OMAHA (DTN) -- Are we talking the same language? Curt Steinhorst with the Center for Generational Kinetics, in Austin, Texas, doesn't think so. When he surveyed a crowd of farmers, ranchers and lenders at a recent forum sponsored by Farm Credit Services of America, he asked at what age do you think a person reaches adulthood? Consensus among the mostly older participants was between 23 and 25 years old. Steinhorst noted that most millennials will say 30.
"That's when they start thinking about marriage, starting a family, having their own phone plan," Steinhorst related. Millennials (born between 1977 and 1995) were raised differently than baby boomers (born from 1946 through 1964) and have different expectations.
The younger generation can be great employees and will work hard, if you know how to communicate and motivate them, said Steinhorst. In fact, consultant Lori Culler with AgHires in Temperance, Michigan, said it can be a "dream team."
"The baby boomers have all this experience and the millennials grew up in the digital age and are focused on efficiency, growth and expanded knowledge," Culler explained.
But getting the most out of your younger employees may take some adjustment in your management style. Steinhorst offered these tips:
1. Be brief, be specific, be visual. If you want a millennial to learn a process, such as how to get a piece of equipment ready or check everything in the tractor cab, take a video of how it's done right and post it on YouTube. "The No. 1 source of learning for millennials today is YouTube," said Steinhorst.
"Do away with manuals," advised Steinhorst. Millennials may glance at a manual, but they are not going to read it. They prefer to watch a video when they want and as often as they want. They'll learn it faster and remember it longer.
"Nobody reads anymore," Culler noted. "I tell my farm clients their handbook needs a one-page overview and more visuals. It has to include pictures."
Texting is preferred over calling or even face-to-face communication, said Steinhorst. "Millennials we've studied view a telephone call as rude, an invasion of privacy," he said. And as a millennial, Steinhorst, 33, admitted, "We don't listen to voice mail. A millennial will send 4,000 texts per month and the average text message is seven words."
For emails, millennials generally will only read the subject line to decide what to do with the email. "They're looking for photos, videos and bullet points. They skip over big blocks of type," Steinhorst said. "They like things short and visual."
To attract millennial employees you need an internet presence, Steinhorst advised. If not a Facebook page, create an interesting website and a LinkedIn account. For your LinkedIn page, you need an approachable photo, Steinhorst said. "Something personal. A potential employee will look at it and say, 'Would I like this person?'"
2. Make feedback ongoing. Performance reviews limited to once a year are not going to cut it for the millennial employee. "It doesn't have to be much," said Steinhorst. "All you got to do is say, 'I noticed yesterday you helped Joe out. Great job!' That's all they want -- not a long conversation. And if you text it to them, even better. Instant gratification is a great motivator to millennials."
Lance Woodbury with Ag Progress, a family business consulting firm in Garden City, Kansas, said millennials care about the job they are doing and if they are on track. "It's all about 'efficiency'. They don't want to waste their time if they are doing something that's not what you want," noted Woodbury.
3. Millennials want to feel valued, challenged and included. This is the No. 1 motivating factor for millennials, said Culler. "They want to see their impact on the world and they want to make an impact on the first day of work."
"They have lots of ideas," Culler said. "If the baby boomer farm owner would say, 'Let's focus on your top two ideas' and implement some of the millennial's ideas, they'll get more buy-in. If you work with them, you'll get very motivated employees," Culler advised.
"Millennials have a comfort level with data and technology and are willing to look at things through a different lens, so they can definitely offer something new to the farm or ranch operation," said Woodbury.
"They want to be part of the team; they like to know what's happening on the farm," said Culler. "Send a morning text -- this is where everyone is today. Send an evening text -- this is how many acres we covered today." Keep them in the loop.
"They also love to learn and feel like they are making an impact by feeding the world," Culler added. "Share what's happening in the industry, such as an article on how producers are trying to get to 300-bushel-per-acre corn. Or, share how a recent hurricane is affecting agriculture. Just a quick article or video helps them feel part of the bigger picture."
4. Millennials are outcome driven. "We are willing to endure the process, when we understand it," explained Steinhorst. "We want to see all the steps first and then we'll go back and work through it. Sometimes, we're trying to see if we can make the process more efficient.
"Millennials are willing to disrupt the status quo, if they can do something more efficiently," said Steinhorst. "This leads to innovation. They know that and embrace it."
The under-40 crowd wants to know the "why" of what they are doing, said Culler. "Don't just say, go do this. The millennial wants to know how this impacts the overall picture," she explained. Without knowing the impact, they may not be motivated to do the chore.
5. Work/life balance can cause conflicts. "The No. 1 trait that causes conflict between the generations is work ethic," reported Steinhorst. "How do you measure and define work? Baby boomers measure it by hours worked. Millennials don't think in terms of 'time.'"
"It is an important factor," agreed Culler. "Maybe you can find a local retiree to rotate in during the busiest times. Or, give your employees more time off in the off-season."
One cattle producer said he hired a local teenager for weekend chores because his millennial child was attending so many friends' weddings and taking the entire weekend off.
6. Millennials' sense of time differs. Steinhorst asked his audience what advice would baby boomers like to give millennials. "Be on time," came one answer.
"That's probably not going to happen," admitted Steinhorst. "A baby boomer schedules a meeting for 8 a.m. and shows up at 7:50. A millennial will show up for the 8 a.m. meeting around 8:15 and think he is on time. The baby boomer has been waiting for 25 minutes and is mad. But to a millennial, nothing is that urgent that 15 minutes makes a big difference. They simply don't think in time. You may have to give in on this one," said Steinhorst. Millennials don't see the urgency other than it's your personal preference.
7. Millennials want recognition but not always all the responsibilities. "Another cause of conflict is the fact that there are no shortcuts to success. You need to pay your dues and put in your time. Millennials don't always understand that," said Steinhorst.
"As a baby boomer, you should make them make decisions, then ask, 'what did you learn from that?' Set boundaries and expectations," advised Steinhorst.
However, this disparity is not a new phenomenon. Often, the older generation criticizes the younger generation for wanting too many changes too soon, or not working hard enough, not being responsible enough or not knowing enough. Maturity and wisdom are just lessons that each generation needs to learn through experience. And that takes time.
Editor's note: In this occasional series, DTN details how to recruit and retain a talented farm labor pool.
The author's three children, ages 21 to 27, agreed with every point in this article. It was eye-opening to her at age 58.
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