Jane Miller, president and CEO of Charter Baking Company, was keynote speaker at the Jan. 15 Economic Forecast Breakfast, an annual event of the South Metro Denver Chamber.
BY JAN WONDRA
As economic forecast breakfasts go, it was a standing-room only crowd of several hundred business leaders on Jan. 15, when the South Metro Denver Chamber hosted its annual breakfast. Three speakers covered the range of economic activity, from the business climate for startups to business investment and the shifting workforce. A key fact: unemployment in the Denver metro area stands just over 3 percent, considered by experts to be full employment and far better than other parts of the state, such as Grand Junction, which is being affected by the slump in energy prices.
When a state and a city stand at full employment, what do companies do to attract and retain talent? According to keynote speaker Jane Miller, president and CEO of Charter Baking Company, they have to understand millennials.
“The generation born from 1980 to 2000, the bad rap you get isn’t fair,” said Miller. “You look at work and life differently, that’s all.”
At 75.3 million, the millennial generation is the largest generation to ever hit the American workforce, surpassing the 74.9 million baby boomer generation.
“By 2025, millennials will make up 70 percent of the workforce of this country” said Miller. “Businesses need to figure out how to involve this generation in a way that earns their loyalty.”
National surveys have revealed that some 58 percent think they’ll be in their jobs only three years. Their No. 1 desire in a work environment is flexibility. Sixty-five percent of them would rather make less money and be in an interesting job, than make more money in a boring or, what they deem unethical, job.
“So much about a job is not the job itself, but the job environment,” said Miller. “The issue isn’t quality of work, it’s the environment they work in and how they are treated. The fact is, as business leaders, we control the environment, how it feels, how people feel valued.”
The question, says Miller, who began at Frito Lay in product management and rose through the ranks of PepsiCo, is what can business leaders do to create an environment where all workers, millennials included, want to work? The answer, says Miller, is three-pronged – set clear expectations, provide good and understandable feedback, and invest in employees beyond salary.
“While at Pepsi, as a new brand manager on Mountain Dew, I was tasked with 15 percent annual growth in a flat environment. I presented the ambitious plan in a room full of men and was soundly scolded by the CEO for not expecting to achieve much more,” said Miller. “Everyone in the room, except the CEO, had seen the plan and no one had told me this was how they treated brand managers. No one stood up for me! No one told me this was the culture. I was squashed. I hated the company!”
The answer, says Miller, is to create the right expectations and “don’t be a jerk.”
Providing good feedback, says Miller, is mostly soft skills. Being honest with employees truly helps.
“At Frito Lay, I was informal, expressive. It fit the company’s culture. But Pepsi was formal and I didn’t understand it. They didn’t have to say anything, but one of my bosses called me in and said, ‘We have a problem with your style. We’re going to send you for three days for a one-on-one with a psychologist.’”
As the room laughed, Miller smiled.
“I spent three days and from that I learned that I didn’t have to become a different person, I had to learn a different language. They didn’t have to tell me, but as tough as it may be, clear feedback like this will give millennials the rules of the game,” she said.
Just as important, says Miller, is investing in workers beyond their salary, good advice, whether the employee is 24 or 64.
“Think about the environment. We spend more time at work than we do with our families. Instead of one-size-fits-all, see the individual,” Miller said.
Look for Part II in the Jan. 28 Villager, which will dive into the economic forecast and startups in 2016.
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