How do front-line managers deal with millennial employees, who have a much different outlook on business+society than previous generations. Ray Zinn, who has led employees from boomers to millennials has some thoughts.
Guy Smith: Hello once again, and welcome to the next episode of the Tough Things First podcast, where we get to chat with Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in all of Silicon Valley. And today we get to talk about managing and leading millennials. I am on the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation, I’m looking at the millennial generation and I’m grappling with how I would lead, manage them on a day to day basis. And Ray has spent 50 years in Silicon Valley, 37 years leading his own company, he has managed everyone from grandparents to young interns who are still wet behind the ears, so let’s dive right in, and talk about millennials who now make up 30% of the population, and you lead and manage them.
Good morning, Ray, I trust everything is well with you today.
Ray Zinn: It is, Guy, and I hope you’re having a wonderful New Year.
Guy Smith: Oh man, everything looks … looks bright and optimistic from this side.
Ray Zinn: Well that’s great.
Guy Smith: Let’s talk about millennials, they’re different than their parents are, that’s for sure. And a leader is going to have to deal with the Boomers, the Generation Z that’s coming up, but the millennials seem to be intrinsically different than what we’ve had before. So from an employee standpoint, what’s particularly different about people who were born in the 80s and the early 90s, in terms of how you lead them, how you manage them, what their expectations are?
Ray Zinn: Well as we’re seeing, they’re socially more active. In other words, they tend to have a different view of life, and what it’s all about. My granddaughter came over for Christmas, and she’s 17, and she was wearing these jeans that had these holes in them. And I said, “Kirsten, I mean, can’t your parents afford to buy you nicer clothes?” And she says, “Grandpa, this is a fashion.” And I says, “Fashion with holes in them?” And she says, “Yeah,” she says, “This is the fashion.” So I said, “Well why do you wear them with the holes in them? Why is that the fashion?” She says, “I don’t know. It’s just that that’s what my friends are doing, and that’s what they wear.”
And so they say they want to fit in, and so even when I was in high school, we looked like The Fonz as you would, Happy Days, with our slicked back hair and our t-shirts, and rolled up sleeves, and our Levi’s pulled down to halfway down our bottom. And that was our style in that time, and so every generation has a style, and the way they view life. Why the torn pants became a style for the millennials, I’m not sure. I mean, I can speculate it’s because they wanted to look shabbier, or they wanted to fit it. Because maybe not everybody … they wanted to look like they were homeless or something, I don’t know.
But anyway, so every generation has their view and their style of how they want to be, so I think that’s the difference, is that they … everybody wants to fit in. And so in my day and age, you wore a very snappy suit and tie and maybe even a vest, and now, of course, people come to work even in shorts and flip flops and sports shirts. And so they just want to fit in to their particular group. So when I come in with my fancy suit, and fancy shoes and tie and vest, that represents a … that’s a foreign look to the millennials, and frankly, they take offense to that. So if you’re an older individual and you’re managing millennials, and you don’t fit it, you’re probably not going to be accepted and they’re not going to respect you.
Guy Smith: You know, and that’s an interesting aspect to being a senior leader in an industry which is normally populated by younger people, is that occasionally the old dogs need to do a little adaptation too. When I first started consulting, the first big gig that I got, I went down to interview on day one, they told me I would have to come back the next day and interview, but on day one I went down in my suit, my tie, my polished boots, and it was a great interview, they walked me to the door and they said, “Well, when you come back for the second part of your interview tomorrow, if you’re wearing that suit and tie, we will not let you in the door.”
So I had to adjust pretty quickly on that score.
Ray Zinn: I was talking to some of my investment bankers that I dealt with at Micrel, and when you look out my office window, I can see the parking lot because I’m the second floor up and I can look out. And I see these investment bankers, they would come in, or they would get out of their car, they would be … had their dress shirt on, but it would be unbuttoned, and then I could see them fishing through their car trying to find a tie, and then putting their coat, and then coming up to see me. And I’d joke with them, I’d say, “You know, I could see you down there getting dressed, why don’t you dress at home?” And he said, “Well, because we just came from another company and they take offense to me dressed like that, so I have to have suits of clothes that match whatever … the expectation is when I go see my clients.”
