7 Laws of the Millennial

7 Laws of the Millennial

Last week, Bentley University’s Preparedness Study of business and educational leaders gave Millennials a C letter grade or less for workplace preparedness. “Millennials are difficult to manage and don’t have a good work ethic,” said a person interviewed on Marketplace Marketplace.

Another person’s statement resonated so deeply with me that I laughed out loud: “They don’t understand why they’re not the boss.”

Then CreativeLive released their Inaugural Creative Jobs Report with the following:

  • 47% of employed millennials say they would like to get out of corporate America…
  • 31% report that working with creative people is very important to them…
  • 35% of employed millennials say having a job that makes a positive social impact is very important to them.

Sounds like working for your nonprofit is right up their alley!

My first experience managing Millennials was having 9 Evergreeners as direct reports. By “Evergreeners” I mean coeds attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. The college has a reputation for illicit drugs, sex, anarchy… and no class schedule! People just show up whenever, wherever they like and expect to have an epiphany upload course content into their skulls.

I love ’em, really. But I ask you: how does one go about managing an anarchist?

I know most Millennials are not anarchist. These, they sent me running, screaming mad from the mountains! But now I work with some of the most enjoyable people I’ve ever known at Ozarks Outdoors, and they’re all Millennials. I think that first experience went badly, not because of how different Millennials are, but because of how unimaginative I was.

So–with respect to Wilkinson’s The 7 Laws of the LearnerI offer the 7 Laws of the Millennial…

  • Make Us Want to Work 

Millennials have an it’s not my job attitude about doing their jobMore accurately, they believe your job as their supervisor is to pick up their slack and that’s okay. As frustrating as this can be for you, creating a work environment conducive to success is your job. Take responsibility. Environmentally, Great Place to Work and Inc.’s 10 Tips for Making Employees Love Their Office are great resources. Behaviorally, make peace with the fact that you’re going to have to motivate them.

  • Share Your Stories 

I’m a scotch drinker. To fully appreciate scotch you must drink labels from the top shelf. In grad school I was fortunate to have an elder barkeep teach me the nuances of the wooden casks. He had the money and access to reach that high on the shelf. One of the points in the Marketplace report is that Millennials may not be any different from Gen-Xers when we were that age. What they lack is experience. Share your experience with them. Tell them the stories from your first jobs. If we make “top-shelf” information easy for them to swallow, they’ll see things a bit more clearly, approach things a bit differently.

  • Advocate for Advocacy 

Millennials get excited about advocacy. Yes, they think sharing through social media is as valuable but more convenient than chaining themselves to a tree. Yes, they introduced the slacktivism trend. But this is also the generation of socially-conscious startups, the Occupy _ action series, they’ve even twittered revolutions. In my experience, if a Millennial gets fired up about something relevant to your business then throw gasoline on them, dammit! A member of my staff once told me, “I both love it and it scares me to death when I bring you an idea and you say, okay, do it.”

  • Keep it Tweetable 

Brian Solis is fond of saying, “In Brevity is Clarity“. I am familiar with a blank expression that Millennials wear on their face when I’m verbally sharing too much contextual information, as I sometimes do. I’m learning to give them a bullet-point review at the end, and that’s when they nod their head with the mental click that it’s registered. And they have these amazing smart phones, tablets, laptops, but unless you absolutely insist, they will not type it down! Great Tool: Use Slideshare with SlideDocs principles to make reports, strategic plans or training with brief key takeaways.

  • Tell Us Why

Have sincere heart-to-heart conversation with your young staff about why something needs to be done. Millennials are not persuaded by “do this”. They won’t ask, but they’re always questioning why that something needs to be done. And they’re also always wondering what your doing; why don’t you do it? I know! It runs against the grain of all the work ethic sensibilities you inherited from your Greatest Generation grandfather. But this is not the military–unless it is–so invest the time in them to explain why they’re assignments matter and what you’re doing instead. Consider it on-the-job training.

