Podcast 103: Managing Gen Y

Written by Ian Portsmouth

Ian Portsmouth: I

Grail Noble: G

I: Welcome to the Business Coach Podcast, an advice-oriented series that tackles the top issues and opportunities facing Canada’s small businesses. I’m your host, Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine and we’ve developed this Podcast in cooperation with BMO Bank of Montreal.

No generation in today’s workforce is as maligned as the cohort known as Generation Y or the Millennials. Born between the late 1970s and early 2000s, members of the Gen Y cohort are often described as self-absorbed, impatient, overconfident and the keepers of a massive sense of entitlement. If that is your perception of the Gen Y, then Grail Noble might change it for you. Grail is the founder and President of Toronto based event management firm Yellow House Events. From 2005 to 2010, sales at Yellow House grew by 1,268 percent, earning it 41st spot on this year’s PROFIT 200 ranking of Canada’s fastest growing companies. All of that growth was achieved with an employee base comprised exclusively of Millennials. Grail joins me now to explain why she loves Gen Y and what she does to derive such high returns from her younger workers. Grail, welcome to the Business Coach Podcast.

G: Thanks very much Ian.

I: So Grail, when did you first discover the value of Gen Y employees?

G: Well, I would say I stumbled upon Gen Y’s by accident to some extent. I had started my own business, I was working from home and needed some help and I needed help quickly. And the type of stuff I needed help with was a bit of online research, calling from venues, that kind of thing. So, I got an intern and she had a university degree and was in a post-secondary communications in a PR and event planning course. And she came to me and I asked her to do just a bit of research for me. And it came back perfect, quickly, she was very comfortable with the format I had set out, with the technology. And I thought well I could use this help a little more now.

I won’t say that everybody was like her, I have worked with a few other people that were not quite as good, but I started to work more and more with Meg who was my first intern and became my first employee, and is still with me and has now risen to the title of Director of operations and has done amazing work for me. So my first employee really impressed me with her ability to get things done, to figure things out on her own, her understanding of technology and a passion for what she does.

I: So, Meg displayed numerous positive trades that have really helped your business. Have those been trades you found across the Gen Y employees that you have hired since then?

G: You know, surprisingly they have been. I mean, of course at first I thought it was just that individual who I’d lucked out and you know, found a particularly strong individual and that is still the case, you know, actually I would say that. But since then, each time I have hired a Gen Y employee, they have really impressed me. And all of the things that people say about them, I just simply have not found to be true.

I: So Grail, tell us some of the ways in which you take fullest advantage of these positive traits of Gen Y workers. How do you sort of arrange your business in the workday and things like that, in order to get the most out of them?

G: Sure, I mean I would say, you know, I think understanding them is the first piece to the puzzle and understanding how they work. You know, first of all, they have grown up in a digital age; they have grown up at a time where you multitask; they have grown up at a time where television content is broken up every seven minutes with a commercial break; they have grown up in a time that is very, very different from X Gens or the older generations. So, the way they work is they manage multiple things at a time and they like to have multiple digital options available to them in order to do their work.

You know, I think the other thing that is really different about Gen Ys is that they don’t really compartmentalize their work and lifestyles the way we do. So, they see their work persona as very much the same person who after hours might be going out to dinner and a movie. So, understanding how they work and how they think is a big part of making an environment for them both intellectually and physically that is comfortable. So, for instance we have a very open plan space because Gen Ys are very collaborative; they always like to have music playing; they like to have multiple devices that they can work on; everything has to be Wi-fied; they want to be able to take their laptop into our lounge area and do some work while they are sitting on the lounger by the fireplace; they like to be able to turn in their chairs and ask their colleagues for some input and support.

So, first of all the physical space they work in is really important to them and if you give them a physical space they feel good in, it is amazing, they love being here. You know one of the criticisms of the generation is that they don’t want to put in the hours that we wanted to put in. And I just have found a complete opposite to be true, they are all at their desks long before I get here in the morning and at the end of the day I often have to say, okay guys you’ve got to go home.