And so … there is an expectation, whether you’re coming to see an older person. If you’re a millennial for example and you have to see a Baby Boomer type who’s used to being dressed up in a suit and tie, you may have to go dressed in a suit and tie. And vice versa, if you’re a Baby Boomer and you’re going to go see a millennial in an important role, you may have to dress down a little bit.
Guy Smith: Well, you know, those people who are on the road, the sales people, they have to be flexible, and they have to be inventive. In some other episode of the Tough Things First podcast, we’ll let everyone know about how you got in the door at Texas Instruments. One of the funnier stories I’ve heard.
But let’s get back to millennials for a second, because they’re different in terms of their outlook about society and business. They like to refer to themselves as woke, they’re much more socially aware or at least socially politically active than previous generations. So what challenges does this phase present to the leadership with inside of a company, who has to make a buck, but also has to pay attention to the millennials who almost see the corporate vehicle as a way of enforcing their social views in the world?
Ray Zinn: Yep. And that’s the challenge. So if the company is predominantly the older generation, more sliding toward the Generation X as you would, then you have to be careful because they may not be as socially attuned or up to it as the millennials and vice versa. If your company is predominantly millennials, you’re going to find that they’re going to be more interested in how your company views the very social aspects of what’s happening, whether it be immigration, whether it by marijuana, whether it be … social activism, Me Too movement, or whatever, us … you know, this older generation, as you would, we’re not as socially involved in life, because we’re not on Twitter, we’re not on Facebook, we’re not on Instagram and Messenger. We still just pick up the phone, or we’ll write a letter or whatever. We don’t necessarily just want to instantly communicate with everybody.
And so there are differences that we have to recognize. I watch my grandchildren, and they literally live on their devices. I mean, they have it in their hand, they might have it in their pocket, but they’re grabbing or looking at it, I think, at two or three times a minute. Me, I’m older, I’m Baby Boomer age, if I look at my cellphone or my device, if I look at that more than once or twice every hour, I’m doing it too often. So … and I don’t carry my devices around with me like these younger people do. I don’t get my news that way. They get their news, whatever’s on social media, that’s how they learn about what’s happening in the world. And so as much as we’d like to differ from that, and call them on it, it’s not going to work. They are growing up, and being raised in an entire different environment than what the older generation has been exposed to.
Guy Smith: Yeah, the previous generation was called Generation X, I like to refer to the next generation as Generation Distracted. Their attention span is focused on their phone, not necessarily on the people and the world around them. Which kind of dovetails nicely to the next question which I had, which was are millennials making good leaders, and good managers with inside of companies? Are they being effective in terms of building teams, and getting their employees motivated to accomplish corporate missions?
Ray Zinn: I think that depends upon where their social work area is, whether they’re in a high tech area like Silicon Valley, or where they’re in a more of a rural area, in maybe like Ohio, Iowa, or somewhere, they’re not as techy as they are here in the Bay Area. And so I think it just depends upon what kind of work they’re doing, whether they’re in the chemical industry, which is not a semi connector, or a software type business, or whether they’re in medical, or … depending on what their social environment is where they live. So their neighbors are going to have a different view. I know that I have a ranch in Montana, and come July and August all they can talk about is getting out bow hunting. But in California, of course, they don’t even talk about hunting because hunting is not encouraged here in Silicon Valley.
So they’ll have a different view. They grow beards in Montana and not so much here. I mean, they may look scruffy here as you would, or have the 5:00 shadow, but those guys in Montana grow a full beard. And so their whole view of work … they’ll wear Levi’s with boots as opposed to California, more either short pants or dress slacks and t-shirts. So it’s a whole different environment, depending upon where you live.
