Empowering WE: A Millennial Management Strategy

If you’re involved in business or management, it’s likely that you’ve had a discussion recently about Millennials in the workplace.  To be sure, it’s a trendy topic and one that carries increasing importance as the demographics of the workforce shift.  I’ve seen managers strategize, lament and poke fun at Millennials (If you haven’t watched this video, you should).  This topic is especially important in the foodservice industry, where Millennials comprise a disproportionate percentage of the workforce.

As I get older, I’m wary of falling into the trap of being too critical of younger generations.  After all, who among us didn’t hear similar complaints as young people ourselves? But I also try to remember that generational differences do exist.  And, as leaders, identifying the ways to best connect with, motivate and support those who may look at things differently is not only important, it’s our job.

To date, my experience with Millennials as a manager and a leader has been mixed.  With some team members, I’ve been blown away by their entrepreneurial attitude and their effectiveness and speed in problem solving.  With others, I’ve seen a sense of entitlement and selfishness that has, frankly, been a real turn-off.

And therein lies the challenge: how to unlock the power of problem solving and creativity of this generation while also orienting them to the Team First attitude necessary for a business to succeed?

Which brings us to our Open-Book Strategy program at Delta Foodservice. Open-Book Management has been around for years with a variety of implementations (Zingerman’s is one of my favorites) but it has yet to take hold widely in the foodservice industry.  As we’ve rolled out our pilot program at the Paris Creperie, we’ve learned many valuable lessons and accomplished some phenomenal results so far.  And as we debriefed with the Paris team after 5 months of instruction to see how they felt the program was going, a light-bulb went off:  these 20-something staffers felt included and empowered, and their contributions were fully aligned with business goals.

The Paris team is focused on one critical number this year, Net Operating Profit (“NOP”), and their performance thus far has been staggering.  After posting a record 13% NOP one time in their 11 year history, the business just completed its third consecutive period above 20% (without an alcohol program no less!).  Through our program, the team has learned how the business operates and have been continuously supported to grow NOP.  With classroom instruction and management support, ideas from the team have been encouraged and adopted with speed.  This has reinforced three key things:

  1. They are worthy of knowing the details of the business and are respected and trusted with this information. I believe this feeds into a strong desire for acknowledgement and the feeling they are valued by their managers.
  2. Their ideas, opinions and insights are shown to be an important source of opportunities for improvement. This, I feel, adds to the self-esteem of the staff and helps to engage them as leaders in the business, at whatever level of employment they may participate.
  3. And finally, and most importantly I believe, we’ve oriented EVERYONE around a goal that works for each individual as well as for the business. The incentive program established at Paris has created a significant opportunity for team members to increase their income (and though less immediately tangible, the skills gained through the program will aid them in all their future career pursuits).  As NOP grows, the business prospers and so does the team.

It is this shared goal that has bridged the gap.  We’ve empowered for WE, not just for ME.  We’re unlocking the potential, intellect and talents of the team in a way that orients everyone towards a singular goal – one that both grows the business and supports the team.

And maybe that’s the key to “dealing with Millennials”.  It’s not to coddle, or continually cajole: but rather to identify shared goals where everyone wins and where the next generation of the workforce is empowered and valued in a way that unlocks the tremendous potential that exists within them.