Unlocking the Power of Millennial Talent

07/20/2020
Gabrielle Bosché
Gabrielle Bosché A recognized expert in the systematic discovery and application of purpose at work. Gabrielle is a bestselling author, international speaker, and founder of The Purpose Company. She is a TEDx presenter and has been featured everywhere from Glamour to Business Insider, NPR, and Fast Company.
Unlocking the Power of Millennial Talent

Unlocking the Power of Millennial Talent

There are currently five generations in the workforce, with millennials representing almost 30% of new managers. It’s no secret that younger generations tend to disrupt the status quo, and while this new group of leaders has certainly shaken things up, being so misunderstood upon entering the workforce led to a number of widely held mischaracterizations of their work ethic.

Today, Paul speaks with Gabrielle Bosché, president of The Millennial Solution and co-founder of The Purpose Company helping organizations and leaders bridge the generational gap. Gabrielle is also an international speaker and best-selling author (The Purpose Factor, 5 Millennial Myths: The Handbook For Managing and Motivating Millennials, etc.). She and her husband Brian have been called the “next generation's motivational titans,” having worked with celebrities, US military officials, presidential campaigns, and Fortune 500 companies.

Connect with Gabrielle:

Transcript of this episode

Gabrielle Bosché:

I think as a society we've had a lot of conversations, particularly for those of us in the talent space, talking about why: What's our why? What are we going after here? And why is an important question, but it's not actually the first question that you need to be answering. The first question you need to be answering is who.

Introduction:

There's a revolution taking place right now. Talent and intelligence are equally distributed throughout the world, but opportunity is not. The talent economy, the idea that at the center of work is the talent, is the individual.

Paul Estes:

Companies today face a global war for talent, and high-skilled talent is demanding flexibility around the way they work and the way they live. This podcast brings together thought leaders, staffing experts, and top freelancers to talk about the evolving nature of work and how companies can navigate these changes to remain competitive, drive innovation, and ensure success. Welcome to The Talent Economy Podcast, I'm your host Paul Estes.

The conversation about the future of work is often centered around new operational practices and team structures. We tend to overlook the importance of ensuring that organizations are supporting the needs of the individuals. What motivates, inspires, and encourages a member of your team, and how do those motivational factors differ across generations? Today, I'm joined by Gabrielle Bosché, president of The Millennial Solution and co-founder of The Purpose Company. Gabrielle's also a bestselling author and international speaker. She and her husband, Brian, have been called the next generation's motivational titans. They've worked with celebrities, the US military, presidential campaigns, and Fortune 500 companies.

Gabrielle Bosché:

This is Gabrielle Bosché with The Millennial Solution and The Purpose Company, where we help organizations and leaders not only bridge the generation gap but help them understand, find their purpose and apply it to what they do every day.

Paul Estes:

That's amazing. I looked forward to this conversation because I think everybody who's really trying to understand the five generations in the workforce, and especially the millennial generation as it becomes a significant part of management. I think a statistic I saw said, "28% or 30% of all managers now are represented by the millennial generation." How do you navigate that? And more importantly, what's true and what's not? I want to start, your LinkedIn bio says you started your company after attending one too many workshops on millennials that were led by someone who wasn't a millennial. What was it about those narratives and those presentations that drove you crazy enough to say, "Hey, look, I need to jump in and start something”?

Gabrielle Bosché:

Yeah. It was one of those moments where I was sitting in the back of the conference, and it was someone who was complaining about how unmotivated, how entitled, how frankly just damn frustrating that that millennial generation was. And I was one of the youngest people at the conference as was typical during the early parts of my career, and looking around and I was like, "That's not true at all." And so I saw that there was a huge need for representation for a millennial voice and conversations about not only how do we lead other people better, but how do we grow our companies from within? And so I really jumped in, about eight years ago now, into a space that was really confused about millennials. There were a lot of myths out there, wrote a whole book about it called 5 Millennial Myths, that people had very closely held beliefs about who this next generation was and what was wrong with them based off of either a headline that they'd seen on Business Insider or just a bad experience with an intern. And so I saw that there was a need for clarification and more than that, a solution to be able to help bridge that gap in a way that makes sense for companies of all sizes.