Guy Smith: You know, it’s funny you bring up the bow hunting. I had some friends who came from some of the small steel towns up in Ohio, and one of the funny things about that local culture was that the union would call a strike every year and they would always do it on the first week of hunting season. Well, you know, and management never put up a fight because the union guys and the suits were both out in the field hunting deer, so they got along at least on that point.
What does a CEO have to do to make millennials effective future leaders? Let’s hypothesize for a second that you’ve got a garden variety millennial who you think is kind of smart, you want to make him a manager, but he’s part of the Distracted Generation, he’s focused on social issues, and maybe bringing them into the office a lot. What do you do to make sure that a millennial is executing to the business mission? And leading his teams effectively?
Ray Zinn: That’s a good point, Guy. So we have to look for the millennials that can span, S-P-A-N, span the gap. You’ve got the ones that are overly social active, and are … their head is in a different location, they’re probably not going to make as good a manager. So the kind of manager that you’re going to want to find among the millennials are those that can span the gap. That understand the cultural differences, understand the social issues, that can be more flexible, as they say. They say blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape. So you want … if you’re grooming a millennial, make sure they’re flexible, because that’ll help them as they now have to lead not only those of their same age group, but also those that are older than them, who will maybe even be grandparent age.
Guy Smith: And that’s going to be a tricky thing for the millennials is tapping into the older workers, and making sure that they feel valued, and needed, and productive to the company as well. And being part of a team where a lot of people could be their grandchildren.
So I’m kind of curious, maybe we just have a maturation thing here. The Baby Boomers, they were the generation of sex, drugs, and rock and roll and they turned into the generation of 401ks and watching Dancing With the Stars on TVs. Do we have a little bit of a waiting game with the millennials? Are they naturally going to morph into being more like their parents, and because of that, become better managers with inside of a company?
Ray Zinn: Well I think age helps anyway, so just time passing, and because they’ll be managing whatever Generation Z is … whatever is after Generation Z, they’re going to be having to deal with those. So life moves on, and the generations span further distances now than they ever have, because we have older people working longer than in the past. In the past they might have retired in their 50s, now they’re retiring in their 60s and 70s. So you have an older workforce, and there is going to be that span of time and age that you’re going to have to cope with.
Now, some companies will limit that span because they don’t want to have to deal with the age differences. And they’ll … not only that, but they’re concerned about the medical cost associated with the older generation, so they just limit their workforce. I think that’s a mistake, but that’s what they do, is they tend to cluster their ages. And so they will tend to follow more of a cluster age group opposed to a larger span of ages.
Guy Smith: Well and I think that’s going to be important going forward, because you’re right, following Generation Z, there’s going to be yet another different type of generation coming into the workforce, and that flexibility, being able to incorporate the old, the young, the new, the sedimentary type of workers is the only way that you’re going to be able to manufacture effective teams.
Ray Zinn: I call it the robotic generation. So the one that comes in after the millennials or Z, then we’re going to have the robotic generation, which is going to be in 15, 20 years from now. They’re going to be … most things are going to be robotically controlled, whether it be working in Burger King, or whether it’s going to be in making semi connectors, everything’s going to be done robotically. Even medically. Who knows, maybe even the digestive system will become more robotic, and we’ll fit into a more robotic environment for even having a trial.
So you’re going to find, I think, more and more robotocism as they say, and maybe that’s the way education is going to be too. You won’t see the kids going to … actually into classrooms, you’re going to see them operating from home, or from wherever they live, and be learning through … internet type, Skype, or whatever it’ll be in that timeframe, but everything’s changing. The way we live is going to change. We don’t know how our rural areas are going to look with expanding from urban to rural, and maybe rural will change now, and be more influenced by the urban, as the population grows and as industries move into some of these more rural areas like Montana, and Wyoming, and Idaho, as compared to just California, or New York, or Boston, and that sort of thing.
