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unPACKed Podcast: Millennials Aren’t Coming, They Are Already Here

Listen as Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, deciphers generational myths and offers tools to connect, build trust, and drive influence with people across different ages.

It’s easy and often commonplace for older generations to forget that Millennials are not as young as they think they are. Some are already in their 40s with established careers in management and leadership roles. Since it’s no secret that Millennials do things differently than their Baby Boomer and Gen X predecessors, organizational changes must happen now as this next generation continues to take charge. PMMI Executive Leadership Conference speaker Jason Dorsey, president of The Center for Generational Kinetics, joined UnPACKed with PMMI to help explain some generational myths and uncover the hidden behavioral drivers of each age group.

To subscribe, rate, review and find more unPACKED podcast episodes, visit pmmi.org/podcast or find us on Apple podcasts, Spotify or iHeart Radio.

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Read the full transcript below


Sean Riley:

Welcome to the podcast. Jason Dorsey. 

Jason Dorsey:

Hey, thanks for having me. Glad to be here with you and thanks for doing this podcast. It helps so many people and I'm glad to get to be a part of it, so thank you for that.

Sean Riley:

The pleasure is all ours. And I know that you literally just came off stage from giving a well-received presentation. And I know what your mission is, to separate generational myths from truth to solve the generational challenge for leaders. But for the people listening at home, I guess, if we could just take it back a step, how do you redefine the term generations?

Jason Dorsey:

Yeah. So I think it's helpful to understand the bigger picture of what we do. So the research from that I run is called the Center for Generational Kinetics and our focus is on behavioral research, so what we're really interested in is leading studies and solving problems based on underlying behaviors. The way to think about it is most of the conversation, particularly in this industry, is around what we call tracking data. Sales up, sales down, throughput up, throughput down, sustainability, recruiting, retention, all these things are tracking things that have gone up down or stayed the same. And that's really important, we need to know what's going on, but what's missing from the conversation, particularly around generations, is why. And so the specific type of research that we lead is to understand why are people doing or not doing things, because if we can figure out why and add it to the what of what the leaders already know, then you can change the future.

Jason Dorsey:

So it's not just, "We're having turnover." It's, "Why is that turnover happening?" And then if we know that, then we can choose to say, "Hey, do we want to do something differently because of that?" So when we think about redefining generations through our work at CGK, we think about generations as clues and not a box. And that's really important. Sometimes you hear, "Oh, a generational speaker," and people cringe, right? "Oh, another one. I've heard 7,800 of them." But the reality is most of what's talked about generations just isn't true.

Jason Dorsey:

And I got into this because I was at a corporate board meeting presenting and the CEO of this big public company was trashing millennials. I didn't know any better, this was about 11 years ago, and I said, "Can I see your data?" I didn't know any better. So they sent us the data and I went through it and the data didn't match what the CEO had just said about, in his case, millennial engineers. And I went to my wife who is much smarter than me, she has a PhD, and I said, "Denise, what do you think we should do? They're saying all this about millennials but it's not true. Even their data disproves what they just said." And I said, "What do you think we should do?" And she said, "We should start a research firm because if the CEO of the big fancy company doesn't know his own data, imagine if we gave him great data that he could actually use and understand." And that's how we started CGK.

Jason Dorsey:

And then when we began to focus on separating myth from truth, what we really just wanted to under... We didn't try to prove like, "Oh, this is true, or that." It was just, "What is true?" Like, "Oh, it turns out millennials are working. It turns out they can be loyal. It turns out that Gen Z likes to save money and that has a huge impact on what they want to do with their future and how they look for jobs." So the more we started to understand that, the more we were able to get a better view into generations. And as part of that, one of our big discoveries is, "Hey, they're not boxes." And then when we think about redefining the term generations, it's stepping away from the idea that generations are boxes and if you're born this year, then you are all these things. It doesn't work like that. But what generations absolutely do is they give us a headstart to do three things, which is connect with, build trust, and drive influence with people across different ages.

