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IMA Human Resources Blog

Millennials: Narrative Beware…

by Dr. Donald McNeely (Chicago Tube and Iron Co.), PHCP Pros

Chicago Tube and Iron Co. is an IMA member…

First a bit of foundation. Brand and reputation are often used interchangeably, but there are distinct differences. The brand represents how you position and present yourself to the world, while reputation is how others collectively perceive you.

Brand is the multiplier of your reputation; thus, it is powerful. It can be your differentiation from commoditization and therefore why people will pay a premium for you or your product. In effect, your differentiation is why you will be hired or promoted over another…or not!

Many millennials are now entering our great industry. Look around industry conferences and attendees are getting younger; gender diversity is getting better. This is good for the industry and also good for the millennials. Yes, we all know the baby boomers will bristle, understandably so, as the millennials self-describe themselves as being smarter than the average bear (boomer reference), having intellect without limits, and being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Further, they are, in their own minds, ready to take over our jobs in just a matter of months!

This does describe many a baby boomer. However, from my observation, the millennials that seem to be attracted to our industry are, in fact, a different group. They are responsible, they are respectful, and they are appreciative of the opportunity. Also, many of them are wise enough to reach out for mentorship from those who came before.

I spend much time with this particular age group in a classroom at Northwestern University as well as with our own organization’s High Potential Employees (HPE), which serves to elevate my confidence in our future. Our industry will be in great hands if we boomers invest the time and effort to prepare them.

To the millennials, I have two pieces of advice:

(1) Respect that which came before you, for without that history your company would not be there to have even hired you in the first place. Absent the vision of the boomers leading that company, the very organization with which you are employed would have succumbed to just another attrition statistic.

(2) There are many shortcuts in life, but the road to success isn’t one of them. Therefore, keep in check the ubiquitous work life balance refrain. You must work hard, in fact, harder than all others to be successful! Here’s the key – work your butt off at work each and every day, then go home and balance it out. It is not the company’s responsibility to balance your life.

On the other hand, to my fellow boomers, who are leading this great industry, I also have some advice:

Mentor and guide these young men and women. Keep the “when I was your age” lectures to a minimum. They don’t work. Remember, we are not leaving them our jobs, but rather turning over our life’s work to them. We want them and the organizations they lead to succeed, otherwise our life’s work could be “for naught.”

Also, the millennials don’t understand that, as they live in the shadow of our successes, was it not us who followed “the greatest generation.” Talk about pressure! By the way, we must also refrain from the fiscal responsibility lecture regarding the perils of credit card debt. After all, is it not our generation that is leaving them with $20 trillion dollars in national debt…boom! This is where our street cred begins to mitigate.

Millennials, I have a personal concern and a bit of advice for you in your journey. It is your reputation, your brand, if you will, that will be your greatest asset. First and foremost, a brand is built with consistency. Your brand is built over time, and over time your brand will become more and more valuable.  However, you have fed one another the expectation that you are to have a million jobs before your age of 35.

Okay, it’s seven jobs, but my hyperbole reminds me of my dad who used to tell me, “Idiot, I told you a million times to stop exaggerating!” In my childhood “idiot” was apparently a pronoun as well as an adjective!

If you reset your job, your employer, and your industry every three to five years, how do you ever establish a brand? How do you ever increase your value to an organization? Last semester, a graduate student reached out to me for a “coffee” to secure a bit of career advice. In our chat, he confirmed that he was happy with his employer, had three promotions in nine years, liked his boss and job, but felt pressure to leave.

“Why?” I asked!

He responded saying, “Professor, you don’t understand, in seven months I will be with my company for 10 years, and I am concerned as to how that will look on my resume?”

I wondered if he had even considered, for a moment, that he was presenting this question to a guy who had been with his company for over 40 years. Yes millennials, you have joined a great industry with outstanding mentors and opportunities. We want you to be successful; in fact, we actually like you. Often, you remind us of our early selves. Don’t buy into the job jumping mentality, for such will never allow your brand to gather traction.

Admittedly, one job or career for life is improbable, and that’s okay. After all, people change jobs in search of greater fulfillment or compensation, both of which are worthy pursuits justifying a change. I mean really, how many can hit the absolute perfect industry and specific company choice at age 22 and stay for life? While that can and does occasionally happen, today’s employee will average 12 jobs in the span of their 40-year career. Note that this is the average, thus half will have greater than 12! However, note that just as one incurs a switching cost when changing suppliers, there is a visible and not so visible switching cost when changing jobs: re-establishing brand and credibility, relaunching 401ks, incurring interim COBRA expenses, and so on.

Certainly, advisable in the right situation and for the right opportunity, but to do so over and over and over again perhaps not. If it’s deemed old fashioned to make long-term commitments, then what better way to differentiate yourself.

So, in closing, millennials, welcome to our industry! You are now a member of the industry that built our great nation. Be involved, immerse yourself, and don’t be reluctant to commit to your chosen industry and company.


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