Do Millennials Believe They Can’t Learn From Boomers? The Surprising Truth

Late last week, I received an email from my friend Bobbi Howe. She’s a real estate agent in Saint Joseph, MO, and one of the coolest people I’ve never met in real life. I was introduced to her thanks to my friend Brian Copeland and a webinar I did early in February for the Council of Residential Specialists on The Millennial Revolution.

Bobbi recently moderated a panel called Bridging the Gap (Gen X/Y) at a big event called Sell-a-bration. After the session was over, a gentleman in his 60’s approached her and recounted a story of a female Millennial in his company who told him, “I can learn everything I need to off the internet and you cannot teach me anything.”

Bobbi was curious if I had any resources or research on this seeming arrogance. Given that I hear stories like this so frequently, I thought I’d share with you the same things I shared with her.

I’ve learned that there are two things that are generally happening in these situations:

  1. The Millennial was likely referring to Google-able information such as “how to file my personal income taxes in Rhode Island.” It’s unlikely that she meant it as broadly as he interpreted it. In fact, I doubt she even said it using those words. I’ve yet to speak to any Millennial who would make that claim. I’m not saying they aren’t out there – just that I’ve yet to meet one.
  2. The Boomers are reaching an age when they desire relevance and legacy. Part of how they do that, is to pass on information to the younger generations. Unfortunately for them, the younger generation does things very differently and with very different tools. In fact, the entire technological knowledge base is tied up in a single generation. It used to be that technical skills were passed from generation-to-generation. Master artisans taught their apprentices the tools of the trade and then taught them how to be masters of them. However, very few of the “tools” are mastered by Boomers. They’re mastered by Millennials.

There’s a great article in the Harvard Business Review which you can see here.

You’ll notice that, from their bosses, Millennials stated that they desire mentorship. It came in #3 on the list of wants.

So how do we reconcile this? I have spoken to a large number of Millennials about this as it pertains to business and many of them have expressed a desire to be mentored by those who are older than them. However, it comes down to being shown the “behind-the-scenes” things you can’t learn from Google: negotiation techniques, how to read people, how to service your clients after the close, etc.

These things focus on the principles of business, not the tools of business. This is ultimately what they want and where Boomers have such a huge advantage. They’ve been in the game for so much longer. But they have to realize that it’s not played with many of the same tools (to Millennials, encyclopedias have almost always existed online). They don’t really care as much about how it was done – they care about how to get it done today. If Boomers could learn to take the principles of business that they take for granted and teach Millennials in a hands-on, interactive way (no lectures – please!), this is where both sides will find commonality.

Remember: You can’t Google principles.

Rather than doing courses on “negotiation techniques,” take them into the field and let them learn by doing it on their first day. And then give them instant feedback when it’s over. They want to learn by doing. So let them do it. They’ll mess up – a lot. Be patient with them and give them direct, immediate feedback. Think of it this way: Millennials grew up on video games where you could safely “die” if you messed up. They may have to move backward in the game, but they received immediate feedback – don’t open that door again or you’ll get shot – and went on to improve the next time they played.

You’ll notice that “give me straight feedback” is on the list of wants in that HBR piece. Millennials have the capacity to learn very quickly in experiential ways.

Another suggestion is listed at the bottom of the HBR piece and I think it’s very good – reverse mentoring. Occasionally put the Millennial in the driver seat of a mentoring situation. It shows that you’re willing to learn from them and it will make them more willing to learn from you. An area of opportunity for this is with the tools themselves. Have them show you how to use Twitter, Facebook or your iPad. They’ll love the opportunity to help.

Finally, this is something I recommend regularly: don’t just give a Millennial a task to complete. They want purpose and they desire to provide feedback. This is actually a good thing if done correctly because, again, they’ve mastered newer tools. Ask them to think, while they’re doing the task, about how it could be improved so that neither they, nor anyone else, has to do that same thing again or could do it much faster in the future. You’ll be shocked at how innovative and creative they are. It also causes them to invest into the task more than just labor through it.

I closed my email to Bobbi with this piece of advice. I’m including it here because I know a lot of agents and brokers read this blog. However, this principle has huge implications for any business:

Personally, if I ran a brokerage, I’d ask my Millennials this question: how could we improve our sales meetings. I haven’t met a Millennial yet who enjoys them and who doesn’t have ideas about how to improve them. Heck, I haven’t met many agents of any age who really enjoy or find value in them.

Share Your Thoughts

Boomers, have you heard something to the effect that this gentleman did from Millennials? How did you respond? Millennials, what are the areas you want and need mentorship in your career? Leave a comment below so we can all learn and grow.

Image courtesy of ultraBobban