I’m Chill Man…You Know, For the Most Part

Whether you’re preparing to climb up the side of a mountain or preparing to walk through the main lobby on your first day of your first real job, nerves are something that each of us has to grapple with in our own way. But when it comes to the myths surrounding millennials, nervousness is something that tends to be viewed in two starkly different ways. On the one hand, many managers would argue that millennials are never nervous. Some might say that we’re cocky to a fault, and that one of our biggest problems is that we are too sure of ourselves all the time. Yet while I have certainly felt confident about projects I’ve worked on, I’ve lost track of how many times I thought I’d swallowed an entire botanical garden-sized butterfly exhibit before walking into a meeting.

We’ve all seen millennial co-workers pouring over study prep for the GRE/GMAT/LSAT/WNNPs [relax overachievers, I made that last one up] within the first few months of starting their first job. And sure, on the surface that employee probably looks quite confident.

“She’s here two weeks and already she’s thinking about Law School.”

In fact, I’ve been amazed at how many times friends have told me that their bosses just kind of expected them to be confident without any real workplace experience or coaching from their managers. And I think that is where that perceived confidence begins to work against millennials. Confidence is something that everyone strives for at some point in their life, and for a lot of C-Suite executives it’s a defining characteristic for those who are tapped to move up the rank-and-file. It’s a check-mark on the list of being a “Good Executive,” because it has become synonymous with being a driven, hard-working professional who can get the job done.

But when an experienced manager sees a millennial studying for the GMAT on day one, how is that interpreted? In the case of the young woman mentioned above, her studying for Law School was actually viewed negatively in this specific case, because the manager thought it signaled that she was uninterested in her current job and already thinking about moving on. So, in this instance, was a millennial appearing confident actually a bad thing?

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s back up and dissect how many of us actually view ourselves as being confident to begin with. I’ve seen over a hundred millennials studying for grad school or working on that first big project through lunch at dozens of companies across the country. But I can’t remember ever seeing anyone who looked remarkably sure of themselves with their head in a study book, cursing themselves for not remembering how to multiply fractions. In one hilariously unfortunate case, I saw a new employee mistakenly adding hot sauce to their 2pm coffee while they were frantically trying to remember PEMDAS.

If we look at the assumed confidence stereotypes of millennials and this observed, frantic behavior simultaneously, then each millennial is floating somewhere between thinking that they invented PowerPoint and their fourteenth nervous lap around the supply room. So, for the last question from our small survey, I wanted to know how each of the participants honestly felt about starting to build their career.

 What surprised me most about these results was not that they were somewhat curved, but the direction in which they curved. Just over half of the participants admitted to “a polite sense of nervousness,” but within the other half, participants skewed much more towards feeling confident than feeling nervous. Although, as I mentioned, managers often view millennials as being hyper-confident, I personally would have expected more of the non-median respondents to feel more nervous than confident. Paying rent, establishing credit, climbing ladders, realizing you can’t only eat ramen noodles, it’s scary stuff! Yet only 13% said that they were highly nervous about their career. Taking that first step up the path is undeniably scary. Yet approximately one-third of millennials surveyed felt confident enough to give me an iconic “Nah man, I got this.”

So let’s go back and put this into perspective with the case of the young millennial woman studying for the LSAT in her first two weeks. We so often hear the phrase that “confidence is key,” and according to our survey results, more millennials have it (or think they have it), than don’t. Yet in this woman’s case, having the drive and self-assertive discipline to begin prepping for an arduous testing process for law school actually hurt her in her manager’s eye. Is that entirely fair? No, it isn’t. And I’m in no way arguing for anyone to set their ambitions aside. But perhaps if nothing else, this last survey question serves to underscore the divide of how managers and millennials interpret things differently. The millennial is just doing what she’s been doing through high school and college, planning ahead and trying to succeed. But the manager sees a strong indication that it’s not worth investing time in the millennial, because the latter is indicating that she will leave soon anyway.

But how do we put this whole survey together? What does our initial portrait of “the real” millennial look like? The most popular answers to each question would suggest that a millennial chooses their first job based on the industry (34%), intends to be named the CEO (36%), will stay in their first job tentatively, but will always be keeping an eye out for new opportunities (46%), and are moderately nervous about their careers (54%). Yet the second most popular choices paint a very different image. They suggest a millennial chooses their first job based on salary or work-life balance (25%), intend to be upper-level management but not the CEO (29%), don’t see any future at their current company (27%), and are confident in the direction of their career (33%).

Both of those sketches are not terribly far apart, but they suggest two significantly different employees. So it would appear that we didn’t discover a set “millennial mold.” But for the generation that is allegedly the most diverse, that shouldn’t be too surprising. If there is one set takeaway from our first survey it’s that even though we all approach our careers differently and our paths are diverse, we all start from base camp, looking up.

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The Catch-22 of RFPs – Do you have a blind spot in contract renewals?

Most sales organizations manage sales projections and plans in terms of new business and existing business. It’s a great year when the recurring numbers are a high percentage of your plan. But, those existing accounts all go through a point of renewal and often an RFP process. That process introduces some risk into your most valued relationships.