  • Give Us Tools to Succeed 

No matter what they think, Millennials will not go fishing without a fishing pole. I’m fond of telling my staff, “Go figure it out.” Until they’ve been forced under duress to develop such critical thinking skills, however, it will not get figured out. I can Google search better than the average Millennial, for God’s sake. Behavior only changes when the opportunity to behave differently is readily apparent. Immmerse them in opportunities to do so with the tools to do so. I hired a 3rd year student to lead on-campus communications, and my favorite part of the week is the 2-hour time we share all the new stuff we’ve learned about Hootsuite, or Swayy or Sumall. Give a Millennial a gadget, and they will thrive.

  • Relationships are Worth It 

Collaborating across generations involves relationship building just like any other partnership. Here’s the thing: I’ve broken their trust as often as they’ve broken mine. Everyone makes mistakes. Be honest, learn from it, adapt the situation, then start again. Millennials are different in that they tend to be non-confrontational and collaborative. They multi-task and stack activities, overlapping fun, social with difficult and focussed all day. They’re resilient, innovative and can keep you relevant.

Outside Magazine’s look at the Millennial COO of Lonely Planet, though #tldr, highlights 25-year-old Daniel Houghton as well as his 58-year-old employer, Brad Kelley. While this article gives what I see as an example of these 7 Laws of the Millennial, more importantly, it represents the reward.

…And it’s not like there’s another generation to choose from.

Published by


My mother’s family is mostly Appalachian Irish from Eastern Kentucky who fought in the mining-union wars. My great-great-grandfather was known for carrying a .38 special in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. The other half of my mother’s family are Quakers. Pacifists. That may say a bit about my own personal conflicts. My father’s family, for their part, were Methodists, Ministers, and Missionaries about as far back as you can go. My grandfather recently died with a legacy of over 20 years living and working in Burundi, Africa. My childhood was rooted in a “hideout” with my cousins in the fencerow thicket behind our homes. In adolescence, my dad and I would walk through the woods along one of Indiana’s many Sugar Creeks. Moving to town during my adolescence then away to college in Florida pulled me from the outdoors. One day, as I walked on Gulf Islands National Seashore, I wondered: why’d I stop living in the woods? In the years following I took up backpacking then rock climbing and was soon immersed in the adventurous life of outdoor recreation. I pursued this passion into working for the former sports retailer Galyans Trading Co. My supervisor took me under his wing and taught me everything from how to tie knots to management. Most importantly, he encouraged me to pursue my dreams. So I returned to college, the Outdoor Recreation emphasis in the Recreation and Sports Management Department at Indiana State University. After backpacking with a friend in Oregon, I moved there to work for Friends of Opal Creek, a remote residential facility for environmental education. The experience of teaching old growth ecology while living out of a cabin in the Western Cascade Mountains touched my soul deeply. Exposed to the impacts of industry and recreation on those natural resources, I became interested in further understanding the interaction between people and their environment. I also wanted to gain the skills that could equip me to represent the people involved and their stories. So I enrolled as a graduate student in Department of Anthropology at Oregon State University in 2002. During my program of study I worked with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ language and culture program in addition to photographing and documenting for repatriation Native American materials in the Horner Museum Collection. My resulting Master’s research struggled to find a way to respectfully and accurately represent the experience of Native women with their environments. Today I have traveled across the U. S., North America, and internationally. My experiences have led me to appreciate that people, no matter how different they are, are people and on the most important experiential level, not so different from you and me. In fact, my familiarity with many often antipathetic demographics gives me an appreciation for the challenges faced by diverse communities. So I try to represent the humanity of marginalized groups. My passion is for conservation and humanitarian work. With a background in both socio-cultural and ecological dynamics, I try to keep a fresh perspective on current issues. My training in Art, Creative Writing, Experiential Education, and Psychology helps me look for creative approaches to social and environmental issues. My hope is that our children, yours and mine, and their children will have a free and natural world to experience throughout their lives.