Managing Military Millennials

Managing Military Millennials

Let’s face it: Millennials and Generation Z are taking over. They account for more of the talent pool every year and, as every organization should know, they are motivated differently than previous generations.

Unfortunately, many senior leaders in the business world don’t understand what younger team members value and how to get the most out of their younger professionals. This causes high turnover rates, more expensive employee retention efforts and less pro-organizational behavior. Some perceive the frequent job switching of Millennials and Gen-Zs as irrational or impulsive, but many times they simply lack leaders who can adequately motivate and challenge them.

Ironically, one of the world’s most rigidly bureaucratic organizations – the United States Military – discovered effective ways to motivate Gen Z. The US military is at the forefront of understanding younger generations because it hires, onboards and trains more than 150,000 young people from all over the country every year. Their leadership has helped maintain an unparalleled force of readiness and provides several lessons for civilian leaders of every organization.

Military leaders seek to understand their people, learn what they value and use their talents to accomplish missions. After briefly considering what makes Gen Z different, we’ll explore organizational and individual approaches the military uses to effectively motivate Gen Z and provide a few concrete examples that business leaders can emulate.

Who Are These People?

First, it’s key to understand younger generations. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) have experienced a lot in a short period. They saw the “dot com bubble”, 9/11 started two wars, and the housing market crashed right when they were trying to build wealth. Not to mention the technological revolution redefined how they engage with their colleagues, social circles and the market. As a result of their experiences, it makes sense Millennials are confident and self-reliant and value collaboration and career advancement (Özçelik, 2015).

Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2015) are unique since they’re the first generation to be bombarded with technology from birth. They never had to get a ride from their parents to the skating rink or arcade to see friends. For Gen-Z, technology has replaced the clunky old ways of socializing and made it largely internet-based. As a result, one study found that they’re less likely to get a driver’s license, go on a date or go to the bar with their friends than previous generations. Since the average Gen-Z member will see 200,000 online and TV advertisements before graduating high school, they value authenticity and purpose more than any other generation (Reid, 2018).

As a result of how these two generations came to fruition, they have distinct values that leaders can understand and use to benefit an organization. Millennials are collaborative, driven to succeed and want to experience all that life has to offer. Generation Z values authentic environments and an organization’s mission. Also, both of these groups value company culture, a strong sense of identity and purpose, and they are basically intent on saving the world. This is crucial to understand. Cash may still be king, but culture is in command. The military understands this, and they’ve been able to create an attractive environment for younger generations at both the organization and personal level.

Innovation Through Dissent

One critical way the military motivates younger generations at an organizational level is through its recent emphasis on allowing individuals to pursue truth through innovation-focused organizations. While there are examples of individual innovation peppered throughout military history, innovation has been less organizationally encouraged until recently. For example, disruptive thinking Millennial junior officers returned from deployments overseas and refused to accept stale answers and sub-optimal solutions to some of our nation’s critical security challenges. Their writings and actions spawned a slew of innovation organizations and competitions including DoD’s Hack the Pentagon, the Air Force’s Spark Tank Competition, the Navy’s Athena Project and the Marine Commandant’s Innovation Challenge. Not to be outdone, the Army exerted significant organizational resources to establish a permanent innovation lab (Army Futures Command) to modernize the Army.

Companies that deliberately foster employee innovation can harness the inquisitive, purpose-based outlook of Millennials and Gen-Zs while focusing their efforts to improve the organization. Corporate leaders can learn from the military’s willingness to foster innovation, especially if their current approach is not working. At their core, innovators like our younger professionals are creative truth seekers. They want to be able to make meaningful contributions that improve the world around them.

Culture In Command

At the individual level, the military created an atmosphere of shared accountability, teamwork and a sense of identity that resonated well with our younger generations. Marine Corps leaders build cohesion and identity through knowing what motivates their people, creating challenging scenarios and inducing competition.

Military leaders know their people and what motivates them. They leverage talents and interests to accomplish a mission instead of relying solely on scores and observation, which boosts morale and productivity. The second-order effect here is reciprocity, where the team members feel a sense of gratitude and indebtedness to their leader. There’s little translation needed here – get to know your people and what they want and be creative on how to provide that while meeting a company goal. You’ll be surprised at the kind of response you get from our younger generation.