And I think the first thing I noticed that was different, markedly different that I haven’t seen with, you know, my colleagues that are my age, is they would have a laptop and they wanted to own their own laptops. And they took it home every single night and they don’t take their laptops home because they necessarily have work to do; they take their laptops home because that is where their life is, they watch movies on it, they are connected on it, they are on Facebook. They take their laptop with them every single day. And of course, while they are sitting on the couch watching TV, chatting on Facebook, they might as well do a bit of research for a project they have at work. So their day does not necessary end at five o’clock the way some of our days do. But similarly you also have to cut them some slack and if they want to take a little break in the middle of the day to check their Facebook status or do something personal, they don’t delineate their hours into work and life, it is just all life for them.

I: Grail, you are very choosy when it comes to selecting the clients that your company works with, and this has something to do with the preferences of your Gen Y employees. Can you explain this?

G: Yes. Another thing that you have to know about Gen Ys, is they actually really, really care about what they are working on. They are not as motivated by the typical things like money, status, some of those things that we were generally driven by as we climbed our way up the corporate ladder. These guys really, really care who they are working with, not just from an internal perspective but from an external perspective. They really care about the brands they are working on. And when I say care, they like brands certainly that are lifestyle cool hip, they love a brand that is up and coming, that is successful. But they also are much more socially conscious than previous generations, so they are very driven by what kind of reputation a brand has, much more so than previous generations. And that is something that we definitely keep very much in mind as we go after new business.

I: As I said off the top, a lot of entrepreneurs feel that Gen Y employees have a great sense of entitlement, I can’t tell you the number of times that I have spoken to a business owner who has told me that, I recently hired a 25 year old grad, they were terrific but after three months on the job they demanded a promotion. And when I could not give it to them, they quit. Have you not experienced any of this, and if you have, how have you managed it?

G: I think words like entitlement are you know, very interesting. Because I suppose you could look at some of their actions that way, but I think again when you think about this generation and how they have grown up, I mean, first of all they are more educated by far than the older generation before; they grew up in a time where technology information was everywhere; and they have grown up at a time where one of the largest corporations in the world is run by a 27 year old. So where our generation tends to see time as this thing you need to put in, in order to be rewarded in your business, they don’t see it that way. They see it more as, how good am I at what I do, and the length of time I have been doing it is not the only metric by which to measure my success.

So I think you will find what happens is, people who find them entitled are very often looking through the filter of their own experience which is, well when I was young I had to start at a $25,000 salary and work my way up slowly and put in my hours. And that is actually not the world we are living in, and therefore not the way they expect to be rewarded. Now, I actually in my particular case, I have never had anyone of my employees come to me and ask me for a raise. And that, I think, is because I pre-emptively make sure that they get bonuses and rewarded before they have a chance to come to me.

And I believe that has done a lot of things that has retained good stuff. And it is also made them feel very, very much appreciated. So whether they would have come and ask me for more money, by pre-emptively giving them a bonus when they did not expect it, or a raise because I said I think you have taken on additional responsibility and you proved yourself to me, is a very, very good way to ensure that you don’t see that sense of entitlement. And based on how hard they work, I don’t see that at all and have not seen it with any of my employees.

I: Grail, it sounds to me that in order to manage Gen Ys, you have to be a more proactive manager. But I really think that that applies to every generation in all workplaces. So thank you for joining the Business Coach Podcast.

G: Thanks very much for having me.

I Grail Noble is the founder and President of Yellow House Events in Toronto.

That’s it for this episode of the Business Coach Podcast. Be sure to check out other episodes which you can download from BMO.com/coach, PROFITguide.com and iTunes. For other tools to help you build your business, visit the BMO SmartSteps for business community at BMO.com/smartbusinessowners. Until next time, I am Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine, wishing you continued success.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com