of the Millennial Generation in the workplace.

You are President and founder of The Orrell Group, located in San Jose, California. Can you tell our readers about your work?

Lisa Orrell: I’m known as the “Generation Relations Expert”, and I’m a speaker/consultant hired by well-known organizations to educate their executive leaders and management teams on how to better recruit, manage and retain Millennial talent. And, I also conduct seminars, workshops and keynotes that improve generation relations, thus increasing team building, morale, productivity, retention and revenue.

How did you gain your expertise in the Millennial and Generations area?

Lisa Orrell: I’ve owned a marketing agency in Silicon Valley for 19 years and that has forced me to stay current on trends that affect business and branding. I started following the “Millennial” demographic a few years ago from a marketing perspective, but when HR-related professionals, and management teams from all departments, heard I knew about this new generation entering the workforce, I started getting a lot of inquiries for information.

It was then that I decided to write my book about them and that lead to starting my professional speaking and consulting business, The Orrell Group. This is now totally separate from my “marketing life” and I’m very passionate about it. I’m at a point where very little of my time is spent on the day-to-day operations of my marketing agency because the demand for my expertise around Millennials and generation relations has grown so much over the past year.

Plus, this area is really where my professional interest is. I love writing books, articles, conducting seminars, speaking at events, and consulting with companies about improving their generation relations. Everything I do around this topic is geared to improve recruiting and retention of ALL employees, and many companies need this help.

Your expertise has also attracted a lot of media interviews for you. Can you give us a snapshot of the coverage you’ve received?

Lisa Orrell: Sure! I’ve appeared on ABC, MSNBC and NPR, and my commentary and articles have been featured in tons of blogs, magazines and newspapers, but a short list includes: WSJ.com, Human Resource Executive, HR.com, FoxBusiness.com, BNET.com, Universum Trainee Guides for Europe, Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, and China’s Her World magazine.

What is the official/unofficial definition of a Millennial Employee?

Lisa Orrell: Millennials were born close to 1982 and their end-date is around 2002. Their parents are typically from the Boomer generation or are “older” members of Generation Jones.

Why are Millennials suddenly such a hot commodity in the business world?

Lisa Orrell: Our country has a “perfect storm” developing in our workforce. One issue is the Boomer Brain Drain that is starting to happen. The average large company in the US will be losing 30-40% of its employees over the next 5-15 years due to Boomer’s retiring. The second issue is that our birth rate is declining so we’re facing a shortage of around 40 million skilled workers in the US over the next 2-3 decades. Add to that the fact that many students who come here from abroad for a college education are now choosing to go back to their homelands after graduation to start their careers and families there. Places like China and India are much more desirable to live in than they used to be, and their 20-somethings who come here for college are very happy returning “home” to live. Therefore, the US doesn’t get the benefit of them staying here to work as much as we used to.

If you take those 3 big points into consideration, you can see why companies are spending millions of dollars on how to successfully recruit and retain Millennials. US-based companies need them to maintain current and future growth levels, and to remain competitive globally. AND our country as a whole needs them for the same reasons; growth and productivity.

What are some key Millennial traits all employers should know?

Lisa Orrell: They have a strong work ethic (they just want to do it differently than older generations), they are friendly and polite, they are a success-oriented, but they are also high maintenance. The sooner employers accept that last point and make adjustments, the better they’ll do with their Millennial employees. But any company or manager who thinks Millennials will adapt to their “culture”, if it’s not Millennial-friendly, will suffer a high turnover rate. Again, they are less tolerant than generations before them.

There seems to be a growing trend where employers are advertising Senior-level jobs but offering Junior-title pay. How will this "trend" affect Millennials with limited work experience?

Lisa Orrell: I think with the Boomers retiring, we’ll see more Millennials getting “bigger” titles faster because there are not enough Gen Xers to fill all the positions that will become vacant, and/or they’re not all the best candidates for the positions. Plus, some companies are changing their corporate policies pertaining to advancement to give the promotion to whoever deserves it; not based on who as been there the longest.