Jason Dorsey:

And that's never been more important than it is right now in this industry. We have a massive workforce crisis going on. We've got to not only be able to recruit and develop the talent of these different generations, but we absolutely have to keep it. And everybody listening knows this, we can't just keep raising salaries and pay. There's a point where there's no more left, all the margin is gone. And so we've got to learn new and different ways to be able to connect that we know are grounded in research. And that's really the key to drive these results. So as we redefine the term as clues and not a box, then we start to study, "Well, what shapes the generations?" And I talked about this a lot this morning, which is parenting. Parenting is this huge thing that shapes generations, which nobody talks about. And so we talk about that today and how how we're raised impacts how we view careers and jobs and money and loyalty and retirement and all these kinds of things. "Do you have to go to college?" That sort of thing.

Jason Dorsey:

And then we looked at technology and the fact that different generations have a different natural relationship with technology that's driven by their age, primarily, and they can't see it until we have to interact with somebody who has a different relationship with technology. One of my most famous quotes that I shared today and I'm a big believer in getting the word out about, it's probably our most famous discovery, is that technology is only new if you remember it the way it was before. And that's a huge deal because if all you've ever known, for example, right now as Gen Z, and you've always looked for a job remotely and you've been able to get paid every day because that's what you can do right now and you've been able to be onboarded by text message, of course, you would expect that at every employer because it's been your entire experience.

Jason Dorsey:

And helping people to see what shapes these generations, then enables them to figure out, "Okay, so if they're clues and not a box and we know these are some of the different things that shape them, what do we need to know about each? And then what do we do to bridge these generations?" And a key point I want to make if it's okay, Sean, is that every single generation is important. There's no one generation that's more important than the others. And sometimes people want me to focus on one or the others, but at the end of the day, it's not about a generation of vacuum.

Jason Dorsey:

There's no companies we work with, no matter how big or small, that are like, "Oh, we only have millennials. We only have Gen X," or whatever. There's always this distribution, if you will, of different generations that are present. And so it's really important to always talk about each of the different generations whenever possible and not make it a single generation conversation, because that generation of course feels picked on like, "Hey!" And then on the flip side, the other generations are like, "Well, what about me? What do you know about me?" I know that was a lot [inaudible 00:05:41]

Sean Riley:

No, and I appreciate that. It's a very interesting summation of A, what you're trying to do. And the first thing I learned is that it's very important to marry up. That was what I got out of the gist of your beginning, is to make sure that you marry someone smarter than you, so that's a very good tip to take out of this. But, actually, in all seriousness, I do a lot of conversations with our editors for our magazines that cover manufacturing and packaging and processing, and a lot of the talk is on making the operations floor more engaging for the younger generations, say like millennials and Gen X, even though millennials really aren't that young anymore.

Sean Riley:

And that technology issue that you touched on is one of those things that pops up all the time is, when you're dealing with a generation... And this is, again, simplifying what you just said greatly. But when you're dealing with a generation that's been on handheld devices and been on tablets and phones and things like that, if you incorporate that into your machinery on the operations floor, you're now bringing in people that are working on that sort of technology that know that way better than the engineers that may have been on this floor for years because, like you said, they grew up with it. And because they grew up with it, it helps them become more engaged and it's another way to bring younger people or different generations into the same place. Like you said, you can't just have millennials, you can't just have Gen X. So I guess with that in mind, do you have ways or ideas or specific ways that manufacturing companies are doing things to drive results to get different generations working together or to increase one or the other in the workplace?

Jason Dorsey:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is what we do every day. I speak for manufacturing companies all the time. I think it's important to start with the recognition that we have to be careful not to get caught up in the headlines. And what I mean by that is, this whole work from home or work remote didn't apply in many manufacturing businesses. All my manufacturing clients kept working. I mean, this industry is essential. And so I think, first, we have to cut through that noise out there and think, "Oh, everybody only wants to work from home in their pajamas," which is just not true. And then the media may run with that, but that's not what we're seeing. People want a job that gives them purpose and meaning that also they can be paid what they think is fair or well, and they can have an impact. So when we look at what to do in manufacturing today, and for anybody listening, definitely get your pen ready or whatever. If you take notes on your notepad, grab it. I mean, for me, I always just take them on my phone, but whatever works for you.

