Mining the Millennials


Millennials, also known as Gen Y-ers (80 million, born between 1980 and 1995), were raised by overly doting parents who coddled their self-esteem like fragile Fabergé eggs. They played in little leagues where the score wasn’t kept and where everyone was a winner and everyone got a trophy for just showing up.

Having hired, worked with and trained many, I had concluded that millennials were simply lazy, undisciplined, unmotivated, over-entitled and disengaged, with the attention span of goldfish.

Then I joined the Board of Directors of an organization called Invisible Children, founded by and made up entirely of millennials. I was quickly humbled to the fact that it is not that they are unmotivated, inattentive or disengaged—they were just unmotivated, inattentive and disengaged in working for ME!

The three leaders behind Invisible Children and their mostly volunteer army of incredibly motivated, hard-working and passionately engaged millennials have pulled off achievements in the last half dozen years that even SUCCESS hasn’t in the last 116 years. They have organized marches on Washington, simultaneous overnight rallies of millions of people in over 100 cities worldwide and pulled off wild stunts to get themselves on the Oprah show (which they did three times! video1, video2). They even wrote a bill that they personally pushed through the Senate and Congress all the way to the Oval Office and stood there while the President of the United States signed it. You cannot tell me this is an unmotivated, lazy and unfocused generation anymore. Go here to help support this group.

Having seen the talent, passion and capabilities of the millennials up-close, I now believe they pose one of the greatest strategic opportunities for companies today… if they know how to properly respect and mine their talents.

Your Strategic Opportunity—Learning to Mine the Millennials

The millennials are the largest generation to hit the

workforce since the baby boomers. They are taking over whether you like it or not, but learning how to mine their talents and appeal, connect and support the values of the millennials faster than your competition will give you a huge jump-start in the marketplace.

The Four Ps of Millennial Values

PEOPLE—They are not the ‘rugged individualists’ of yesteryear. The interesting paradox is they like to be part of a team and a members of a community, yet they still want to be valued as an individual. This is why they might have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but still want to have their page and profile customized. Or they buy the same iPhone (to belong to the Apple cult, ahem, community), but they want their case, welcome screen and ringer to be unique.

Leadership Action: Talk in terms of “the team,” not “employees,” “staff” or “the company.” Build an internal culture that has them feeling part of something special, valued and important. Invest not only in helping them do better at their job, but also in their lives. Treat them as valued people, not task-driven employees. Don’t try to homogenize them (think old-school IBM conformity). Allow them to express and contribute their individuality and uniqueness.

PURPOSEThey don’t need to read The Magic of Thinking Big—they already do. They want to tackle the impossible, something never before attempted. Big problems, big visions and great causes. That’s what gets them excited and they will sacrifice greatly and work like crazy to pull it off.

Leadership Action: The goals and objectives of the organization have to be bigger than just turning a profit. Speak in terms of revolutionizing a market, fighting an injustice, solving a big problem, making a significant positive difference. Make sure your company practices community contributions and environment-sustaining principles.

PROFITThey want money, but it is not an objective unto itself. While my generation (Gen X) might see money as a measure of achievement, millennials see money only as a necessity to fund their pleasures and lifestyle fun. Money really is only a means to them, not the end. When it comes to motivation, praise, recognition and appreciation are more far more motivating than bonuses or excitement of ROI.

Leadership Action: Recognize their contributions and have them feel appreciated. Celebrate important life occasions—weddings and births, and make a big deal about their birthday (their parents did). If you really want to endear yourself, send a letter to their mom telling her how great they are doing.

Productivity—They are digitally native. They don’t know a world without the Internet, fast-action video games and seemingly endless media and entertainment options. They are consummate multi-taskers and they loathe more than anything waiting or wasting time. They are also not gripped by loyalty for loyalty’s sake. They will only stay with an organization for as long as it serves their ideals. They think nothing of having worked for four different companies in the past 18 months.

Leadership Action: If your organization is not tech-centric, they won’t even know how to operate. It will be up to you to keep them focused on the few key priorities by repeating and reinforcing them repeatedly—far more than you think is necessary. And the onus is on you to keep them engaged, happy and fulfilled. Do not assume they will stay because having the job is some sort of privilege. They will move on to greener pastures if you don’t keep the lawn fertilized.

