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If you think you have a Millennial problem… you probably have a Culture Problem

by John Zettler

July 20, 2016

I’m no different than everyone else who’s out there trying to figure out who “Millennials” are and how we engage them. The difference is, I’m also still trying to figure out who Boomers are, who X’ers are, and who the next generation will be instead of suggesting that Millennials are a “challenge” that my company needs to address. Employee Engagement is such a dynamic topic that it will be a never-ending research project as to how we effectively do it. One thing I do believe is that if your company thinks you have a Millennial problem you likely don’t, you likely have a Culture problem within your organization that you’re unaware of or unwilling to address.

Here’s what I’ve found over the past several years. I’ve heard that Millennials, “need to respect the tradition, culture, working conditions and hierarchy that exists within the organization”, all of which can likely be linked to what’s made your organization successful in the first place. I agree. I’ve also heard the opposite about Millennials, “they have a lot to offer and are the future of our business, and we have a lot to learn from them.” I agree again. Well that didn’t get us anywhere!

Next, I’ve been taking notes during some of the recent workshops I’ve done, particularly the feedback I’ve received through focus groups, in sessions that we’ve held at Dale Carnegie, etc. It was here that I realized I was onto something. The messages I heard certainly didn’t paint a picture of a generation that had a jaded perspective of what it meant to be successful within an organization or the work ethic required, in fact, quite the opposite. What I did find is that at the root of all the discussions I’ve had there’s one commonality. Regardless of what generation you come from we largely want the same things for the business. The people I interviewed, largely Millennials, want their business to be successful, they are passionate about what they do, they want to be the best at what they do, and they are committed to providing the best service and solution to their clients. Does this sound like a group that we couldn’t work with? Now I think we’re getting there! And yes, I get there are anomalies to these statements.

So, my conclusion – We can debate which generation is right, which generation is wrong and ultimately never get any further, or we can focus on how to work together. The remainder of this article will be about that.

Learning how to communicate with the different generations can eliminate many major confrontations and misunderstanding’s in the workplace. In order to work better across the generations, we must first understand some of the Criteria for Successful Cross-Generational Relationships. Below are just a few to consider:









Hopefully this helps you realize that we all own a piece of collaborating and communicating more effectively amongst generations and it may require an emotional change on our part, or on the part of the organization (culture) to accomplish. Exactly how we do that now becomes the question. Below are 4 ideas for your organization to consider:

Respect the Values, Attitudes & Behaviours of Each Generation – The Pew Research Center is a think tank with a particular focus on understanding the values, attitudes and behaviors of each generation. In reading through some of the research, what it says to me is that all generations, Pre-Boomers, Boomers, X and Y are all unique and all come with their own expectations, priorities, approaches, work and communication styles. If organizations can learn to leverage these differences they might discover a competitive edge by utilizing and combining their respective talents and skills. What it requires though brings me back to a couple of Dale Carnegie Principles – “Become genuinely interested in other people” and “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s perspective”.










Overcome Your Unconscious Biases – There is no denying that we all have our preconceived notions about all generations which provides a potential for negative stereotypes. Older workers may perceive Millennials to be entitled, lacking work ethic, tech-obsessed and unwilling to put in their time, while younger workers may see the older generation as rigid and stuck in their ways, incapable of innovating or find them difficult to train. Instead of focusing on the negative, some believe these differences can actually present an opportunity at both ends of the generational spectrum. Younger workers’ enthusiasm to try new things can lead to great innovation within your organization while the older workers can leverage their experience to ensure any risks or exorbitant costs are being considered.

Create Multi-Generational Teams – The previous thought of overcoming our bias leads to the notion that we should be working together and to do so, organizations should consider creating multi-generational teams. Three things to consider in order to set these teams up for success:

1. Communication is Key – Come up with a method for how conflict will be resolved amongst your team. The conflict could be personal so in order to bring it back to rationale thought, answer these 3 questions – What do we really want right now? If that’s what we want, what would we do right now and when it really becomes about digging in and winning, ask yourself, “What’s my role in what’s happening right now?”

2. Emphasize the Similarities – We know the differences are well documented and I started the article by stating that I believe there are similarities in what the different generations want. Emphasize the similarities and common goals amongst the teams to increase morale and boost collaboration.

3. Set the Direction – Successful leaders set a vision of where they see themselves. Multi-generational teams should do the same, develop a vision for what they want to see in the short and long-term for the organization. Make sure everyone knows the what, why and when of the vision.

Giving Sincere and Honest Appreciation – At the end of the day there is no research I can find that suggests all generations don’t like to be appreciated for their contributions. If we all got a little better at appreciating what each other bring to the organization, the results might surprise you!

Ultimately, businesses cannot continue to ignore that the strife between generations exist and that it will just go away. If your organization finds itself constantly “blaming” one of the generations for your problems, it’s likely not their fault. There’s likely a Structural Conflict within your business that you need to fix in order to attract and retain the best people. In essence, you might need to change your culture.

Here’s an example of what I mean by Structural Conflict. I’ve heard numerous instances where this cycle is repeated with no actual changes being made.

Structural Conflict







Organizations need to be proactive in understanding and respecting the differences and strengths that each of the generations brings, and figuring out how to work together to leverage it for the good of the business.

Ultimately, let’s stop suggesting to one another that we have a Millennial problem and let’s start looking within our organizations to find out what’s really going on. Either that, or call me a Millennial too because some of the stereotypical things that Millennials want, I also want – I want more flexibility in how, when and where I work. I crave constant development. I want to be appreciated and recognized for my contributions, and I want to make a difference in my business. I assert that all of what I’ve just described is Cultural. You decide how you want people to act within your business. I recommend you choose a path that embraces everyone and if you do, you won’t have a generational issue any longer!

Best Success!

John Zettler, Director, Talent Strategy
& Development, Dale Carnegie Training®
Contact me at 905-826-7300 x 230 or jzettler@dalecarnegie.ca

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Employee Engagement - Engaging Millennials in the Workplace







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About the Author: John Zettler, Talent Strategy & Development, Dale Carnegie Training®

“John’s commitment and passion to the growth and development of individuals, teams and organizations is evident,” says Kevin Crone, President and Managing Partner, Dale Carnegie Business Group. “His engaging and collaborative approach along with his strong business acumen and focus on results make him a great fit for our team. We are thrilled he has decided to join us.”

Read more.

John Zettler brings almost 20 years of human resource experience to the challenge of better leadership we all share. He has invested his skills and energies and debated leadership with some of our country’s best leaders. Through this, he has refined a style of management that focuses on leadership conviction, authenticity and caring as the cornerstones of a more nuanced set of management skills we can all benefit from.

Instead of balance in our life, he challenges us to a new style of work life blending that both gives us:

  1. The rush of seeing our people grow and prosper in a company that truly cares about them and their dreams.
  2. The time and focus to also contribute the same level of passion to the needs of our families.

To hear the insights we captured in three minutes of his own words, watch the video.







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