How to Train Millennials and Generation Z for Success

Brian Cleary, Chief Strategy Officer, bigtincan

While so-called “research” on the millennial generation is overwhelming, when you cut through the noise to get to what little real data exists, much of the message seems to ultimately be speculation with very little consensus. However, above the fray are a few points that are undisputed — and they have everything to do with the future of the American workforce. Simply put, millennials, raised in a world of technology and digital information, are motivated, driven and have a totally different learning style from preceding generations. As Baby Boomers retire and millennials step into the gap, their impact on the workforce will only grow. Research suggests that in just five years, 46 percentof the U.S. labor force will be composed of millennials.

With Internet access at their fingertips, instant messaging and the 24-hour news cycle, millennials grew up in an era of instant gratification. Thus, it’s no surprise that their patience for sitting through traditional sales trainings – multiple days of lectures followed by shadowing a tenured colleague on the job – is virtually nonexistent, with such traditional teaching approaches viewed as an unproductive waste of time. While this clearly presents a challenge to the status quo, there’s a distinct benefit to the shift for forward-looking organizations.

Understanding Millennials and Generation Z
According to research conducted by UNC, millennials are continuous learners and the consummate consumers of information. They are the YouTube and Google generation that learns in targeted soundbites. Numerous studies have suggested that the Internet is changing the very way that we think, with the focus increasingly less on recalling information and more on recalling where that information can be found. For millennials who spent their formative years with AOL and Google search, it seems foolish to spend days attempting to retain or memorize information for a specific project or task when that information is easily accessible, when, where and how it is needed.

This worldview is even more pronounced with Generation Z. Growing up on the heels of millennials, Gen Z is the first generation that has literally never known a world without mobile devices, computers in every home and trophies for every participant. Perhaps even more so than their sister millennials, Gen Z young people are notorious for their short attention spans and their thirst forpraise and real-time feedback.

Looking to the coming decade, it’s clear that successful businesses cannot expect legacy training approaches to be effective for long. How can sales organizations begin to engage and train a workforce so vast and so different from the Baby Boomers to ensure long-term business success?

The Generational Value Proposition
To stay competitive, sales organizations must reinvent their approach to sales team training by adjusting to meet the needs of the millennial and Z generations. While daunting, there are a couple of things that can help point organizations down the right path:

Engage workers where they are — on their mobile devices. We communicate with them, we sleep and eat next to them, we use them to track our steps, connect to Facebook, and map the next route on our road trips, so it’s not exactly a spoiler to point out that mobile devices have become standard in the workplace. However, while many organizations have taken steps to provide access to necessary information (email, etc.) on mobile devices, there are still some serious glitches in the approach many companies are taking—and that’s bad news for millennials.

First and foremost, there’s a huge difference between how employees access content and information while sitting behind a desk, and how they do so in the field from a mobile device. When it comes to sales, the thought of hunting and pecking through a convoluted folders system for the latest non-mobile-friendly product sheet in the midst of an in-person client meeting is simply laughable to young people, leaving critical information unused and in limbo. To convince young people to access the right information for the right customer at the right time, that information must be optimized for and easily searchable and accessible on their mobile devices, any time, and from anywhere.

Skip the classroom and embrace microlearning. Informal learning, or micro-learning, supports employee’s performance in the moment by delivering easy access to resources, experts or knowledge that help a person do their job better in the exact timeframe that the employees need that information – an approach that tends to be more effective than traditional instructor-led training or course manuals.

Replace traditional sales training with peer-to-peer learning. According to a 2013 study “Mobile Learning at Work” by Towards Maturity, “Mobile users are two times more likely to enable learners to communicate and learn from each other, encourage peer-to-peer feedback, share experiences, and solve problems online. Furthermore, they are two times as likely to be using podcasts and blogs and significantly more likely to be using videos.”

Provide a variety of training media. As with any group, not every millennial or Gen Z worker will absorb content in the same way. In addition, depending on the setting an employee finds him or herself in (e.g. in a quiet library-like environment or in a noisy moving vehicle), some content types may be more practical than others. It is important to provide access to a variety of content types – video, text, in-person/on-the-job – to ensure that all employees have access to the right resources to learn what they need to in order to do their best work – in any setting.

In the digital age, with technology and data galore, there is little doubt that the enterprise faces one of the most drastic and rapid evolutions in history. To keep up and remain competitive, successful organizations will be those that ensure that their most valuable resource – their employees – remains informed, involved and actively engaged anytime, anywhere, and on any device they choose. Millennials and Generation Z are the resource of the future. It’s up to companies to make the most of them.

Brian Cleary is Chief Strategy Officer of bigtincan, a leader in mobile content enablement for field sales and service organizations.