Guy Smith: Well, for the audience, remember you heard it here first, the next generation is … the one that follows Generation Z is going to be Generation R, Generation Robotic. And I think you’re right, Ray, because Generation Z never knew a time in their lives when there wasn’t the internet, and the next generation is never going to have known a time in their lives when there wasn’t robotics. And I think that’s going to profoundly change the way they perceive companies, the way they perceive work, the way they perceive the interaction between human beings or non interaction between human beings. I think it’s going to be a very, very, very different world for them.
Ray Zinn: Well, you know, we have these self driving cars, there is going to come a time when there won’t even be driver’s licenses, where people will not even … people will say, “You had a driver’s license, what’s that?” Because everything’s going to be so automated that they go from point A to point B in a different way than you and I go from point A to point B. While I was not raised in the horse and buggy era, my grandparents were, and listening to them talk about that I can go from zero to 60 in 2.3 seconds in my Tesla would just blow their minds. I mean, they wouldn’t even understand or comprehend what that’s all about.
But that’s happened in my lifetime, is my grandparents were horse and buggy, and now my kids and my great grandkids will not even know what a driver’s license is. I mean, everything will be so automated that things will change entirely.
So … I remember when I was in college, computation was done … if you were an engineer, it was with a slide rule. You ask my grandkids do they know what a slide rule is and they say, “What? What’s a slide rule?” And if you try to describe it to them, they couldn’t even understand it. So it’s interesting how times have changed, that they wouldn’t even understand or comprehend what it’s like to … crank a car to start it, or to use a slide rule to compute a mathematical problem.
So even in my lifetime, it’s tremendous, tremendous change has taken place. In my 20s, I was using a Marchant mechanical calculator. It wasn’t just a few years … next time I had a … an electronic calculator that the first versions of it in the early 70s, four function calculator and I thought that was fantastic, I couldn’t believe what a change that is. Now, calculator, you get them free. I mean, it’s probably one of the apps on your phone. I mean, it’s … things have changed dramatically even in my short lifespan.
Guy Smith: And I had to admit it, I’m just old enough to own a slide rule. Of course I had one of those fancy circular slide rules, which back then was kind of a cool thing. But you’re right, and here’s the interesting thing, and this is something for the millennials who are listening who are going to be the next generation of CEOs and managers, is that the next generation is going to perceive the way that they work and the way that your company works based on how they grew up. And we know that technology and science increases on a exponential basis. The amount of knowledge we have in the world doubles … I think it’s something like every 10 or 12 years.
So that means when the millennials who are just now maybe being anointed as team leader, when they get up to the senior management level, the next generation that’s going to come is going to be so vastly more informed, educated, wired, able to find information, and have an entirely different worldview based on that. That it’s probably good to be thinking about that now, because it’s going to change the way you lead in the future.
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. So remember, you heard it here, in probably 20 years from now you won’t even have a driver’s license.
Guy Smith: Yep, operation robot. Thanks again Ray, I appreciate it, for the listening audience, the two things I want you to do right away, rate and review this podcast, share it with your friends. If you’re an entrepreneur, or if you’re in Silicon Valley this needs to be your weekly dose of leadership management and entrepreneurial education. But to get the full double barrel affect of this, go to Amazon, get a copy of Ray’s first book, Tough Things First. It is the management and leadership manifesto of the generation. There is not a single tome out there that covers all the bases like Ray did in that book.
And once you have recovered from reading that, because it is like drinking from the fire hose, then get his second book, Zen of Zinn, which kind of puts a nice ribbon around it because it gives you those insights into people, society, and the interaction of all these different components to make you an effective leader inside of an effective company.
So thanks again, Ray, it’s a pleasure as always, and look forward to the next episode of the Tough Things First podcast.
Ray Zinn: Well thanks, Guy. I look forward to it.