Sales leaders know this; seasoned salespeople know this, and everyone hears something like the following:

• “Don’t let this come down to the wire.”
• “Strengthen the relationship so that our client doesn’t put the business out for bid.”
• “Treat every year as if it is a renewal year.”

We work with many sales organizations who are proactive with renewals. They double down on resources in heavy renewal years, they increase customer visits and they strengthen the support bench to make sure these renewal clients know that they value the contract. But inevitably, salespeople still fall into the Catch-22 of renewals.

It’s that murky area where you’re solving today’s challenges, and new vendors step in with tomorrow’s opportunities. Suddenly, you seem to be the short-sighted one and other vendors seem to be the visionaries. They seem to have gotten the upper hand. How can that be?

Well, it’s easier to sail in on a promise and it’s much easier to tell a forward-looking story. There are no problems to solve, no bumps to remember and the slate is clean in terms of delivering on expectations. As the existing vendor, you have to balance what you’d like to do with why you haven’t done it and every forward thought is measured against your last deliverable.

It’s not fair. But, it’s real. When clients enter an RFP scenario, the rules seem to change overnight. You’re in a race that you never signed up for. And suddenly, things they’ve never asked for seem to be front and center.

The sound bites above are true. Renewals should be planned for, existing vendors should avoid an RFP at all costs and it helps to always have the thought of renewal top of mind.

But, there’s another part to the equation that we’ve had great success in helping sales teams implement. And, that’s the concept of changing up the storyline.

Long before an RFP competition, salespeople can adjust the view of their organization by sharing a more compelling storyline that delivers on where you are today and where you will be tomorrow. We rarely see a new talk track built into a renewal process. That’s a mistake, and that’s the blind spot.

Because this is what we hear from the client-side of the table:

• “While costs may be where we end up with contract renewals, it isn’t where we start.”
• “We have to balance disruption with enablement.”
• “No one buys technology in terms of what it does today. It’s always a question of what it could do next.”

As you can see, renewals are a forward-thinking decision. That’s where many existing vendors miss the mark. Yes, you’re solving today’s challenge and being responsive to their needs. That’s valuable. But, it doesn’t show them what you plan to do next or where you think the marketplace is going. That’s in the other vendor’s deck.

RFPs have morphed a good bit. And, technology may be to blame for it. Every sale has technology as a disrupter or an enabler. That can be a good thing if it’s hard to unravel your technology for another one. But, it’s also a forward-looking decision. Clients buy technology to get ahead more than to stay in step. So, they are more drawn to a forward-looking message than one that focuses on what’s been accomplished to date.

And too often, we see the existing vendors show up with a message about what they’ve done rather than what they planned to do next.

Our experience on both sides has revealed that it’s critical for salespeople to keep positioning the overall vision of their company even if your client isn’t currently interested in that total vision. The vision and look ahead needs to be a part of every sales process so that those who work with you can balance both aspects of your story.

We teach many sales teams how to balance a conversation that needs to solve for current challenges but should also position future opportunities. We overhaul sales messages to make sure that customers always have line of sight to today AND tomorrow. And, we bring a good perspective in helping sales groups recognize their blind spot when it comes to positioning a compelling message. That’s the best way to ensure those valued customers never roll into an RFP.

Renewals don’t have to be a Catch-22. But, it does take an intentional strategy to strengthen the storyline and help your customers see beyond today’s results. It can be as easy as offering perspective on what your materials say today or helping you position yourself against a new competitor who seems to be telling a better story.

Is it time for your group to change up your storyline?

We’re here when you need us!

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Sally Williamson & Associates

Stop. Drop. Next Payroll

In my last year of college the most common thing I heard from my peers when they would describe their career plans to either a parent or a professor was something like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this for a year or two and then [go to grad school, get a better job, be promoted, etc].”  Granted, many of today’s graduates flock to consulting firms immediately after college where the industry norm is skewed towards a higher turn-over rate, but even in traditionally less-fluid fields, managers have typically come to expect that millennials only intend to stay with a company for a few years. I know many business owners who hesitate to hire recent college grads for this very reason.

“Millennials are constantly chasing upward mobility and they’ll just quit in six months anyway when they don’t get promoted.”

Let’s try and dissect that stigma from a different angle. If Company A would make you a supervisor tomorrow, why should you stay at Company B for five years in the hopes you might be made a supervisor? That sounds like a no-brainer, right? According to common perceptions, if a millennial was faced with that situation they’d basically act out fire-safety protocol. Stop (Thinking about a future at Company B). Drop (What they were doing and make for the exit). Next Payroll (Pause at HR to ensure their last check goes to their new address before posting their new employment title on LinkedIn).