Jason Dorsey:

And the key thing is this, first thing to understand is that we have to rethink recruiting and manufacturing. And what I mean by that is many, many adults today, particularly millennials and Gen Z... Gen Z is already up to age 26, millennials are well into their forties. What we see is that they're not looking for jobs except through their mobile device. So the actual experience of looking for an applying for a job is done through a mobile device. Well, that changes everything when it comes to recruiting because now I've got to be able to find what I need on your website, be able to apply easily by phone, save as I go, and so forth. So as you think about recruiting, the first thing we need to do is we need to make sure that people can apply for a job through a mobile device when it comes to your company.

Sean Riley:

Right.

Jason Dorsey:

And I will tell you, every CEO says, "Of course they can do that." And then I have them take out their phone and try it and none of them can because they're often pretty far from this. So the first is that. The second is, in the job descriptions themselves, if we want more applicants, you got to make the first two sentences really good. Why? Because our research shows, again, we work in this space all the time, the first two sentences often determine if somebody will read the rest of the job description. Well, that's massive because the first two sentences are often terrible, right? It's like a lawyer wrote them or whatever. And what we got to do is really sell the sizzle up front. And we know things like salary and benefits and all that is super important, but often it's buried at the bottom. What's happens? People don't apply.

Jason Dorsey:

And I say this all the time in manufacturing conferences and at manufacturing companies, we cannot hire people who don't apply. Full stop. So what do we need to do? We need to drive more applications. It's absolutely essential. So how do you do that? Make it so they can apply by their phone, you sell the sizzle at the top of the job description. And then what you do is you make it so that when they start the application, they can save as they go. Why is this a big deal? But one, if they know they can save as they go, more people will start it because they realize, "Hey, I don't lose all the work." The second is when they don't finish it, which is the vast majority of applications, by the way, you then reach out to them and you send them a text or an email that next week and it says, "Hey, Sean, I saw you started a job application with us. We really think you could be a great fit, we'd love for you to finish the application. Click here to finish right where you left off."

Sean Riley:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jason Dorsey:

Well, there's a whole bunch of behavioral nudges in there. Things like, "Oh, look, I knew your name. I reached back out to you. I told you it might be a great fit and you don't have to redo any of the work you've already started and you can just pick up." Why? Why is this a big deal? Because we've seen some of our companies that we work with, their percentage of applications has gone through the roof because all of a sudden you get a lot more people.

Sean Riley:

Sure.

Jason Dorsey:

It's like an abandoned shopping cart follows you around with advertisements, you went and looked at the shoes and now they're following you everywhere online. Same concept here, but we're trying to get people to apply. And so that's the first thing, we've got to get more and better applicants. And you do that by making it a better and easier experience, mobile only. The second thing is, when you get to onboarding, you've got to make it... And what do I mean by that? Nowadays with the great resignation, what we see is that just because somebody accepts the job, doesn't mean they show up.

Sean Riley:

Wow.

Jason Dorsey:

Full stop. Happens all the time. Ghosting is a massive deal. They accept the job and they don't show up. So the way I like to think about it is accepting a job in this industry in particular is permission to continue to selling you to show up to the first day. Your whole goal between acceptance and the first day is to get them to show up. Nothing else matters. And so, one of the companies that we work with is called Enboarder. Super neat. They're in my new book, it's called Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business. And what we found with Enboarder is the entire... They're the ones who taught us this, the entire onboarding process, when they rolled this out, that's what their solution does, is by text message. So if I were going to go show up and work for you, Sean, I would get a text and it would say, "Hey, Jason, super excited for you to start in two weeks. Let me ask you some questions. We can get you onboarded."