Paul Estes:

Let's just dig right into the misconceptions because your book is really insightful, but tell me the biggest misconceptions that you've experienced as you try to help leaders understand more about this generation of workers.

Gabrielle Bosché:

Entitlement, for sure. It's the number one word that if I were to do a mad lib with you and say, What are millennials?, you would fill in "Entitled." It's something that people just naturally associate with this generation because we are a generation with high expectations, one, for ourselves and two, from our parents. And so this generation has come into the workforce being parented by people who said, "You can do anything you want. You can be anything that you want," and we listened. And now we're working for you, leading your organizations, becoming managers and directors, thinking we can do anything that we want and be anything that we want. And what we've really found is that it's not necessarily entitlement, but it's what I call ambition misdirected. It's a generation that has high confidence in their abilities to execute and involve themselves in a situation or an organization and be able to deliver. And you want that inside of an organization, you want folks to have high confidence that they can jump in. But really, I think where the leadership comes in from a personal leadership standpoint is helping this next generation understand what role is appropriate for them to play. What is the difference between experience and expertise? And how do they make sure that they provide the most amount of value to the organizations that they're serving?

Paul Estes:

I like the way you phrase the ambition misdirected. One of the things that I've witnessed in working with a number of different amazingly intelligent people from the millennial generation is they don't give any credit to experience and/or wisdom, right? It's, "Hey, I went to school. I have the confidence that comes with youth and all of those things." But when it comes to experience and some of the other things, which are critically important, especially when you're navigating things that have a long history and it needs to be understood, how do you advise managers that are really wanting to have these millennial leaders progress in their organization but are running into this issue of ambition misdirected?

Gabrielle Bosché:

You're totally right, Paul, and everything comes down to the fact that we're a generation overwhelmed with knowledge and information but starving for wisdom. And that wisdom piece really comes from context. So this is a generation who wants to know why: Why do we do it this way? Why do we use this platform? Why can't we do this? Why can't we work from home? Why can't I bring my dog? Or we're asking that question of why not to annoy the heck out of you, although that is definitely one of the side effects, but it has everything to do with the fact that this is a generation starving and seeking context because we're able to Google the answers, ask Alexa, go to Siri, and everyone seems to have an answer for something. And so we're really trying to, almost like a sonar system, to be able to collect information to get context to why something matters. And so a quick tip, if you've got someone who is of a younger generation asking those big why questions, take the time to be able to give them the context and teach them how to discover that context themselves. Okay, great. You're coming and you're saying, "Why can't we all work from home?" Well, okay. Well, why do you think as an organization it may make sense that we require people to come in? So you just have to do some reverse engineering of questions to get them to defend your position and then they'll start to understand, "Oh, okay, this is why we have these policies. This is why we use this platform. This is why we do what we do," rather than just coming in and questioning at random, to be able to give them the power to not only find context for themselves but ultimately create context for others as well.

Paul Estes:

When you talk about context, it's interesting the way you articulate it. Why can't I work from home? Or why can't we all work from home? In a large organization, it gets complicated. There may not be a clear answer that would make somebody comfortable at the individual level, right? And so I've also seen this challenge where someone comes in and expects a massive enterprise or a very large group to conform to how they see the world or their worldview or their experience, right? They may or may not be married. They may or may not have kids, that there's life experiences and work experiences that when you talk about context, they don't take a step back and understand. How do you ensure that millennials who may be at a different life stage than the broader organization, especially with five generations in the workforce, how do you best communicate that where you're not isolating them, but you're bringing them along and helping them with that wisdom or context perspective?

Gabrielle Bosché:

I think really as a talent economy, we're getting to a position where we're having lots of conversations between the difference between fairness and quality. I think we see a lot of young people coming into the marketplace saying, "Well, it isn't fair. It isn't fair that so and so gets to work from home or isn't fair that they have more flexibility," maybe because they've got young kids that they have to go take care of. There's a scenario that I provide audiences whenever I speak, and we speak around the world on this, I give them this scenario. I say, "Okay, great. Say you had a millennial come to you and you needed them to stay late on a project. They say I'd love to, but I can't. I've got a concert with my best friend. They just flew in from Florida. We spent $300 on these tickets. I'm not able to do it." And I have folks come up with a scenario of how they would solve this problem together. And then at the end, I say, "Okay, great. You've solved this problem with a millennial. Now, what would you do if it was an employee coming to you and say it's not a concert, but it's my child's first recital?" And the response is completely different because the people who are coming up with a solution are usually ones who have children who can relate to having that as a priority.