Another way military leaders have been able to build purpose, identity and commitment in younger generations is by creating challenging scenarios to train them. Challenging scenarios spark creativity, force individuals to rely on others and build leadership skills among their subordinates. It also provides a great opportunity for an individual to showcase unique skillsets. A close friend is a Marine Reconnaissance Company Commander and described his approach:

“The first critical step is figuring out where you want your team to be better. Define the ideal state, then challenge the team to achieve it through adversity like inability to talk, restrictive timelines, etc. Get creative on this adversity you’re building. Continue to change one variable at a time as they get better through multiple training iterations. Finally, make sure you create scenarios where the team cannot succeed without working together.”

His last point is the most important: When you create a challenging scenario where individuals must rely on one another to succeed, you force them to ignore biases and opinions. The team members learn how to contribute their special skills, engage in groupthink and experience how their teamwork has an exponential effect on their collective performance. As a result, their in-group tribalism grows in a healthy way and the team builds vital intangible traits like implicit communication and empathy to understand one another. Ironically, individuals build self-confidence and social capital despite it being a team environment. One business example is to have your team complete a project while relying only on message boards and chat rooms without being able to speak to one another verbally. Introducing a time restriction can also add training value.

Finally, inducing competition is another great way military leaders motivate young generations, especially those collaborative Millennials. For example, Marine units often compete with other units to see who’s stronger, faster or can shoot better. When preparing for competition, Marines within the unit become closer and are united through their hatred for losing and their temporary disdain for the competition. This fosters a sense of what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls pathological dualism, where the Marines develop an “us vs. them” mentality. During the competition, individuals are extremely dedicated to one another and work to defeat their opponent. Communication improves, skills are sharpened and morale skyrockets. This also drives the concepts of identity, meaning and purpose further home – which was the intent the whole time.

Creating friendly competition between teams in your organization can bring team members closer together, build camaraderie and morale and give your people a chance to shine. You’re giving a young Millennial or Gen-Z’er the chance to showcase their talent, learn something new, contribute to something greater than themselves and potentially reap a reward. Also, if you get creative with the incentives, you can provide a way for your teams to contribute to a charitable organization, improve the community or benefit the environment. It’s just like the first rule of economics: People respond to incentives. In this case, pick the ones your young team members value.

Millennials and Gen-Z’ers will continue to expand their influence in our business world. They don’t solely value money. They value intangibles such as purpose, company identity, improving the world, collaboration and overall experience. These factors have a strong impact on their decision to join (or stay) with a company. Leaders should seek to understand what younger people value and how to provide that, both inside and outside the workplace. We can also get creative in teambuilding since happy hours or bonus metrics aren’t the main motivators for younger folks.

Challenge them to work together. Give them the chance to prove themselves through competition. And finally, get to know them so you can provide value beyond the paycheck.

This article originally appeared on PeopleScience.com.

Focusing On Customer Experience Is No Longer Optional

Customer Experience

Ready or not, the customer experience (CX) game is on. No matter what size or industry you may play in, you are now competing based on the experience you provide to your customers. Government agencies, this applies to you as well. So, if you’re not thinking that customer experience is something that you need to be concerning yourself with, you may be digging your organization into a hole that you may not be able to climb out of.

Why has CX become such a fundamental component of brand success?

While certain brands that have understood the power of the customer experience for many years and have continued to refine their CX delivery in new and profitable ways, the notion that all organizations need to consider the experience that they provide to their customers as a competitive driver has really only become something of note over the last decade. One primary reason for this is due to the great leaps and continuous improvements that these CX leaders make to their customer experiences which continue to raise customer expectations.

Brands like Amazon, Apple, and even Uber Eats have provided customers with the ability to engage in experiences that are designed around their specific needs and wants- and they like it. As expectations around experiences evolve those brands that are unable to deliver will undoubtedly lose the affection of their customers. This reality creates the need for organizations in all sectors and industries and of all sizes to ask themselves what they are doing to both understand what their customers want and need and what steps are they taking to be able to evolve their experiences to deliver on those expectations.

The experience that a customer has with your brand, positive or negative, can have a significant impact on your organization. Several years ago, I wrote a column about my experience at Walt Disney World- a trip that I was not looking forward to. To my great surprise, the experience that Disney created at every touchpoint that I had with their brand completely won me over. Since this experience and my reflection on it, I find myself continuously taking mental notes of the way in which my experiences with other brands live up to my expectations (or fail to do so).