Jason Dorsey:

And I fill them all out by text message, right there, wherever I am. And it does everything, all the stuff you need, background, check taxes, da, da, da. Safety, all the things you got to get done. And then, I love this. This is what we put in the book, that they'll ask you things like, "Okay, Jason, what's your favorite sports team?" Texas Longhorns, I live in Austin. "Jason, what's your favorite snack to eat at three o'clock when your energy is low?" I happen to like raw almonds. And then they say, "What is your favorite lunch to have when you're celebrating something new?" And I would say Mexican food because I like Mexican food. So I would show up for my first day of work, check this out, they would have a coffee mug with UT Longhorns on it and a bunch of sports stuff around it, they would have all my favorite snacks already there for me, and they would've scheduled lunch for me with three coworkers to go to a Mexican restaurant. How do you think my first day was?

Sean Riley:

Pretty good.

Jason Dorsey:

Right? And it's all because by text. And the key is this, you have to stay in communication with people between when they accept a job and when they show up. And now what we've seen and what we're really focused on working with all these manufacturers is, how do you make that first day amazing? And the whole goal of the first day used to be like, "Oh, we need them to sign all the forms." And it sort of goes like this, "We love you. We're excited you're here. Please fill out all these forms, and here's 78 ways you can be fired and go to jail." Like, "Welcome to the team," right?

Sean Riley:

Yep, yep. Exactly.

Jason Dorsey:

And now what we need the first day to be is so great that you go, "Yes, I want to come back for the second day." That's the only goal of the first day now. So you take all those forms, you got to do them differently and think about differently. And so we see text message onboarding, making the first day great. And then as you go further, what do we see? In terms of retention, frequency of communication is critical. And in manufacturing companies there's not as much frequency of communication as you would think. Older generations were taught, "If your boss is talking to you, you're doing something wrong." Younger generations were taught, based on our research, "If you're not talking to them, you're doing something wrong." So what that means is they expect a lot more frequency of communication from their bosses, supervisors, and so forth. That doesn't mean they want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you, this is manufacturing, packaging and processing. What it means is they need to know that you know they exist.

Jason Dorsey:

It could be a text message. It could be a group message. It could be walking by and saying, "Hey, Sean. Great to see you." That's it. It's not a long conversation. But what happened is we're not seeing the frequency of communication. And as a result, younger generations are leaving because they don't feel like they're being either valued or seen, or they think they're going to even get fired because nobody's talking to them, when really older generations are like, "You're doing such a great job. I don't want to talk to you," which is really funny.

Jason Dorsey:

And then going further from that, what do we see drives the retention, particularly as we look at emerging generations? And that is having some sort of a talent development program. I talked about this a lot during my keynote today. And the idea there is that what we see with millennials and Gen Z is they need to feel like they're on a path and moving forward because a lot of manufacturing companies, let's be honest, particularly in packaging, there's not a lot of room for promotions. There's just not. And so if I can't get a fancier title and I'm not going to be able to get a raise, then the question is what can you give them that will get them to stay and stay engaged along the way? And that's where we see creating a talent development program. And this is a very specific wording because we study wording.

Jason Dorsey:

Lots of people say, "Oh, Jason, we have a leadership program." Look, millennials and Gen Z already think they're leaders, they don't want to go to leadership program. But they're super interested in talent development, so you create a program over two years. Why? Because you want them to stay for two years. You have a graduation at the end because you need to have a tangible outcome. You give them a certificate, whole deal. But the idea is you take this over two years, it's very inexpensive to do, and you have conversations every quarter. Usually that works. Sometimes some people do it every other month, but you watch some Ted Talk video or you discuss some chapters out of a book or some article that you've read. And the key is you want to develop really core skills that we know they need. These are things like soft skills. These are things like problem solving and so forth.

Jason Dorsey:

And then at the end of the first year, they have some challenge they have to solve. "Hey, make our website better. Improve our social media. How do you make the first day better?" Whatever. And then you go through a second phase of that and then you have this graduation and then you give them raise, which you would do anyways because they've now been there for two more years. And the whole idea here is it's something they can put on LinkedIn, it's something they can show their parents, there's just a lot they can do because now they've been a part of a program that really recognizes and helps them develop their talent. So it's those sorts of things that we're seeing that are just not being done in this industry that we know if you do this, and that you could do the whole program would cost you $0, maybe some lunches, but that's it. People will actually stay. It's just knowing to do this. That's the thing, there's this breakdown. "Oh, they won't know they really would love to do this."