I said, "And that's exactly why we have a challenge when it comes to younger generations," is because we have an easier time being able to relate to people's priorities when they're similar to ours, rather than what true leadership is, is, "I don't need to be able to understand to empathize and to prioritize your priorities." And I think that's really where the conversations need to be coming from as leaders of how do we relate to a newer and younger generation.

Paul Estes:

Talking about context, it's the thing that really is rallying in my brain as you're speaking. Organizations in general struggle with their why, right? I mean, you have companies and leadership struggling with their why at the top level and even at the team level. And so when you have a group of people coming in and saying, "Hey look, I just want to understand why, teach me, I'm curious," and the organization doesn't have those answers, I can understand there being a mismatch.

Let's talk a little bit about purpose because this is one of those things that I struggle with because when we talk about purpose, it normally goes to millennials, right? Millennials are looking for purpose. And I'm in Gen X. I have looked for purpose most of my career, switching jobs within companies and switching companies, trying to find where I thought that I could be helpful, provide meaningful impact, and continue to grow. But in my experience, and you can educate me otherwise, purpose is not something that is specific to a generation, but there are other generations that feel they can attain it. Explain to me how you look at purpose across the generations and specifically millennials.

Gabrielle Bosché:

Purpose, quite simply, is what you have inside of you to help someone else. It isn't something that you find through a sunset or through a motivational speaker, or someone telling you what you're supposed to do with your life. It really is getting extreme clarity about who you are and how you can help people. I think as a society, we've had a lot of conversations, particularly for those of us in the talent space, talking about why: What's our why? What are we going after here? And why is an important question, but it's not actually the first question that you need to be answering. The first question you need to be answering is who: Who are we, and who are we helping? Because your why is going to change. It's going to be able to serve our customers better or be able to compete in the new economy or whatever that is. But our who is who we really need to be focusing on, the people that we're ultimately serving. And what I found with young people is we're coming into a workplace where from a very young age, we were told this narrative, "Don't do anything unless you feel fulfilled." And so we get that passion piece, which is the most God-awful type of advice you can give anyone young is to follow their passion, because passion, if you actually look at the dictionary definition, passion, according to Oxford, is a barely controllable emotion. Try giving that piece of advice to a bunch of undergrads, "Go pursue your barely controllable emotions." It's like they're already doing that, right? So we need to rephrase the conversation even about what passion and fulfillment are. And so we've got a generation coming in and saying, "I'm not passionate about what I'm doing." It's like, "Well yeah, because you barely cut your teeth on it." And we were talking about millennials, but Gen Z is that next younger generation coming onto the field, and being able to help them understand that you probably aren't going to be passionate about something until you get pretty good at it, or at least decent at it.

It's hard to be passionate about something that you're not excellent in. And so there's got to be that, again, back to that context word, there's got to be context as to why it's important to be able to improve your skills and abilities and then that passion and that fulfillment are going to come. But yeah, I mean we could do a whole podcast just on why we… I think as a society have a misunderstanding of purpose and we make it so fluffy and ethereal that folks don't know how to find it themselves, let alone articulate it when it comes to what they do for a living.

Paul Estes:

So on my desk, I have a plaque and I use it in all of my talks as well. It says, "Hard things are hard," and President Obama had the same plaque on his desk. And the reason that he had that plaque was because in a world of instant gratification, we sometimes forget that the fulfilling things, the important things require hard work. And so when you look at generations, I think you were talking earlier, I can get every answer by doing a Google search. I can get instant gratification. I can get that dopamine by the technology that's been crafted to provide that experience to me. And I think there's a lot of people in other generations who didn't have that experience, right? Who didn't grow up in a place where they could get instant gratification, and there seems to be some tension and mismatch, right? Where I would expect, "Hey, dig in. This is going to take a couple of years to become good at your craft, to become passionate, to become an expert." And they're saying, "Well, no. I spent all last night searching Google, and I'm ready now." How do you advise people to navigate that conversation and navigate those experiential friction points?

