Tips for Business Start Ups: 7 ways to engage Generation Y-ers in business

Time Magazine printed an article in 1967 to worried parents across the USA that Baby Boomers “seem more like dangerously deluded dropouts, candidates for a very sound spanking and a cram course in civics.” Time was following in a well worn tradition of media frenzy. The Dallas Morning News in the 1920s described its young people “as not caring about people and not having any sense of shame , honor or duty.”

So, we need to be careful about any predictive process when it comes to basing economic or social policy on the stereotypes of young people (or indeed anyone else). Bearing that in mind, what might the stereotypes of the Millenial – the Generation Y-er – suggest about how they may or may not get involved in the messy business of business start ups?

Well, the stereotypes fly thick and fast when it comes to trying to assess what constitutes the typical Generation Y-er. According to Psychology Today, they include:

being the toughest generation to manage;
growing up in a culturally diverse school and play environment;
being tech-savvy, enthusiastic, self-centred, confident, well networked and achievement-oriented;
one of the best educated generations in history;
confident with a constant need for variety, challenge and instant gratification;
Represented by the “Prizes for All ” generation.

At work, Generation Y-ers are said to:

expect their opinions to be heard and considered and are not usually shy;
want to know that what they are doing is valuable to the company and/or environment, as well as valuable to them and their career;
have a strong desire for rewarding opportunities – for them and their company.
are driven less by money and more by accomplishment;
Want to express their creativity and be able to complete tasks on their own – using their own methods;
want to know they have access to an open door to ask questions;
want to engage in work relevant to them and important to them and the company.

So if we expect Generation Y-ers to blindly follow career or vocational paths that have been laid for them, and which have been paved with rewards that may have been acceptable to Gen X-ers or Baby Boomers, we’re going to have a few surprises.

We may need to think less of how do Generation Y-ers fit into business, and more about how the business world can be shaped by a Generation Y culture.  Perhaps we might even see some of the Baby Boomer and Generation  X orthodoxies of business being challenged.

So, here’s a guide on how to engage sterotypical Generation Y-ers in business: by changing business practice around them, rather than trying to fit them into your business.

1. Be aware of the boot camp and other military metaphors

Enthusiastic entrepreneurs all over the UK are currently being inundated with all types of business support programmes from every conceivable source: their local council, their friendly bank and the taxi driver who’s trying to take them to their next networking opportunity but who has of course lost his way to name but three.

These support programmes are being promoted through a variety of metaphors which express the spirit of growth and enthusiasm which drives the people behind the programmes: everything from growing an allotment through to levitation systems (getting your idea ‘off the ground’) hothouses, hatcheries, nests and even the occasional business meeting womb.

The most insidious of these however is the military metaphor which describes the process of starting up in the starkest of terms: entrepreneurs are encouraged to attend boot camps: they are persuaded to ‘put their bodies on the line’; they have to ‘go over the top’, ‘batten down the hatches’ and ‘take one for the team’. Whilst this may be of use to some entrepreneurs who are thinking about setting up a private army which will compete of course with the publicly funded armed forces when larging it around the world’s hotspots, the military metaphor is a pretty hopeless way of describing activity whose moral compass is guided more by the desire to create jobs, improve the economy and do good in the world.

2. Engage more sorcerers than apprentices.

A new business start up is not a mature business and not necessarily a reasonable place to work. It is fragile, uncertain of its place in the world and whether it is likely to survive out in the wilds of the market place beyond the first year is open to a lot of doubt. There’s a forest load of wild animals, poison ivy and bear traps to face if you’re setting up a new business and the last thing you want is a co-pioneer complaining about their employment contract.

A new start doesn’t need solutions imported to it from mature businesses with notions such as ‘employing staff’ driving its thinking. It needs new solutions which confront the needs of its newness. The new start up doesn’t need staff at all – people who will honour contracts and deliver a job to the best of their ability in return for a negotiated remuneration – but generators: people who can not only deliver the business core activity but who can also generate more activity, more income and emulate the entrepreneur who has brought them to the party.