FREE AUDIO: This is my interview with the thee young men behind Invisible Children.
Click here to listen: Interview with Invisible Children Founders (or right-click and Save-As to download)

What are the couple adaptations you will make in your organization to be more attractive to and supportive of the millennials? Identify in the comments below.




51 responses to “Mining the Millennials”

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  4. I see a lot of confusion between the needs and desires of the young – they desire constant stimulation, but they need food and shelter. In the real world nobody needs to cater to a high-maintenance/low-productivity workforce that is spoiled enough already – the fact that they enjoy roughly 50% higher unemployment pretty much says it all. There are plenty of hardworking, skilled, already housebroken older workers who need work and don’t expect to be entertained or socially stimulated by their employers. They are ready and eager to fill the gap until the recession teaches Gen Y the life lessons that will make them FIT for work in the adult world. In the meantime, exceptional Millennials who already “get it” should be sought after and prized, but their entitled, distracted brethern will be more of a burden in the workplace than they are worth. Give the jobs to people who actually deserve and will appreciate them and who will perform for you – there are plenty of them out there. Young people who act as if they’re doing you a favor just by showing up, aren’t. And if you make the mistake of coddling, or catering to them, or lowering the bar for them, expect THAT to become YOUR job. Don’t believe me? Ask their PARENTS who are still supporting them.

  5. Darren,

    As a Millennial myself, I truly feel you nailed our generation. I am on the older side, 1981, plus I have an older soul, but still I hate – yes, hate! – when things are inefficient and purpose-less.
    Instead of playing with my thumbs, I google the definition of a term, the name of a singer, or a business concept, and fill my mind with information… information is my fuel!!!
    My world is paradoxically bigger and smaller than the world of my parents. My mother, now a grandmother, gets to see my daughter on a weekly basis via Skype from Italy. When I lived in italy I was lucky to see my grandparents twice a year.
    An because I realized the world is so big, but technology makes it more reacheable, I – and I think WE – have a desire to make a global impact, even if just through a tweet, a facebook posting, or contributing to a worldwide cause….

    As an older Millennial, I need to learn how to work with my younger peers, who are far more impressive in their speed, knowledge, and once that big picture clicks into their minds… WOW!!!… I can see how much potential my younger siblings have….

    Thank you for this complimentative and as usual empowering article!

    One Love,


  6. As a young manager and employee I really reasonated with Darren’s article.

    A book I have found on the subject that helps shed some light on the newest generation in the workforce is ‘Not everyone gets a Trophy: How to manage Generation Y’ by Bruce Tulgan.

  7. Darren, it is 1 am in my country….I never read mails…blogs….so late but this one blowed my mind! I really thought that something is wrong with those young people today. Now I understand and have serious business to do – to learn to understand them. Thank u for openning my eyes.

  8. Great article and insight! I REALLY like the ideas for working more effectively. The Leadership actions really made me stop and think about how I am communicating and working with my team.

  9. Darren, what you say is right on the mark however there is an additional perspective that comes into play. After all, were not similar negative generalizations made about previous generations (I seem to recall seeing a reference to the ‘lazy wastrels and ner-do-wells’ that was supposedly from either a late 1800’s or early 1900’s newspaper article – unfortunately I don’t have the reference)? And weren’t the ‘flower children’ of the ‘70’s criticized for their unrealistic ‘pie in the sky’ dreams making the world a better place? I think all generations have big dreams and hopes for making the world a better place as they are growing up – what is so different and encouraging about this generation is the connectivity afforded by the internet and modern technology. Previous youth could talk and dream about changing the world but on entering the workforce often lost touch with their comrades who thought and felt the same way. Without that critical mass of support and carrying all the baggage to ‘earn a living’, many lost sight of their dreams and never achieved them.

    This generation however has the technology to not only remain connected but to expand their ‘tribe’ of like-minded individuals and in so doing continue to grow and expand their dreams and make them a reality. And yes, they are quicker to move on and have been criticized for lack of engagement and loyalty, but then many have seen how far loyally to a company has gotten their parents! I know my children have a different view of the workforce than I did, some of which was likely shaped by conversations around the kitchen table!

