Hiring Challenge: You’re Gen X, They’re Gen Y

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks

Hiring Challenges Recently, we held quarterly sales team building activities with a client’s entire sales staff (over 20 reps) – new business development, client development & client services. The discussions were less focused on quantitative metrics, more on career growth and aspirations. We really wanted to see what made our sales teams tick!

Here is the context

Management is 100% Generation X and the sales teams are 100% Generation Y. This generational gap is the reason we wanted to host a “motivational interview”, as we’ve been finding it perplexing to understand why many of the sales reps are not necessarily motivated by money.

So what was the result?

Question #1 – “How do you define success?” Management expected to hear:

1. Close more business than anyone on the sales floor
2. Make more money than my social network
3. Become a Manager within 2-3 years

What did we hear?

“HAPPINESS”! “I want to be happy”!

We didn’t know what to say. All we could ask was for each sales rep to elaborate on what they defined as “Happiness”. We heard statements like, “having a great work/life balance so we can spend time with family and friends”. “A work environment that we enjoy, autonomy and that our voices are heard”. We began to realize that our extrinsic motivational SPIFF’s were not necessarily resonating with the team.

Initially, we felt like telling the stories of “when we were your age, do you know what we needed to do to be successful”. We felt a little helpless, as we realized that we didn’t understand their motivators, thus we were out of answers. Instead of trying to convert everyone, we decided to LISTEN.

We then began introducing programs that would work for our Generation Y team.

1. Vacation day rewards
2. Recognize and celebrate the small wins
3. Have a very clearly defined career path with titles & responsibilities outlined
4. Work hour & location flexibility (regardless of earning it when hitting target)

Immediately, we saw a positive shift in the sales reps engagement. Astonishingly, sales reps were more interested in a 3-4 day long weekend vacation, that a $1,000-$2,000 SPIFF (even though the money is more valuable than their per day wage if purchased as days off). This was difficult for us to understand, but as sales managers that’s not our job. Our job is to find ways to lead and motive our team’s, regardless of our personal motivations.

So What Did we Learn?

As sales leaders, we can’t assume our tried and true “square pegs” are going to fit nicely into “round holes”, because it always seemed to fit. Here are some tactical changes we made to adapt to our Gen Y environment.

1. We Began to Listen

Rather than us coach & train, we have them facilitate learning & idea sharing sessions. We became the moderator. If you’ve ever done your MBA, this is the difference between undergraduate studies and an MBA. In an MBA program – it’s not about a lecturer regurgitating a textbook over 50 PowerPoint slide. You learn from your peers, and your professor moderates discussions.

2. Offer Opportunities for Gen Y to Teach Gen X

This leads into 50 more discussions around Social Selling, but your sales reps were born and raised in the advent of the internet/social media. Their primary means of communication has always been text/email/social feeds – NOT THE PHONE. Ironically, this translates perfectly into why social selling is the evolution of sales methodology. Your sales reps are most likely light years ahead of your social media experience; get them to train your senior executives on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, etc. These are powerful selling tools that they would much rather leverage then you’re selling tool – the phone.

3. They are Looking for Mentors

We all know the concept of mentor/protégé, but Gen Y does everything to pad that resume. They want to be a sponge in preparation for their next role, expected in 12-18 months. There is no 5-10 years in 1 role for Gen Y. They want you to give them everything inside your brain, so they can be you – FAST. Encourage this, as you’ll have a more engaged team.

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