A study published in 2018 by Forrester Research compared the stock prices of a sample of CX leaders and laggards to the S&P 500 and found that leaders significantly outperformed both laggards as well as the S&P. The message is clear, those organizations that are better positioned to meet and exceed the experience expectations of their customers in a consistent and repeatable way and those that are best able to adapt to the changing needs of their customers are those who will continue to outperform the competition.

The performance benefits of improving CX make it hard to ignore. From increasing customer engagement, trust, and likeliness to forgive a brand for making a mistake, to improving voluntary compliance to requests, CX has been shown to make the delivery of services more cost-effective. Oftentimes, in fact, the savings gained by improving CX delivery can make the financial arguments against the investment moot. Many organizations that embark on improving their CX delivery find that the effort becomes, in effect, a “self-funding” activity where the savings they see from improving CX delivery outweigh the investments to improve.

Who is your customer?

For many, day-to-day contact with end-user customers is rare. If this is the case for you, it doesn’t mean that CX is not important. Support, or back office, personnel may find themselves serving multiple customers though they may be internal customers. The same principles that serve organizations well when enhancing the end-user customer experience can be applied internally to your internal customers to help facilitate your interactions.

I asked David Hicks, CEO of CX advisory firm TribeCX to weigh in on what differences may exist between improving CX delivery for end-user customer versus internal customers. “There really aren’t significant differences, CX is a way of thinking. Seeking out, what is it that I do in my job that really makes a difference for colleagues/customers and then being fanatical about persistently and consistently improving on it and delivering it can benefit customers regardless of who they may be,” Hicks suggests.

CX in government agencies.

Recent research by McKinsey & Company shows clearly that government agencies, particularly those in the federal government, are lagging behind when it comes to the level of customer experience that they provide. Government organizations have their own, sometimes unique, challenges that make delivering high levels of consistent CX a challenge without a doubt. Many subject matter experts are retiring, draining critical institutional knowledge. Legislative and regulatory rules can make collecting data from customer difficult. Agencies may collect a great deal of data but a lack of integration of legacy systems can make drawing insight from this data a real nightmare. In addition, the role of CXO seems to still be something akin to seeing a unicorn in the public sector indicating that CX has not been at the forefront of managers.

What the most successful organizations do.

McKinsey’s (2018) research on the topic found that the most successful organizations do three things exceptionally well and consistently:

  1. They put themselves in the shoes of their customers. Really, truly taking a hard look at the brand experience through the lens of the customer can be tough but opening the curtain to understand the realities that exist is critical to understanding the opportunities that exist.
  2. They understand their end-to-end customer journeys.
  3. Isolate the moments that disproportionately shape the experience.

Where do you start?

Understanding that you have an opportunity to take a long, hard look at your current customer experience and committing to improve that experience over time is a good first step. David Hicks suggests that leaders begin by, “… buddying up with a front-of-house colleague for an entire day and to listen carefully to them and to the customers with whom they interact. Ask them what the single most important thing is to focus on first. This sends a powerful explicit and implicit message to your staff.”

Regardless of your sector or industry, customer experience is a factor of organizational life that is here to stay. Those that are best able to adapt to meet the changing needs of their customers and that are able to continuously increase the ease of interacting with their brand at key touchpoints are those who will enjoy a substantial and sustained differentiator over their competitors. As customer continue to get comfortable with their newfound new-found power to choose when and how they interact with brands, those that are unable or unwilling to make the effort to truly understand what their customers want and need run the very real risk of becoming irrelevant.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

How Government Leaders Can Stay Ahead of Security Threats

government leaders security threats

Since 9-11, there have been 156 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, according to data from newamerica.org. And though our country is safer today due to enhanced security measures, new threats arise every day.

Rapidly evolving technology only underscores this critical need to stay ahead of the curve. Gartner estimates cyber security spending will top $113 billion by 2020, and that number will continue to climb.

But, ‘staying ahead of the curve’ is a big challenge when dealing with safety and security in an unpredictable environment. And few people understand this better than Mike O’Neil, a 22- year veteran of the New York City Police Department and the first Commanding Officer of the NYPD Counterterrorism Division.

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8 Foundational Leadership Lessons From an Air Force Veteran Turned CEO

air force leadership lessons

There are very few leadership transitions like being a newly commissioned officer in the military.

Typically, on graduation day from a military academy, ROTC program or Officer Candidate School program, young men and women in their twenties pin on second lieutenant bars and immediately find themselves in charge of huge teams and millions of dollars of equipment in one of the harshest working environments imaginable.