    And there will still be those that don’t contribute and are labelled ‘lazy’, however the question then becomes – how have we failed in not helping them find what energizes them, what gives meaning to their life? But then shouldn’t that always have been the approach?

    Thanks for highlighting the need to respect people for who they are and meeting them where they live!

  10. Hi Darren, I read with interest all your emails, being an avid SUCCESS subscriber.

    I am a Gen Y-er, born in 1990. I couldn’t agree more with your analysis, though I can’t help but feel that us Gen Y-ers who are actually out there working hard and making a difference in our lives and those around us, are being tarred with the same brush as the lazy, inept ones.

    I have 2 businesses to my name, am completely self-employed, bought my first house on my 20th birthday and I have wonderful, incredibly patient and wise parents.

    I’m not saying this to impress anyone, rather, I am saying it to impress UPON people to dig a little bit deeper when it comes to passing judgement on the younger generation. I have built a reputation on being steadfast in my core values and ethos, always trying to put stereotypes to rest.

    And for the employers who hire Gen Y-ers, there are a few golden eggs out there. There is no need to settle for second best and hope that by applying a few management techniques you can get the most out of them.

    Just raise the bar, and see who comes running out of the woodwork to leap over it 😉

  11. Darren,
    I loved the article. I work with many millenials at our Music Venue and Production company. As someone only removed about 10 years from this generation, I must admit I felt much like you. I also thought we are in a lot of trouble as a country. Your article did give a lot of insight. One things that I believe is our duty to these young people is to get them to understand the reality that even if they don’t see money as a center of their lives; THEY MUST UNDERSTAND that the multi-national corporations who rule the world definitely do see them as ripe for the pickings. When this younger generation of individuals believe that they are immune to the world of money they need to be reminded that the banks, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, big oil and big agriculture don’t share their love of people. Just a thought, because for as much as they think that if they don’t think about that it won’t be true for them. There are billions of dollars a year invested in making them consumers! For more on this please take a look at

  12. Darren, I love this article. I have been having discussions which often get heated for years, that it is not about gen y, or gen x, or baby boomers, or managing the 4 generations in the workplace. I challenge people to think back to their teenage years and early 20’s, and tell me honestly that they did not job hop, that they absolutely knew exactly what they wanted to do, and this usually brings an initial pause followed by very defensive positions. Success in any organisation still lies where it always has; in understanding the individuals, their drivers, their strengths and their areas for development. It is not the ‘new generation’ that is not delivering, it us in not delivering what any generation wants – to be understood, to work in something meaningulf and with a larger purpose, and to be challenged. I have children born after 1995 and they are entering their teenage years as incredible young adults with a clear focus on who and what they are, and what they want to be – not do, be. They are very focused on money but in a way that I wish we had learnt earlier, as a means to deliver their dreams, not in place of their dreams. To me, this new generation have delivered an incredible return on investment…all of the personal development that we have all sought and undertaken, they have absorbed almost by osmosis and they don’t need to know how to do it, they are living it every day. As an incredible mentor of mine said, they are the first generation that get it, they know how to dream big, they know how to work where their passion lies, they are going to be the generation that really do deliver significant change on their own terms…what better pay off for our own obsession with living richer, fuller lives?

  13. Darren I have a number of them that work for me and they are so freaking smart that they leave me in awe! The way to motivate and inspire them is to treat them as total equals and show them that you respect and value their opinions! Ask for input and only ASK them once to handle a task. They DO NOT want to be treated like children and if you don’t they will show you what fantastic adults they really are!
    Have a magical day!

  14. Gen-Yers are certainly all of this, but one aspect of their culture many forget is thousands of them went into college with a lifetime of grooming-not necessarily coddling or given false esteem-for a lifestyle which was non-existent when they emerged from college. Our lifestyle of do well, go to college, get a degree and then a great job is history. I have watched several young men graduate and say, “What happened??”

    But you know what? They are resilient, they take a deep breath and keep on going while considering all alternatives and selecting the best.

    I think the spoiled, entitled ones are a minority. I predict this age group will become one of the most well-rounded and flexible of any of the last hundred years.

