In college, which was longer ago at this point than I'd care to admit, I was an English and Philosophy double major. I spent many of my waking hours reading as a result. Though I was often burning the midnight candle and trying to absorb all the weekly text I had procrastinated getting around to, I loved it (well maybe a love-hate kind of deal). Often, I found myself fully immersed in a book or two in the peaceful hours of 3 am to 5 am in my apartment common space. The couch was uncomfortable and scratchy and the reading was dense, but the power of expanding my mind and becoming immersed in the story made it all seem worth it. Five years later, as a millennial in the swing of my career, I’ve fallen out of a pattern of reading that once sustained me. When I’m home from work, my pupils are often tired from staring at the glow of a laptop screen all day long – comes with the territory in marketing.
While I’ve taken a reading hiatus due to fatigue, I have long felt the void of absorbing stories or ideas. To fill the void, I’ve started listening to Podcasts on my daily commutes. One that I’m particularly fond of is called “99% invisible”, which aims to teach curious minds about the small stuff - the details of life, design, and the world that we overlook consistently. The producers and host find a vast array of things that we take for granted and weave tales of their origins and significance – such as the history of skateboarding, which was invented and made cool by a bunch of surfers in California who used empty pools in a time of drought. They'd then attach wheels to wooden boards to mimic surfing on days where they were unable to catch a wave. Another was about “desire paths” and how architects have historically studied the way people desire travel from point A to Point B using methods like observing footprints in the snow. If you’d like to check out some episodes they’re free: http://99percentinvisible.org/about/the-show/
Rediscovering the power of storytelling
Enthralled by learning once again through these podcasts, I’ve started talking about them with friends and peers only to discover that many of them are doing the same thing – learning through listening. Learning through stories. You see, what 99% invisible does so well, is that it takes something “everyday” and turns it into something captivating. A story with a challenge, a turning-point, emotions, failures, triumphs. You see, stories have been our most effective way of passing along information, since as far back as we can remember. Storytelling, in fact, is probably one of the oldest professions known to man. While it looks a little different today, with modern technology, it is important for us to remember that people prefer to learn through stories. When you tell a story, people are engaged and they absorb not only the message, but often feel more connected to the storyteller. They're humanizing.
Today’s millennial workforce, I’d argue, is thirsting to hear your leadership stories more than ever:
- They want to connect to the mission and purpose of the organization or project they’re a part of. We know through research on executive presence that one of the most effective ways to communicate a vision or strategy is to tell stories. People connect to stories. They remember the point, and they remember you. Millennials want to hear why your company has a heart and soul. What you want the culture of your workplace to look like. How their project is going to make an impact on the company and the larger local, national, or even global community.
- They appreciate mentoring. We know through negative stereotypes circulated through the media that Millennials were raised by “helicopter parenting”. The more positive spin is that, Millennials are close to their parents and grandparents. They are used to getting advice, wisdom, and guidance. They want to feel connected to people. As a leader, you can’t sit down with each of your employees on a day-to-day basis. But you can connect with them through stories. We often suggest to our clients that they should practice telling stories in meetings, videos, and even emails. You’d be surprised at how much more powerful a message will seem after 3 sentences of colorful context.
- They want to create positive change in the workplace and the world. If you can connect your business goals or mission to a larger social purpose, you have a much better chance at retaining these young workers. We all know retention is a significant issue plaguing leaders across the globe regarding this generation. Recently I watched a great TED talk that suggested that we often think that big problems call for expensive solutions. We want the price to be proportional to the issue, when in fact this often isn’t the case. Storytelling and thoughtful communication, have the potential to solve a lot of the retention problems, with little cost except for your time and energy. Why should Millennials, or anyone for that matter, stay on your team? If you can’t tell someone the answer to that, it’s probably a good question to tackle.
As you think about how you’d like to tell your story, give some consideration to how you will share the message. Storytelling has evolved with technology. Video is a wonderful way to reach a global audience. Keep blog posts short, and color your messages with pictures, charts, and graphics. You may also want to consider webinars, podcasts, and social media as interesting platforms for communicating with your external audience as well as your internal company.
Learning more about leading Millennials in the workplace
We’re excited to announce that our team has just launching a survey where we're asking Millennials about the future of the workplace. We ask Millennials what their career goals are, how they can best be retained, what kinds of companies they want to work for, and what kinds of leaders they’d like to follow. But this isn't just about Millennials what we're trying to discover is what the future of the workplace looks like and how we can best lead the talented multi-generational teams of tomorrow. If you’re leading Millennials, or you are one, and you’d like to participate in the survey, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or take it here: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3575950/Future-of-the-workplace-survey