Jason Dorsey:

The other thing we're we're studying a lot now is what we called earned wage access. I asked this today during the keynote, "How many people offer earned wage access?" Nobody raised their hand. And I said, "Well, how many of you offer the opportunity for employees to get paid some part of their wages every day?" Nobody raised their hand. And I think this is massive for manufacturing. You mark my words, we can come back in a year and do another show. But I'm telling you, right now, there are millions and millions and millions of young adults who are getting paid every day. And the way it works is, I show up, I work for you, Sean. And at the end of my shift, it says, "Hey Jason, you earned $84 and 20 cents today. Would you like half the money from your shift? Yes or no?" And if I push the yes button on my phone, on my little app there or the notification, then [inaudible 00:16:31], the money instantly shows up to me, no fees, and I can go spend it for dinner or whatever.

Jason Dorsey:

Why is this a big deal? Because we have millions of young adults who have only known the option of being able to get paid every day. That's all they've ever known. So of course they expect it when they show up to work in manufacturing. Why would you not offer that, right? They can get it at McDonald's, they get it at Subway, and they can get it at all these other places. Of course they should get it. Well, what happened? All of a sudden entry level jobs started offering same day pay. Uber offers same day pay. All of these companies do. Then it moved into now we see it with hospitals. Nurses have to do it in order to keep nurses. Engineers need to do it. And what you find out is, and this is what our research has shown, access to pay can often be more important than amount of pay.

Sean Riley:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jason Dorsey:

Somebody a small raise, it actually matters more if they can get their money every day. Or as we hear from the Gen Zers, which is hilarious. I put this in this Zconomy book, is they'll be like, "Why do the companies keep our money for two weeks? What do they do with it?" Right? And so the company we work with there is called Instant Financial, they're also in this Zconomy book. They were the ones that taught us about this and we have a new study coming out with them next month. But the idea is that if we don't offer this, certain people won't even consider working for you. And sometimes, just to be candid, some people are like, "Well, if you give them access to their pay every day, they're just going to blow their money." That's totally not true. And also, by the way, a very rich thing to say.

Sean Riley:

Yes, exactly.

Jason Dorsey:

Right? And what we find, no, they use it for things like transportation, housing, and food, because if they need their money now it's because they have a bill and they want to avoid payday lending. So those are just a few simple examples to bridge generations. And the last one I would offer is I would encourage everybody to create what we call a generational snapshot. And what does that mean? That means you take your employment base, and this is really important when we think about manufacturing and processing and packaging and so forth, you take all of the employees and you create this generational snapshot. It's like a pie chart, if you will, that shows your entire workforce by generation. If you need the birth years, you can just grab them off my site. You can go to my personal site, which is jasondorsey.com, or you can go to our site with all the free research, which is gen HQ, G-E-N-H-Q, dot com, and get all the birth ears and the stats about them and all the insights.

Jason Dorsey:

But when you think about this generational snapshot, here's the key thing. You want to create one that's current state, okay? "Here's where we are today." But then you want to create one of what it looks like in two or three years. And I promise you, people will be shocked. First of all, everybody guesses wrong when they think about what percentage of generations they have in their workforce. They're always shocked. And then secondly, when they look ahead, it becomes urgent that you start to adopt these types of strategies. And then what I find personally most fascinating because I speak to a lot of corporate boards and a lot of these trade associations and industries, and when you look around the room and the rooms are just... They're just older, right? A lot of baby boomers in there. And if you look at the role of leadership, and we do all this work with boomers, they're deciding are they going to stay for a few more years or not, their roles are changing, different life stage, Gen X is clearly moving up.

Jason Dorsey:

And so this is happening at every level in these businesses. And if we're not having this conversation, we're not having the right conversation, because no matter what we look at, recruiting, retention, engagement, sales, marketing, innovation, technology, you name it, every one of those is impacted by generations. It's one of the few things that cuts across all of them. And so the more we understand this, the better we can unlock the potential of each. And where you end up with, and what my talk was about today here at PMMI, was that every single generation is important. Every single generation is valuable and no one generation is more important than the other generations. And the better we understand each one, the better we can unlock the potential of each one. And that's really my mission and that's what we do at CGK and I'm so grateful to get to share that with you. So thank you Sean, for having me on the show. It's really an honor.

