There are five critical steps we should be focusing in on as leaders in order to increase the productivity of the Millennial (born 1981-1996) and Generation Z (born 1997 to present) salespeople who work for us. These five steps are important to for anyone who leads a sales team, but they are particularly essential deliverables for those of us born after 1946 and before 1965 — the so-called Baby Boomer generation.
If you are a Baby Boomer sales leader and you haven’t yet found yourself the target of an “OK Boomer” remark from someone who reports to you, don’t be too quick to congratulate yourself. If you aren’t implementing all five of the steps below, there’s a very good chance that your people are thinking “OK Boomer” … texting it … and saying it when your back is turned. If that’s not an outcome you’re looking for (and it shouldn’t be), let me suggest that you open your mind. One great way to do this is to move your team beyond “OK Boomer” … by implementing all five of the following to-do items.
- Give Them a Big, Personalized “Why.” Younger members of the sales team need a strong sense of purpose that aligns with their financial goals. Financial goals are important, of course, but many of these contributors want answers to much deeper questions: “Why are we even doing this?” “What value does our company deliver, and to whom?” “How does the task I am doing right now support the larger project, and how does the larger project support the overall mission?” “How does what I do at work every day fit into my larger life goals?” “What are we accomplishing as a team and as a company?” Have in-depth, one-on-one discussions with each member of the team, and work together to find the best answers to these questions, one salesperson at a time. This step doesn’t always come instinctively to some sales leaders, but it is very, very important.
- Tie Your Organization to a Cause that Younger Team Members Can Believe In. How does your company give back to the community? How can you engage salespeople, and particularly younger salespeople, to help you support that cause? Choose your cause with care. Millennials and Gen Z workers typically prioritize making a meaningful social contribution more highly than some other team members do. Finding a charity that they can commit time, effort, and money to is likely to be extremely important to them. Make it easy for them to connect that cause to your organization … and be sure you support that cause with dollars and actions! This step makes work part of a younger salesperson’s larger mission in life, and makes working for you more than something they “have to do” to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head.
- Give Them Flexible Work Hours. Questions of work/life balance are likely to play out differently for these younger workers. The best of them will stick around longer at companies that go out of their way to give them the ability to fit everything of importance into their lives. Don’t try to chain younger workers (or anyone else, for that matter) to a single one-size-fits-all working schedule. I would suggest that you change your paradigm, and start thinking about goal time, rather than fixating on clock time. What is getting done, and by when? Let them fill in the gaps and set up a viable, personalized schedule that works for your organization … and for them as individuals.
- Create and Support a Strong Learning Environment. More than other members of the team, these younger workers are likely to focus on developing themselves and their talents in the workplace. They are interested, not just in where they are now, but in where they are headed, personally and professionally. They want to learn how to be 100% proficient in their current position, and they also want your help in getting themselves ready to take their careers to the next level. Find out what that next step is and then give people the learning resources they need. Continuous learning must be part of the job. That’s a great standard for everyone on your team, but it’s particularly vital for younger workers.
- Role Play. I’m always surprised by how few sales leaders lead role play sessions with their team members. These sessions are extremely important, and they’re particularly important for younger workers. Role play helps them to feel comfortable in doing their job — and that’s what you want! If they’re not yet comfortable, younger workers will be deeply hesitant about executing. They’ll feel anxious, especially in the early going. Strong role play activity lowers anxiety, increases adoption of key skill sets, and makes it much more likely younger workers will actually do what they’ve been trained to do. Before you complain about how a Millennial or Gen Z salesperson does the job, ask yourself: Have you done the one-on-one coaching and role-play sessions that will help to make that salesperson truly comfortable executing the relevant skills? Have you made it as easy as you possibly can for them to hit the behavioral targets that you as the leader need to see, week in and week out?
Taken together, Millennials and Gen Z constitute the largest — and yes, the most underutilized — chunk of the contemporary sales workforce. Implementing these five essential steps will help you to win their respect, keep them engaged, and get them performing at peak levels. And you’ll make “OK Boomer” some other Boomer’s problem.