  15. Just as I was reading this article, my boss was giving a presentation right outside my office to a group of pastors and church leaders on millenials and how to connect to them. What a coincidence!

    Being born in ’81 I fit into this generation, however, I never got a trophy for showing up to a soccer game, and I’m glad I didn’t. I work with the youth in my church and this article definitely fits the description I see in a lot the the youth I work with. The one thing I have learned is when they believe in something they will go and do it. It amazes me that you can barely get them to have a conversation, until you bring up something that interests them, then you can’t get them to stop talking about it.
    Thanks for the great article, I will take these action steps in working with the youth.
    I’ll see you in San Jose this weekend!


  16. Great article! I’m making a transition from Social Worker to college instructor. Your artilce from the insight on how to reach the generation that I am enaging in the class room. Your article speaks not just from the persepctive of business but any organization that is engaging Millenial Gen .

  17. Darren,
    I have a millennial at home who just graduated HS. When he woke up to his own potential and purpose (becoming a medical doctor), then he poured on the juice and started pulling all A’s in school. He came alive with passion for studying in this realm. I, too, have seen this in my own life when involved with the Invisible Children by exposing MS/HS students to this org’s purpose. They raised money and awareness through walk-a-thons, bake sales, and even sold toothbrushes to benefit these former child soldiers in Uganda! Thanks for highlighting “IC”!

  18. I belong to the Millennial born in 1985. I like to work with the bigger picture in mind. And at times, the cheese is changing, with the motivation being different at different times. Sometimes it is money, sometimes it is fame, sometimes it is about promotion. However, all the time it is about recognition, massive recognition for what I am, what I do and what I am capable of. For me, success is 99% inspiration and 1% perspiration.

    Dr Maharaja SivaSubramanian N

  19. upto this article, they have been annoying. After this article, the generation y needs to be guided by policies that will be twisted a bit to suite their needs. This will help with a progressive transition so that both generations can meet in the middle. I think both synergies can bring about progressive cohession. Thank you Darren for this insight

  20. Great article, Darren. I’m a big fan of your magazine. I actually learned about Invisible Children when you interviewed them a few months back & made it available on the CD that comes in Success Magazine. I was so impressed with their work that I blogged about them & am using them as an example in a video series for corporate leaders on the talent they leave on the table when they don’t connect & leverage the amazing talent of Millennials.

    As a Fortune 500 executive, I started hiring Millennials in 2002. At first I found myself frustrated with this group I couldn’t understand. In fact, I was firing many of them! I decided to change tactics and put them under the microscope. I created a lab within my team! What I discovered touches on many of the things you highlight in your article. To really tap their amazing talent I found I had to let go of many 20th Century management & leadership principles that I had learned & utilized for years. I had to let go of the status quo. The results were amazing & the new approaches we implemented led to some great ideas that had bottom line impact in my team.

    I was so impressed with Millennials that I founded The Millennial Lab a couple of years ago. I work with corporate leaders in making changes to retain Millennials & harness their talent. There’s a lot of work to be done in this area. Many leaders still believe the Millennials will have to adapt to fit into an outdated 20th Century model instead of working with Millennials in creating a better model for the 21st Century.

    Articles like yours are instrumental in raising awareness and changing the attitude of today’s leaders towards Millennials. They are tomorrow’s leaders and we should be helping them forge a new path instead of forcing them to fit into a model that no longer works. I look forward to reading more from you about these amazing young professionals!

  21. Yes, please send a letter to her mother telling me how great she’s doing-I’m not so sure I’d believe it…prior to this article that is-LOL. Thank you for, at last, defining this generation for me!

    I didn’t understand why my 21 year old and all of her friends are still living at home and don’t drive! It’s been a source of frustration for me to try to explain to her why money is so important and I can’t understand why she gets so unmotivated to make more until hers is spent.

    You have nailed it on this one! I will implement those leadership styles immediately at home and see if I can’t get some results that make me happy also.

    I agree with Colin-you should write a book. I have long been interested in the way a generation defines ones values. I would like to hear more about this Darren.

    Thanks a million for giving me hope!