But as awesome as Company A’s offer might be, that kind of offer is, despite our expectations, quite rare. It doesn’t matter that you got straight A’s and wrote an amazing thesis on medieval Slavic kingdoms and chances are, your boss is not just “ignorant.” (Except yours of course. Totally wrong all the time, right? Gosh!) Corporate development, and thus promotions, take time, even though we often think we’d excel at being a manager if we’d only just get the chance.  So for the majority of us that work for Company B-type places, what are we supposed to do?

What I wanted to know in the third question of my survey was do millennials really have this “ebb and flow” attitude initially when it comes to our careers? Do we actually want, like the woman in our tag photo, to leap from precipice to precipice every year or two in the hopes of leap-frogging into upper management, or do we simply do it because we think that that is the only way we’ll ever succeed?


It would appear initially to be the latter. When asked, “What is the Best Way to the Top?” not a single participant said that they thought staying with the same company was the best way to get there. However nearly half of everyone surveyed said they would stay where there are provisionally, but would always be seeking new opportunities. Admittedly, the old-school model of staying with Company B for 45 years and then retiring isn’t nearly as prevalent as it once was. Yet for not a single participant to say that they envisioned their own success at a single company is interesting. The other half of participants, in various forms, agreed that they couldn’t see their career routed to one company, and, even from base camp, took their responses one-step further and consciously expected themselves to make moves.

 So what can we take away from this? We know already from this survey that millennials are fairly diverse in why we chose our first job and that a majority of us are seeking to be somewhere around upper management. Adding these newest results to the mix, do diverse backgrounds and elevated drive make us extra sensitive to company’s more rigid cultures? Nearly a quarter of millennials surveyed said they saw no future at all at their current job. Is that just because we are so focused on where we want to be that we become impatient with where we currently are when we don’t advance as quickly as we’d like to? Or do we as millennials have greater expectations initially than previous generations and a greater willingness to forge our own paths to the top, even if it mean going through a dozen companies instead of just one?

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Too Hot or Too Cold…Never Just Right!

 We all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (bears live on mountains…the climbing metaphor totally still works…shut up!). Goldilocks never preferred things too hot or too cold, or too hard or too soft; she always wanted something in the middle. Which is an endearing segway into where I left off last post about my survey of millennials. The first question I asked participants was, “What main factor drew you to your current job?” And the results were not wildly unexpected. Yet when I asked participants the second question, “What is Your End Goal for Your Career?” their responses were almost the polar (a bear joke…get it?) opposite of what I expected, essentially a  “Goldilocks” model.

                As a refresher, I asked a group of millennials aged 22 to 30 from four different cities across the US a series of four questions. Today I want to discuss their responses to the second question, “What is the End Goal for Your Career?” In the last post I talked about the factors that pull us towards our initial career paths, but I was also curious about the frame of mind that millennials have when they first arrive at a new job. A professor of mine once told me that the biggest disappointment 20 year-olds will face in the coming decade is the realization that we aren’t all future CEOs and Board Members; “just by plain math, today’s coddled graduates are in for a rude awakening!”

                I’ll address the perception of millennials as “coddled” in future posts, but for now I want to dissect my professor’s comment that we cannot all be CEOs. Mathematically that obviously makes sense. There are only so many top dogs in the pound. But do all of us even want to be “Numero Uno” or are our definitions of success maybe a little more spread out? Before I even designed this survey I assumed most people (yes, even extremely driven millennials), would be like Goldilocks and ultimately content themselves with a comfortable life somewhere in the corporate middle. I expected some of the participants to be extra summit-driven, just by nature of knowing them outside of this questionnaire. But I did not expect for my professor’s opinion that all millennials are summit-driven to be correct.  



                As it turns out, his stereotype proved true…and…it didn’t. Over a third of the participants said that their end goal for their career was to become the CEO. And at first glance that number seems stunningly high and seems to confirm my professor’s thoughts on the matter. But when you stop to think about it, the data also reads that only a little over a third of the participants stood at base camp and said to themselves, “I’m going all the way up!” For a generation that is supposedly so defined by immediate and prolonged success, only 36% of millennials striving to be the CEO challenges the mold a bit in my eyes. True, that number might be higher than previous generations, but I think maybe it would be fair to hit the brakes a tad before we say “All millennials expect to be the CEO.”

                So if the majority of us don’t envisioning climbing all the way up to the Presidential Suite, where do most of us want to go? Therein lies another interesting find. Half of the millennials surveyed seemed to fall somewhere between my professor and me. Combined, half of the participants said that they would want to either be upper level management or somewhere near the top, but not be the sole person in charge. Yet contrarily, 14% said they would be happy precisely where they were, at an entry level or lower-rung position; the exact opposite of the driven millennial stereotype!

                So, wait a minute. If some of us want to be at or near the top, but not an insignificant number of us are fine being near the bottom, is there an aversion for millennials of getting “stuck” in the middle?What’s most interesting to me about those two findings is that, just like the first question, there was a category in which zero participants said that it described them. Zero percent of the millennials wanted to be “middle management.” Too hot or too cold…never just right! Are some of us not climbing to the top because we’re afraid of getting bogged down in the middle? So far it seems that if nothing else, we know more about what we don’t want than about what we do want!

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