With the current growth and demographics trends, Millennials will find themselves moving up into leadership roles faster than the generations before them did. That’s why I’m also a Certified Leadership Coach, focused on coaching Gen Y employees into leadership, and have my new book coming out this fall targeted at helping Millennials become effective leaders at work.

I’ve also created a 2-phased workshop with Camille Smith, a 25-year executive coach, that is targeted at both employers/managers and the Millennial employees. It’s called “Transitioning to Leadership: How to Effectively Move Gen Y Into Leadership Roles”. It’s focused on how employers can support/groom their Millennials in moving up the ladder and also teaches/coaches Millennials how to be good leaders.

How will the Millennial influx into business environments shake up corporate cultures?

Lisa Orrell: This also could be a very long answer, but here’s the basic overview: Companies are spending millions of dollars to drastically change their cultures to better attract and retain Millennials. I have clients who have wiped out entire floors of cubicles to create “open” work environments that better suit how Millennials like to communicate. And I know of big, stodgy law firms that now have “Fun Friday’s” where everyone meets in the afternoon to bbq and drink beer.

There are other companies that have never had a policy where people can work from home, but now they do (even if it’s just 1-2 days per week). The list goes on and on, but all the changes being made have been in the past 1-3 years and it’s because the Millennials have started to arrive in professional work environments.

And, quite honestly, the smart companies are open to learning about them and to making adjustments for them. The good news is that a majority of the changes being made benefit everyone at the company; not just the Millennials.

Lisa Orrell (photo left)

What are some tactics companies are using to attract Millennial employees?

Lisa Orrell: To some it may sound like common sense, but I conduct seminars all the time for companies who “know” this stuff but haven’t implemented any of it. Or, they have no idea “what to do” there. But when you have 85% of students on FaceBook, get on FaceBook! I also have clients who are creative with how to have a company presence on YouTube and MySpace. This is where Gen Y “hangs out”…online! If you are simply relying on your company website to “attract” them you are totally missing the boat.

I give a lot of great examples in my book, but a few other tactics for employers to be aware of is look into a presence on SecondLife and CareerTV.com.

There are tons of things employers can do to have a much bigger presence online to attract talent, but they are not doing them. My advice to your readers is to put together an internal task force of multigenerational employees and brainstorm ideas together. And then have a Millennial employee execute them!

What are a few hot buttons companies should push for recruiting Millennials?

Lisa Orrell: Any employer who is not saying/offering the following things are also missing the boat with Gen Y: We offer a great mentoring program; we respect and support your desire for work-life balance; we offer a fun environment; and we have a solid program for fostering your growth and advancement.

Those are just a few but will give your readers something to think about. I offer a ton of other tips and examples in my seminars and in my book. I’ll end this answer by saying that I have clients who have changed their company cultures pretty drastically to make these promises a “reality” and they have found it very beneficial.

What are some key strategies that companies need to consider for retaining Millennials?

Lisa Orrell: This really maps-back to the hot buttons for recruiting them. You can promise the moon in your recruiting and interviewing process but if an employer doesn’t deliver them, Millennials will leave. And, they’ll go online and tell all their cyber-buddies that your company is not a very good place to work.

I had one client who suffered a huge decline in resumes from college grads, and it’s because a large amount of Millennials had left and talked about “why” online. They weren’t saying anything slanderous and they didn’t mention managers’ names, but they simply talked about how this company wasn’t Millennial-friendly. This client then had to do some serious “damage control” through a PR campaign to basically let the 20-somethings of the world know they had made changes and really welcomed Millennials and “knew how to keep them happy”.

Can you share a few key tips for Managers that will be supervising Millennial employees?

Lisa Orrell: A recent study of Millennial professionals revealed that over 60% surveyed want communication with their manager ONCE A DAY. So the pressure on front-line managers (typicallu Gen X or Gen Jones) is bigger than ever before. If the Millennials don’t like their manager, they’ll leave. Again, Millennials are not married to your brand like older generations were; their connection to the company is with the personal relationships they build within the company.