  22. Having been a subscriber to Success Magazine for many years, I almost lost it while reading the opening salvo in your post. You held nothing back and I trusted that there would be a lesson in this message somewhere. I was shaking my head “yes” while reading the last of the 2nd paragragh, “lazy, undisciplined, unmotivated, over-entitled and disengaged, with the attention span of goldfish”. Wow!

    My head continued to bounce and as you always seem to do, you opened my minds to the potential of our youth. I think that we can all learn from each other and cannot look back or try to keep things the same. Times change, things change, I’ve changed and I love it.

    Thanks Darren for keeping me on my toes, making me laugh and continuing to challenge the world.


  23. Darren, you were right to the point on this one! As someone just on the cusp of the Millenial generation, or Generation “Y,” you were entirely correct in your assesment. Perhaps a better moniker would be “Generation Why.”
    We don’t want to hear “because that’s the way it’s always been.” We want to know what are the other options, can we make it better, easier, faster, more cost effective? The old stand-bys of hard work platitudes don’t reach us, nor is more money always a motivator. As a generation of latch-key kids, we know that money doesn’t mean happiness.
    I recently left a higher paying job where customers were a means of making money for the company, instead of a patron of our services that should be dealt with in a manner of high integrity on a personal level. My job may pay less now, but I have the satisfaction of less stress, a cause I believe in, and more time with family.
    The old standards of hard work pays off have proven to not always be true; our generation has seen the “bad guys” win; the hard workers ignored for promotions in favor of those who know the right people, those who provide top service being fired because of a bottom line, we have seen our friends and family, and some times even ourselves, loose homes. The American Dream isn’t what it used to be, and money isn’t everything.
    You want to motivate us? Give us a challenge to think bigger, dream outside the box. Inspire us to take up arms together for a cause, but don’t treat us like cogs in the corporate machine. Don’t be afraid to let us try new things, but be open to suggestions, no matter how out there or silly. Our suggestions are our way of telling you the exact things that we think about, that motivate us. The days of platitudes and false promises are over, because we aren’t interested in talk – we want action.
    If you are managing us, or selling to us, sincerity will go a long way with getting us on board. If you can balance directives with passion, you will be surprised at what we can do.

  24. What are the couple adaptations you will make in your organization to be more attractive to and supportive of the millennials?

    Darren, excellent blog. Thank you.

    What I’m doing beginning in our family, circle of friends, network, and our family owned business is becoming a better listener to the millennials. By listening & learning from them, I’m able to make the connection & evolve both personally & professionally to both attract & embrace the amazing talent of the Gen Y-ers.

    In addition to face to face communication, I use text as an option, & leverage our face book fan page for our company to name a few to strengthen the connections.

    We just hired 6 new people, 2 of them being Gen Y-ers. That gives me affirmation that we are making effective connections with a really talented group of people in our society.

    Have a terrific week!

  25. Great post Darren. The youth in our generation has definitely been given a sense of entitlement. They need to be taught responsibility, not be coddled. They need to learn that failure is ok when you learn from it. I understand building kids up but the “participation” awards and the like drive me crazy. It’s damaging, not helpful, because it teaches them that average is ok and they don’t have to strive to do better. We need to build them up in a way that pushes them to do better, not that awards them for just being there. That said, there is a TON of potential in this generation of youth! I see it all the time with the youth I work with. They just need to be put on the right path and put the effort forth to use all of their abilities.

  26. When I started my career people spoke of my boss and said “Do not ask him what time of day it is or he will build you a Swiss – Rolex Chronographer Day – Date with matching gold band and wind it for you.”

    However, this was the same individual that focused getting the teams that surrounded him to look at People, Purpose, Profit and Productivity on a daily basis.

    Sometimes when I struggle with the Millennials I have to remind myself once and a while that I must have appeared pretty strange as a young Fortune 200 manager at 25 when everyone of my peers was bumping or over 50.

    Here, in a short essay you have perhaps crystallized some of the key points on the why and the how to deal with this wave of millennial change and how one might actually keep that next 20 something manager engaged.

    A whole book could be written on the subject …… a matter of fact I would encourage you to think about it ……since you are one of the first authors to provide some practical problem solving tips rather than a regurgitation of all the reasons why the millennials got to this point.

    You are shedding light where in fact there is darkness……



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