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5 Ways To Make Infrastructure Planning More Manageable

5 Ways To Make Infrastructure Planning More Manageable

It’s no secret that infrastructure in the United States is in disrepair. One recent study found about 60,000 U.S. bridges are structurally deficient, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It seems like everywhere we look, things are falling down around us.

These issues will only become more pressing as populations grow. According to UNICEF, about 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. That urban growth means our need for dependable, efficient infrastructure is also on the rise.

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5 Steps to Successfully Implement Organizational Change

5 steps to successfully implement organizational change

The Government Accountability Office recently reported that the pilot program for the DATA Act, passed in 2014 to increase savings and transparency in federal spending, is still not up and running.

The pilot program had not yet specified a methodology or data to be collected, and its outcomes are unlikely to be scalable. To avoid missteps like these, federal agencies need a change management strategy that involves gathering evidence, meticulously outlining goals, and testing iteratively.

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Apply a Military Mindset to Make Your Business Less Fragile

Apply A Military Mindset To Make Your Business Less Fragile

From startups to the federal government, no organization is immune to the unpredictable.  We’re only halfway through 2016, and the U.S. Department of Defense is already tackling a range of complex challenges: battling the Islamic State group, combating domestic terrorism, and ensuring that key initiatives receive sufficient funding. And the impending presidential administration change will bring new priorities, regardless of who wins the White House.

Without a crystal ball, the department must develop solid strategic plans to achieve its goals this year and beyond. These techniques are based on military ideas, and you can apply them to your business, too.

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Implement Black Swan Modeling to Avoid Government Catastrophes

Implement black swan modeling to avoid government catastrophes

Black swan events are inherently unpredictable — and they’re all around us. From responding to cyberattacks, military conflicts and natural disasters to handling issues in environmental sustainability and third offset strategy, federal leaders need a new response strategy predicated on vulnerability and a willingness to explore.

Historical data cannot foresee these new and emerging threats. Major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil were never a part of our history, but 9/11 still happened. Other threats are unavoidable. In nuclear power, for instance, one industry expert describes unforeseen events as “inevitable.”

To counter these risks, federal leaders need to open their thinking to the unknown. They need to adopt black swan modeling.

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The Transcendence of Military Culture and Values

military culture and values

The United States Military culture, regardless of branch (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard), is attributed with values and behaviors of LDRSHIP: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Patriotism.  As I outlined in a previous article about our veterans, these are great values to epitomize and work towards in your own corporate culture.

What I have learned more recently is that employees in many organizations may think these values don’t currently reside there, or that they are far removed from the behaviors of the staff in general, may be surprised when they take a closer look. These organizations already epitomize, in their own way, these values of respect, belonging, loyalty, service and duty.

Here’s the experience that brought this realization to light:

Recently, in the same week, I visited both a client site of one New York City organization, and a US Navy client. Two very distinct and diverse organizations; city government and federal/defense.

As I was leaving the New York City client site, we all knew that the infamous “Fleet Week” was arriving here in New York, so we took a drive down to Fort Hamilton on the water to watch the USS New York arrive in all its glory.  As it passed under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the management and uniformed staff of Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority made it clear that they were proud of not only this magnificent Naval Ship (forged from the steel of the twin towers of 911), but of the equally as magnificent structure that Naval ship was sailing under, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that they each manage, protect and maintain.

To quote, “A beautiful image… a naval ship on the backdrop of the Verrazano.”

Though half a century apart, both of these government assets were built with the blood, sweat and tears of Americans. Both structures represent, in their own way, cultures of pride, of strength, and service to country. The bridge keeps the economy of New York City moving and the Naval Ship keeps the citizens and infrastructure of our United States economy safe from harm.  Two distinct missions, with two similar and transcending cultural compasses, representing withstanding and honorable service to the people they serve.

Sometimes the culture you desire—that you think doesn’t exist—is already there under the surface. It just needs to be tapped into.

I encourage employees, employers, owners, executives to think about what you each define as a honorable and respected culture and then try to emulate that in your actions, decisions and behaviors within your own organization.  You may be surprised at how close your current organization is to that seemingly far off culture and values you have been seeking.

We all need perspective like this at times to see past the fog.

May we all think of the majestic naval ship sailing under our own ‘bridge’ this Memorial Day and attempt to help our teams, our departments and our organizations do more to instill the culture we all desire.

As JFK once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

Many thanks in memory to those who have served for our freedom.