Gabrielle Bosché:

I think it really could be summarized in the difference between experience and expertise. So you may gather experience when it comes to being able to understand something in theory. You may gather experience as you're studying, maybe you took a particular class or frankly have a certification in something, or you've been doing it for a few months or a few years. That's different than expertise. That means that you've been elevated above others who just have surface-level knowledge of whatever that really is. An expert is someone who knows more about the subject than anyone else in the room. And that is something that I think has not been well articulated to a generation who's extremely ambitious and who wants to make a difference. I mean, people say, "Oh yeah, millennials are so lazy." They're not lazy, they just don't know what to do next. We're a generation who's been given a checklist of to-do’s, of should-do’s, and have-to’s, and as soon as we graduate from college or a master's, it's like, "What am I supposed to do now?" And so it's a generation who has a lot of fire inside of them, they just need to have that direction to point to that. It's I think not only a duty but a responsibility of those in leadership to be able to provide some of those opportunities for our generation to understand the difference between, "Okay, I have experience in this because I've been doing it for a few months, but that doesn't mean I'm an expert." And once you get to that expert level, it's one of those things that you have the influence, but you also have that responsibility. So that means that you're going to have to have the hard conversations. That means that maybe if you're a manager, that you're going to have to lay people off, that you're going to have to take the blame for something maybe that it wasn't anything that you did, but it's ultimately your responsibility.

Being able to help a generation understand that I think is extremely essential for them to not only thrive as individuals but if you're a company, you want your people to thrive. You want them to do well in every element and every aspect of their lives, because that means that they're going to be more productive, be happier, and stay longer. I mean, so we're really all in this together when it comes to how do we raise up a new generation of leaders and make sure that they do well and ultimately that they do good as well.

Paul Estes:

The number one request from millennials as it relates to a thing that they want from companies is flexibility. And now, we're living in this suddenly remote world. How much of a motivational factor do you believe that flexibility and remote work is for millennials?

Gabrielle Bosché:

Well, I think that this season has really shaped the expectations of conversation. This next generation was already coming in expecting to work from home. I mean, listen, we're a generation that we have taken classes online, we have taken masterclasses, we've gotten degrees, we've met our partners. I met my husband on Facebook. So I mean everything in our generation is virtual, and for a company to say, "Yeah, that's great that you can work from home, but it makes us feel better if we can see you," that doesn't seem like a logical conversation for this next generation. What they haven't done a good job of explaining is, "Hey, not everyone works well from home." Some folks need to have a quiet room, doors closed, no music, and that's how they work well. Some people work well in the bullpen type environment where everyone's in, there's that collaboration, that constant audio and visual input, and they thrive in that environment. Some need a mix. So I think when it comes to employment, that we're starting to gather more data about who the people are that we're leading. And really my hope for the future is, I know there's already great companies already doing this that are personalizing not only the management style but also to the workplace environment of each individual employee to make sure that they have that maximum output. I mean, that's really what every individual needs and deserves inside of our companies. And so coming out of this mandatory work from home situation, two things are happening. Number one, leaders and companies that were very much against any work-from-home situation are starting to recognize, "Hey, this is still working. The internet still works. We can still communicate. We're still able to move forward, albeit a little shaky at first. But we're doing it." And so I think that that's going to change industries and I think it's also going to change companies. But on the other side, I think it's also making many of us recognize the importance and the power of human interaction in having those watercooler conversations, stopping by someone's desk, going out to coffee with someone. And that's what I'm seeing in a lot of what this younger generation, who's been crying out for the option to work from home, we're all recognizing that the grass isn't always greener, and maybe it is nice to be able to have not only the option but also the opportunity to be able to come into the office, meet with our fellow coworkers and colleagues, and create culture since it's been created since the dawn of time - in person, face to face, and doing work side by side.

