Like Jeff Corwin slogging through the Everglades in pursuit of some exotic bird, today’s sales leaders are on a desperate quest to find the right learning strategies to capture the attention of the most elusive cohort in the workforce: the Millennials.
Millennials surpassed Gen Xers and Baby Boomers in 2015 as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce according to the Pew Research Center. This has far-reaching implications for business leaders of all functional areas, and is of particular significance to sales organizations. One question on everyone’s mind is this: how will we manage our learning strategy to cater to the needs of this group? According to Forrester Research, sales leaders must develop programs which embrace emerging methods to capture and share the collective knowledge of tenured sales professionals; and seeing as how 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day, getting this right is a must.
What Works and What Doesn’t
Millennials are often referred to as “digital natives,” as they are the first generation with technology savvy parents and access to the Internet during their formative years. This group learns differently because of their lifelong relationship with technology, so organizations need to design learning strategies with this in mind.
Millennials require a much more hands-on approach than previous generations, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Their research shows that Millennials are more likely to perform at high levels when learning is designed to be (1) less formal and (2) connected to real life situations – as opposed to traditional learning approaches that often have an air of formality and a perceived lack of relationship to reality. And what is the one form factor that grabs this group’s attention more than any other? (…you guessed it!) Video.
According to Psychology Today the average human brain processes video 60,000x (yes, that is four zeros!) faster than text, and the APA research shows this difference is even more pronounced for Millennials. Millennials in the study remarked that video clips more effectively helped them understand course concepts, apply their knowledge to real-world situations, and were altogether more enjoyable – and they performed better on video-related exam items than on control items they had learned through other form factors.
Three Cheers for Technology
If you are feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of this seemingly daunting task, have no fear: there are out-of-the box solutions designed for the sales forces of today. Recent technological advances provide the functionality Millennial desire. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) lays out 4 key elements that any workplace learning solution for Millennials should have, and sales leaders should always include these in their checklist when evaluating any sales learning platform:
By now you have probably gathered that Millennials are smitten with their mobile devices; and this love affair has important consequences when it comes to understanding how they learn. Millennials instinctively turn to search engines and social media to access information, share knowledge and insights with one another, and receive advice and feedback. It is essential that sales organizations employ technologies and methodologies that leverage this informal, collaborative form of learning within the organization to promote greater connection between Millennials and their co-workers as well as to break down knowledge silos.
Hyper-connectivity has definitely resulted in Millennials having superb ability when it comes to fast action and multitasking, but it has also left them with a bit impatient when it comes to seeking important information.
Sales learning platforms need to take this into account by enabling teams to easily create and curate learning resources that are bite-sized and easily digestible. one of the most common form factors for these microlearning resources that Millennials have grown up with is video. Most Millennial sales reps prefer receiving 2-3 minute chunks of information at a time, so solutions should incorporate functionality which allows teams to easily create and curate videos of this length that can then be rapidly shared across the organization.
Some of us may not be all that enthused when we observe Millennials’ love affair with video games, but (and there’s always a but!) – according to a recent Forbes article, a majority of 18-34 year olds (57%) play video games at least three times a week, and 2/3 of them said it was important in helping them learn how to create winning strategies, solve problems, and work successfully on a team! So it’s clear that borrowing various concepts from video games and incorporating them into learning strategies is a powerful way to engage Millennials.
To get the most out of whatever microlearning resources you deploy, be sure any sales learning platforms you evaluate incorporate gamification into testing sales reps’ progress. The Association for Talent Development recommends this technique because it better engages Millennials and encourages their participation than quizzes and assessments without game-like accolades.
Mentoring and coaching
Finally, Millennials are an ambitious group who constantly looks for opportunities to learn from mentors. ATD recommends that sales managers and trainers provide regular feedback while keeping communication lines open. Technology solutions should have a robust reinforcement learning component that leverages recorded videos with inline feedback functionality; this allows managers and trainers to provide the continual coaching and training that Millennial sales reps crave on an individual basis without having to deal with scheduling constraints typically associated with this level of mentorship.
All in all, the growing Millennial cohort brings with it an array of new challenges as well as opportunities for business leaders. It is vital to the success of any sales organization to design learning strategies with the strengths and weaknesses of this unique generation in mind. Furthermore, research is beginning to show the needs of millennials may not truly be as generational as appearances would have us believe: it may just be that today’s learners are simply showing us the benefits of paying more attention to what actually works best for all generations.