New businesses need people who have the ability to generate something from nothing, to make value from where there was none before, to act as alchemists rather than as commi-chefs who can follow recipes to the letter but who don’t have the inspirational touch which invents, creates and conjures further opportunities from thin air. They need to engage a lot more sorcerers – not more apprentices- in the kitchen that is the new business.

3. Work in, on and under the business

Perhaps what’s more important than working in and on a business, is an understanding of what was going on under the business: the stuff which tells you why a business is important to other people and why it matters. Working in the business is important; working on the business is essential; but working under the business will provide Generation Y-ers with the energy and motivation to sustain their businesses through the long dark nights of recession and economic challenge.

4. Cash may be king but even royalty needs a moral compass

Business is frequently portrayed as a moral free zone with no rights or wrongs other than can it sell? Can it make a profit? What are the loop holes? and is exemplified in Milo Minderbinder’s moral code of ‘there will always be trade‘ as he cleaned up after organising the bombing of his own squadron at Pianosa by the Luftwaffe in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.

5. If in doubt, use the C word

Dropping the ‘c’ word into any business venture is bound to galvanise the Generation Y-er and the wider workforce, impress investors and stoke up the heat of admiration upon you. It doesn’t matter what the ‘something something something’ is (you could have equally said blahdy blahdy blah): the fact that you’ve introduced the ‘c’ word to your proposal is what’s fired up the meeting.

In the olden days we would have used the words ‘magic’ and the effect would have been the same. These days, ‘creativity’ has replaced the word for ‘magic’ (and ‘alchemy’ and ‘smoke and mirrors’ and ‘snake oil’ for that matter) and the world and it’s business offices have become far happier places as a result.

So, if in future you’re stuck in a turgid negotiation, CRM update or monitoring moment, just drop the word ‘creative’ into proceedings and see your Generation Y-er grow wings and fly to the heavens. He or she may not last long up there as they get too close to the sun, but your colleagues and customers will thank you for liberating them from their non-magical daily grinds.

6. Join a movement – Slow, Guerilla or Digital

If your Generation Y-er has got bored with your business then you could do a lot worse to align it to one of the many movements out there which in their own way are crying out for new forms of activist engagement. Just add ‘slow’, ‘guerrilla’ or ‘digital’ and your business will discover new legs and give you added oomph when you wake up in the morning. Failing that, you can always make your own movement: try ‘Independent’ ‘messy’ or ‘chaotic’ when it comes to rejuvenating your business and watch those customers come flocking.

7. Write your own business language

Like many people who want to set up a business, the following language fills the Generation Y-er with dread, suspicion and horror:

* Connect with your customers confidentially
* Identify your USP intelligently
* Optimise your Search Engines efficiently
* Motivate your employees easily
* Maximise your value added effortlessly
* Shake your booty heartlessly
* Strut your stuff engagingly
* Wedge your bling tellingly
* Fluff your tail provocatively

Don’t worry: lots of potential entrepreneurs and business start ups look aghast at the terminology they are expected to use as they hunker on down in the depths of business speak land. Many of them throw away perfectly respectable business ideas just because of the language they are expected to subscribe to.

But fear not: if your idea stands a chance of surviving the challenges of that language, it will survive anything: and it may turn you into a guru in your own right which will allow you to coin your own aphorisms, cliches and incontestable business jargon.

A great way to start is to generate four columns: in the first, write a list of verbs which might be used in any military, medical or porn movie context. In the second, write a list of personal connectives: my, your, our – that sort of thing. In the third, write a list of any part of your body and in the fourth, write any adjective that might describe a boxing match.

Before you know it, your business lexicon will blow away your competitors and you’ll be calling the shots, imperiously.

One thing that is guaranteed is that the Generation Y-er will engage with your business with all their usual, stereotypical intelligence, panache and style – and may well help you innovate and radically reshape your tired business propositions and orthodoxies.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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