Paul Estes:

Yeah. It's one of the things that I've noticed, and it's been interesting because a lot of the articles and conversations that I've been having with people, I have a couple of friends that are in HR positions at some of the big tech companies here in Seattle. And they're saying that the number one group having a challenge with working from home, again, it's working from home during a pandemic so it's not traditional remote work where you're able to go to a Starbucks and have that flexibility, are millennials that don't have in some cases big family structures. They may have picked up and moved and so the impact on that group who for a long time was saying, "Hey, I just want to work remotely," is very acute right now because everything else, all those social aspects have been taken away.

I want to get your perspective on that 30% of people that are becoming managers, right? Let's say you're in a big company and you're becoming a manager, and now your responsibility as a leader, say you become a director or even as you get into the executive ranks, your responsibility as leader is to manage a multi-generational workforce. So you go well beyond your experience, your lived experience and expectations, and now have to try to figure out how to motivate and lead a team that doesn't have shared experiences and maybe across generations. What advice are you giving your contemporaries that are millennials that are getting in these leadership positions that are now having to manage people across generations and across experiences?

Gabrielle Bosché:

That's a great question. And truth to be told, Paul, everything comes down to understanding how every generation wants to lead and wants to be led. And we've spent really the last six years going deep on generational leadership theory to be able to understand, okay, there's a changing dynamic of the workplace today where it isn't the traditional one person who's been at the company for 50 years, they manage the person who's been here for 30 years, who manages the person who's been here for five. It's a lot more complex than that. So one of the things that we teach, and we've taught it to everyone from the Air Force and Naval Sea Command to major agencies to Fortune 500 companies, is understanding the dynamics of generational leadership. So I'll just take one element. So millennials, for example, lead from the middle, extremely collaborative, extremely democratic. It's like, "Oh my gosh, what do you think about this? Okay, great. Let me go ask so and so." They want to get buy-in because from such a young age, we were taught how to lead work and think through teams. Well, you make that a huge contrast against someone like yourself, Generation X, who leads from the side. So Gen X was raised during a time also known as a latchkey generation. "Don't tell me how to do something, I'll figure it out myself." Extremely entrepreneurial, gritty, we'll figure it out themselves. That's very different because they don't want to have the abundance of voices in the room, they want to know what do we need to do next. And so they're looking for that checklist, let's move forward, very much looking at the practical next step that they can take. And so when you just get these two generations that are generational cousins, you see them in a group. Then you throw in whether it's a baby boomer or Generation Z or traditionalists, we've got so many generations in the workplace right now that it's no wonder that you're starting to see that friction really going on steroids, then throwing in the technology and changing expectations around the role of work in people's lives. We're starting to recognize that it's important that millennials going into management understand how they personally lead and how others around them want to be led. And so a simple thing that someone can do, who's a millennial coming into a management position, possibly leading people who are their peers, age-wise, or their colleagues who are maybe older or much younger, is to be able to effectively articulate their leadership style. Say, "Hey, I'm now going to be your manager. And maybe last week we were buddies going and having beers, but as a manager, this is what this means. It means I'm responsible for when we do well, but it also means I'm responsible when things really get messed up and I have to want to take the blame. That means I'm going to have to give you some hard feedback, but I want you to give me feedback too. I lead this particular way." Now, being able to explain that to people on the team, especially someone who's older, it's not only going to help them understand your perspective as a leader, it's going to then help them understand that your leadership style is different than maybe what they're expecting. Maybe they're expecting a traditional top-down, "I'm the boss. This is what we're going to do." But you having the emotional intelligence to explain, "Here's my leadership style. And I want to make sure to lead you well, tell me how I'm doing," it goes so far in being able to not only build rapport but to be able to get the most out of the people that you're leading.

Paul Estes:

I think one of the common things in this conversation and in my experience is the power of over-communicating. It's one of the reasons that I've moved into working for a fully distributed company, where everybody works from home. You have to communicate openly, right? There's not a meeting room where five people are able to get in, and that's where the information sits because you just simply can't operate that way. And I think to your point, having that EQ and explaining your point of view and creating a space for that conversation is critical. With such a desire for purpose-driven work, do you see millennials leaning in more to the talent economy and freelancing than traditional employment over time?

