Common Ground with Millennial PR Pros?

Oh, that pesky generation gap. It never fails to rear its complicated head. Take a recent survey revealing sharp differences between millennial communicators and the baby boomer/Gen X PR executives who manage them regarding a slew of workplace issues, including the willingness to take risks, grooming for management and leadership.

The online survey, which was conducted by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and the Institute for Public Relations, is based on the responses from 420 MCPs (millennial communication professionals) and 420 PR professionals who manage them. The majority of the respondents worked for public or private corporations, followed by nonprofit professionals and agency pros.

The results provide a decent window into the relationship between millennials, conditioned on digital media/PR, and their older managers borne of the analog age.

Millennials, or people born between 1980 and the early 2000s, are now the largest generation (75.4 million), having surpassed baby boomers, or people born between 1946 and 1964 (74.9 million). Gen Xers were born between the mid 1960s and the late 1970s.

Call it a Rorschach test for how senior PR managers and the expanding number of millennials who occupy their agencies alternately view the same situation.

The challenge for PR firm owners and C-suite execs is not to get bogged down by the stereotypes about millennials promulgated by the media, but, rather, make a legitimate effort to understand the root causes of why the two sides tend to see and/or perceive things differently in the workplace.

For example, while more than 80 percent of MCPs said they’re ambitious and passionate about work, only half of their managers agreed, according to the survey.

The survey also found significant differences between millennials and their managers when it comes to self-evaluation. Nearly three quarters (71 percent) of MCPs rated their capabilities much higher than did MGRs for their communication knowledge, vision, team leadership skills, ethical orientation, strategic decision-making and relationship-building skills and readiness to lead.

Fewer than half of the MGRs agreed, citing deficiencies in all areas, especially ethical orientation (47.6 percent) and readiness to lead (49 percent).

Millennials, of course, got a prize for all their endeavors growing up (even if they came in 8th place). Some of them may have an inflated sense of themselves. The onus is on PR managers to disabuse them of that notion and that it doesn’t work that way in the workplace.

Another sticking point: Difference of opinion between millennials and their managers regarding preparing millennials for leadership positions.

MGRs believe their organizations are doing a better job of developing MCPs than do the millennials regarding mentoring, internal and external training, and support for university education. MCPs rated their organization’s support for development quite low.

The differences found in the survey are no surprise to anyone over 45 years old who has tried to carry on a conversation with a millennial or, in fairness, a millennial who has tried to be simpatico with his or her older managers. It’s not easy bridging such profound differences.

But neither side has the option of simply throwing up their hands in frustration. Companies and agencies need to invest both time and capital into creating protocols and processes within the company or agency so each side has a better grasp of what the other side is thinking. (The research report features a 5-phase talent management “ecosystem”  to attract, engage, develop, retain and gain from top MCPs.)

PR firm owners and C-level managers must find ways to break down some of the perceptions they have of one another regarding workplace issues and find ways to bridge their differences.

Failing to do so only makes the challenges enumerated in the report more acute. Companies and agencies then run the risk that the differences in perception between millennials and their managers will start to seep into client relations and have a negative impact on quality of work.

What’s your experience with millennials and their managers when it comes to disparate perceptions about workplace issues?

Rick Gould, CPA, J.D., managing partner of Gould+Partners, is the author of “The Ultimate PR Agency Financial Management Handbook: How to Manage By The Numbers for Breakthrough Profitability of 20% or Greater,” and “Doing It The Right Way: 13 Crucial Steps For A Successful PR Agency Merger Or Acquisition.” 

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