Your brand may be what attracted Millennials to you or made them interested in your job offer, but your brand won’t retain them. This is a very different belief system than older generations had when they started working. Boomers were raised being told “just be happy you have a job, and stay there as long as you can even if you hate it”.

Also, managers and companies need to know rewards and recognition with this generation is bigger than ever before. Lack of rewards and recognition is the #1 reason ANY generation leaves a job, but it’s a much bigger deal for Millennials. If they are not feeling valued and respected quickly, they’ll leave fast–much faster than generations before them.

I tell clients that if you can’t get formal company-wide rewards and recognition programs in place, then department managers need to create their own. And, no, quarterly/annual reviews with raises aren’t what I’m referring to. I’m talking about programs where people get “rewarded” weekly/monthly. It can be something as simple as a “thank you” note or a special “great job statue” that is given to a new employee weekly, but you need something to show them you “value” them.

In your opinion, how do you think Millennials will influence the professional workforce of the future?

Lisa Orrell: I think they’ll do wonderful things to corporate cultures as they reach decision-making positions. I believe they will improve how people communicate (in-person and through technology); how they respect co-workers; and how they foster team-building within departments. Millennials are very much a generation who are into “group” effort and they like collaborative work environments.

I truly think they will transform business environments to be more desirable as they move up the ladder and reach positions where their opinions are taken more seriously.

Right now, I think a majority of companies look at them as a “challenge” because of their demands, but as they are in the work world longer, people will realize the demands they make to be “happy” in a job are things that all generations will benefit from.

Do other countries refer to them as Millennials? And are they experiencing the same challenges that US-based companies are with recruiting, managing and retaining them?

Lisa Orrell: I added a whole chapter about this in the new Second Edition of my book. And I now offer a new seminar about “Understanding Millennials Globally”, so this is something I am asked about a lot!

The short answer is that many countries are seeing similar demands from their 20-something workforces that we see in the US. Employers and managers in countries like Australia, the UK, India and many others, are also dealing with this unique generation and seeing a need to make changes in their work cultures to accommodate them. I think over time, we will be calling the Millennials the “Global Generation”. Our world really has never seen ONE generation so similar in terms of what they desire and seek from employers.

Recruiters are now supposedly having to interview potential candidates and invite their parents for a site visit or lunch before a job offer is accepted. Does this help or hurt the Millennial talent who would like to be perceived as an "independent adult?

Lisa Orrell: First off, yes, having parents attend recruiting lunches is happening. I know employers and recruiters who offer this right away because they know if they can get Mom and/or Dad to tell their adult child “This is the job you should take!” chances are good their adult child will.

I even advise clients to have “Family Days” where younger job candidates can bring their parents to the company for a tour and to meet management. Many people roll their eyes at this until I name-drop some well-known companies who are doing this…and it’s working for them!

With regards to the second part of your question, sure, there are many Millennials who find this embarrassing and would never want their parents involved in their job seeking process. BUT, clearly, many Millennials are totally fine with this parental involvement otherwise companies and recruiters wouldn’t be offering to “meet the parents”.

I know it seems odd to many Gen Xers, Gen Jonesers and Boomers (especially who don’t have kids), but this generation considers their folks as part of their social circle and they value their parent’s opinions.

In every seminar I do, I get several Boomer audience members who come up to me afterwards to tell me they have a 20-something child who they have helped decide which job offer to take.

So, again, these are suggestions I offer to employers who can choose to try them or not, but I see other companies implementing these things and getting good results.

The Millennials are here, and require some different things that employers haven’t dealt with before. But to pretend this isn’t happening is not going to serve any company well. This generation is shaking up the work world, and they’re not going away, so the smart companies will pay attention and consider making adjustments. The ones that don’t could suffer from low recruitment numbers and high turnover of their future managers and leaders.

And, as I tell my audiences of older generations, ”Millennials didn’t just hatch from pods…YOU created them! And now you have to deal with them in the work world!”

My book review of Millennials Incorporated, 2nd Edition: The Big Business of Recruiting, Managing and Retaining the World's New Generation of Young Professionals by Lisa Orrell

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