Gabrielle Bosché:

It's interesting, and I love that you asked that question, because it's really a both...and. It's really, really fascinating. So we launched The Purpose Company early this year because we recognized that so many companies were coming to us saying, "Yeah, we care about the generational leadership stuff, but we really want to know how do we help our employees find purpose." And as we started getting into it, helping people help their employees find purpose and then connecting it to the work of the organization overall, something amazing was happening. Whether it was one of our clients went from number 250 in the country in customer service to number five, or increasing revenue by 70%, or cutting retention. And when we started to go in and ask questions around why this was happening, we started to recognize that a lot of employees, particularly millennials, which 65% of millennials want to start their own business one day. So there's an entrepreneurial aspect of how this generation views and sees themselves. But it's not necessarily because they have this great idea and they can't wait to get it out of the marketplace, it's because they're seen as a holdout option if what they're doing right now doesn't work out. So that's where the power of purpose comes in is because purpose is vocation-agnostic. It doesn't matter if you're working at an accounting company or you're working at a distribution company, or you're working in manufacturing, once you understand who you are and how you can use what you have inside of you to help others, where you work doesn't matter. And so when we started to eliminate that factor to help employees discover, "Wow. This is who I am, and here's how I can make this organization better with who I am and what I have to offer," they start eliminating their plan Bs and start to focus on the company that they're currently working at. So I think that having conversations around purpose is really helping people make the right decision. If they want to go after the gig economy and start choosing, create their own careers, that's fine. But once you start to understand that those elements about your purpose and how you use those elements to help other people, again, the vocation's completely agnostic. It really just matters about getting the clarity about who you are and who you can help.

Paul Estes:

Well, thank you so much for your insights. I agree. It's interesting that I've chosen a freelance career after 20 years in big tech, and I think the idea that there are options now where technology and opportunity, in many ways, have been or are becoming democratized gives people the chance to find their purpose and live a meaningful and helpful existence. I want to go now to the rapid-fire section of the show. These are a couple of questions, I ask that all you do is say the first thing that comes to mind. Are you ready?

Gabrielle Bosché:

Let's do it.

Paul Estes:

What is one thing about you that's not on your LinkedIn profile?

Gabrielle Bosché:

Oh my goodness. That I am a survivor of beauty pageants.

Paul Estes:

If you could trade lives with anyone for a day, who would it be and why?

Gabrielle Bosché:

Brené Brown. I think that she's just really got a fun and sarcastic way of viewing the world and living just a normal life and making a difference in the process.

Paul Estes:

If you were stranded on a tropical island, what two things would you want with you?

Gabrielle Bosché:

A helicopter and a snack, because I get hungry.

Paul Estes:

What book or movie has inspired you the most over the past year?

Gabrielle Bosché:

I've read it about seven times, but The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. If you haven't read it, grab it.

Paul Estes:

I'm going to download it this afternoon because I'm getting my summer reading list ready. This is going to be an easy one for you. What is one word to describe the next decade of work?

Gabrielle Bosché:

Oh, purpose, for sure.

Paul Estes:

Wait, Gabrielle, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. If somebody wants to get in touch with you or learn more about the great work that you're doing, what's the best way to reach out?

Gabrielle Bosché:

Sure. Well, they can go check out our brand new book, Purpose Factor at purposefactorbook.com, and we're really stoked about it. We've got a lot of great support from everyone, from Tony Dungy, [inaudible 00:29:32] and The Rock. Gary Keller, even. So we're really stoked about it, getting it in as many hands as humanly possible to keep talking about purpose at work.

Paul Estes:

Great. Thank you so much.

Gabrielle Bosché:

Thanks for having me.

Paul Estes:

I'm your host, Paul Estes. Thank you for listening to The Talent Economy Podcast. Learn more about the future of work and the transformation of the staffing industry from those leading the conversation at Staffing.com, where you can hear from experts, sign up for our weekly newsletter, and get access to the best industry research on the future of staffing. If you've enjoyed the conversation, we'd appreciate you rating us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or just tell a friend about the show. Be sure to tune in next week for another episode of the Talent Economy.

Gabrielle Bosché
Gabrielle Bosché A recognized expert in the systematic discovery and application of purpose at work. Gabrielle is a bestselling author, international speaker, and founder of The Purpose Company. She is a TEDx presenter and has been featured everywhere from Glamour to Business Insider, NPR, and Fast Company.