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book excerpt

Millennials & Management: The Essential Guide to Making it Work at Work by Lee Caraher.

Excerpted with permission from Millennials & Management: The Essential Guide to Making it Work at Work by Lee Caraher (Bibliomotion, 2014)

We all want to know how we fit into the big picture and what that big picture is. It's not enough to provide a clear vision for why our company exists, even though that is very hard to do well. Equally important is being able to describe what your team's role in that vision is, and how we each contribute to the team and therefore the vision. And you must reinforce this constantly.

Menial, entry-level work is the toughest to swallow for many recent college graduates. "It's a shock when they get a job and realize what entry-level really means," says Susan. "The attitude seems to be 'I don't want to do this' and 'I get it – and I want to do something important now.' And when reality hits them, they get bitter." …

If you want a chance at keeping entry-level Millennials in the fold long enough for them to learn the ropes and become more productive and valuable to you, providing context for their jobs is critical, not optional.

What is this task for? Why does it matter? How does learning this task help with learning the next one? How is this not like calculus that you'll probably never use again? How does this stupid work fit into the more "important" work everyone else is doing? You cannot overcommunicate this information for any generation, ever.

The Medium Picture: The Purpose of My Team

The big picture is not enough – teams need clarity on how their department or group fits into the big picture. And they need to know how their teams are a part of accomplishing the specific mission that's in front of them.

Answer these questions:

1. What does this department, group, or team do that is vital to the company?

2. If we weren't here what would happen?

3. If we weren't here what wouldn't happen?

My Picture: The Role of the Individual

Make sure your staff understands the value of their positions and how they fit into the larger whole. They should be able to answer these questions:

1. This job exists to:

2. My job is to make sure that:

3. If I wasn't here, this is what wouldn't happen:

This last step, the individual's immediate picture – why "I" make a difference – is critical. It may seem excessive, but if people understand their purpose within the bigger vision, if they can tie their day-to-day work to making a difference, then work life goes a bit smoother and more efficiently, with better output and good morale all the way around.

While we talk to outsiders and business partners about the company's big picture, we're better off talking to employees in terms of the pyramid's base being the person, not the company. It's true that we all ladder up to something bigger, but it's more effective to make the person the most "important" part of the pyramid when explaining how the work fits into the bigger purpose. This is true for Millennials as well as for those in your organization from other generations.

Making a Difference Through Work Too

Beyond making a difference at work with meaningful work, Millennials want to make a difference through their work–in their communities and in the world at large – as well. Millennials want their companies to be active volunteers and contributors and to provide opportunities for them.

As reporter Laura Meckler articulated in The Wall Street Journal, Millennials "want to work for companies with public service missions. They want their employers to contribute to social and ethical causes." Meckler's bottom line, based in part on the work of Morley Winograd and Dr. Michael Hais who believe that Millennials are very likely to be steadfast in seeking to align their beliefs with their work, is exciting (for me) and cautionary for all of us: "[I]f the values of the Millennial generation hold up over time, corporate America may be in for a shock." And by corporate America, I think we mean all business: from the small business will fewer than ten employees, to the Fortune 100 with tens of thousands of people around the country. Companies that don't actively engage in their communities will be at a disadvantage in recruiting and retaining the strongest and broadest base of Millennials.

So there's no time like the present to jump in and articulate how your business will participate in the community: here's a few ways to jumpstart your thinking and doing:

1. Employee Match: Offer to match your employees' donations to non-profit organizations (by percentage of their total give or capped). You can decide to focus the company's giving in certain areas (sustainability, housing, food, etc. or leave it open).

2. Find one to three nonprofits that make the differences most aligned with your company mission and focus your company donations, time, and talent to advancing their causes.

3. Instead of gifts to your clients at the end of the year, donate to a nonprofit in their area in their names. At Double Forte, employees nominate different charities which we then vote on, and we donate the money we would have spent on client gifts to that winning organization in our clients' names.

4. Help your employees in their volunteer efforts. Many of your employees are active volunteers in a wide range of worthy causes–there are lots of ways to help them help others. Offer up your office for committee meetings. Allow employees to e-mail the staff about volunteer opportunities with their charities (runs, clean up days, concerts etc.)

5. Focus team days on volunteer activities – use a service like VolunteerMatch to find great opportunities for your team to team-build while helping organizations in your community with team days that put your people to work where their ideas and elbow-grease is needed most.