Sean Riley:

No, no. And I appreciate that and I know we've taken a bunch of time from you and I just... The one question that is sitting in my head the entire time that you're speaking is, I've been around in this industry and covered this industry as a journalist for 20 plus years and I need to hear from you how this is received by the... You kind of touched on it, but didn't... All this stuff you said is great and I love it and I understand what you're saying, but how is that received? You just stood up on stage and I know the majority of that room is, as you just described, is older and baby boomers. How is it being received? Because it is kind of a, "If you don't do this, your business is going to suffer and/or die." How are you seeing that when you have these talks and you talk to people? Is it being received? Is it being applied? Can you give any talk to that?

Jason Dorsey:

Oh, yeah. Totally. Well, first of all, it's very funny. My presentation is funny because that's how you have to be when you're talking about some of these uncomfortable topics. To me, it's you present all this through the lens of different stories and then stats to help people understand. In our case, it's our research that we lead. And people love it because at the end of the day, we're all living this. We're living this with our family, with our neighbors and our communities. We're all living this right now. And that's a big part of what's going on. So people relate to it through the family side often, and then they move into the workforce side. And to me it's never about ultimatums like, "If you don't do this, this is going to happen." Because look, we all got a lot of runway ahead, some more than others.

Jason Dorsey:

But what I like to see this is as an opportunity to really celebrate what people bring to work. And it's really an opportunity to honor the different experiences that we have and honor the different value that we have. And pretty much everything that I talk about, in terms of strategies that we know work through research, is all free or extremely inexpensive to do. It costs you nothing to change the first two sentences of your job description. Zero. And what we find is that people are much more receptive to it when it's not about catering or codling, because I'm fiercely against those things. If you cater or coddle to a generation, you bring out all their worst qualities. It's like all of a sudden you let them show up late because they're younger, well, then what happens? Then everybody starts showing up late or they say, "Oh, it's not fair." All of these things are playing out. You don't want to do that. That's not the right approach.

Jason Dorsey:

Our approach is every generation is valuable. The better you understand each one through the lens of your own, the better you can unlock their talent. And if we look at generations as clues and not a box, then they allow us to build connection, trust, and influence, which we know is what unlocks the potential across each of these generations. So, today, people seemed to love it. I mean, that was my take on it. I don't know. I got hugs and high fives, and [inaudible 00:22:40] want to come in and want me to come speak in their companies, which I'm thrilled and excited to do. So it seemed to go over really well. And then if you came up and said, "Oh, you totally helped me with my son." So you get that too. But yeah, no, I think people are really excited to hear a very different take on generations that they can actually use and it's not just, "Here are the generations."

Sean Riley:

Yeah.

Jason Dorsey:

But most importantly, "Here's what you can do." And that's really where I think people are, "Tell me what I can do now that we know works because I need solutions." That's the missing part, because they're in the solution mode now because they're very clear about the problem.

Sean Riley:

Interesting. Okay. That's good to hear. And I'm glad to hear that is received that way because I have the fear that, again, it is an older industry and that tends to be the, "Well, this is the way it's always been and I don't need to change it." So I'm glad that there is now interest in looking to have the conversation of how we can make this work and what are the solutions versus my-way-or-the-highway type deal. Well, Jason, thank you. Thank you so much for coming on after, again, you just gave a whole presentation and you were willing to give us some time. And we really do appreciate it, it was really great stuff.

Jason Dorsey:

Well, it's my honor and pleasure. And, like I shared with the industry, everybody in there is an unsung hero. They kept going through this pandemic, they were essential workers, they delivered everything from packaging for medical supplies, to all the other things that we need in CPG and so forth. It's just really important what they do and by connection that what you do, because we've got to get great insight out there to these leaders that are out there making it happen every day. And it's really, really important, so an honor to get to be with you and be a part of this great organization. So thank you.

Sean Riley:

Thank you, Jason.

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