On the Job with Charlie Anderson

  • Article by: LAURA FRENCH SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: October 9, 2012 - 8:21 AM

The Millennial Generation is the subject of "a vast amount of mis-categorized concern," according to Charlie Anderson.  The BoomLab, Anderson's company, specializes in placing and mentoring Millennials in their first engagements as consultants in technology, finance, supply chain and other business areas.

For example, Anderson disagrees with the description of Millennials as "entitled." Rather, he said, they don't see the need to spend long years simply "paying their dues." "They want a meritocracy," Anderson said. "From their point of view, the speed of change is so rapid that any experience more than five years old is irrelevant."

On the other hand, he readily acknowledges, "They can't bring 20 years of people skills and experience to the table." That's where BoomLab's training and coaching come in. For a generation that has grown up with computers, smart phones and Facebook, knowing how to communicate is no problem, he said, but they don't always know what to communicate.

A Gen-Xer himself, Anderson had to make the transition from answering machines to voice mail. Microsoft Office wasn't a standard tool. "Now, every person in the Millennial Generation is as good at Office as I am. I had a client who wanted someone 'familiar with mobile apps.' For this generation, that's like asking, 'Do you drink water?'" Given their expertise, Anderson said, "I catch myself forgetting they're 23."

Anderson says members of older generations should rethink the "confirmation bias" that looks for fatal flaws in Millennials. The fact is, Anderson said, "They are going to change the workplace."

What are the biggest differences in this generation?

They've grown up with so much access to information.  If they need to know something, they Google it. It's not a "Let's dig in and figure it out" generation.

Is the label "trophy generation" accurate?

We screen for that. We watch them get their way and not get their way. We see how hard they're willing to work. Our consultants don't ask for trophies, but they might forget they're part of a team.

What advice do you give the Millennials about working with older generations?

Don't call the CEO "Bob." Start by addressing him as "Mr. Smith." Chances are he'll respond, "Call me Bob," but that small piece puts you ahead. When you go to a meeting, take paper and pen, and take notes. Be present and stay focused. Acknowledge that you're listening without interrupting. Be punctual. Eliminate "like" and "so" from your conversation.

What advice would you give older generations about managing Millennials?

Be clear about your expectations. Distinguish between what you need right now that's mission-critical and what's critical but less time-constrained, or what's just nice to have.  Millennials will over-prioritize things they enjoy doing. When you give an assignment, "turn the ignition." Be clear about the first step -- say, "Why don't you set up a 30-minute meeting with the person who did this report last year?" Don't assume they know something. Give them the tools they need. Don't just ask, "Is everything going okay?" Ask a probing question to find out. They want to provide value, but it takes a lot of frustration for them to speak up and ask for help.

Where do you stand on the topic of multitasking?

I tell them that they're better at multitasking than I am -- but multitasking isn't better.  What they're really doing is "background tasking," which is fine for the surface level, but it takes processing power. That's why we turn down the radio in the car when we're looking for a house number.

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