"Millennials are the future of the workplace,” says everyone. But when we were growing our team at SAP Concur, I made it a point not to look for millennials to join us. Who did we search for, then? Smart, enthusiastic, fast-moving individuals – of any age.
To me, “millennial” is just another unnecessary label. Moreover, it encourages us to think about younger employees in a very specific way – and a rather close-minded one at that. We tend to perceive millennials as entitled, high-maintenance, even spoilt, when instead we should focus on what we can all learn from one another.
At SAP Concur, we have typically hired more mature salespeople with a certain number of years’ experience under their belt. That’s largely because selling a relatively unfamiliar solution to a relatively conservative Asian market is no easy task. More recently, however, we’ve hired a much younger team of sellers from a range of backgrounds – and the more “experienced” of us have found ourselves racing to keep up with their speed and creativity.
These new members of our team have challenged the status quo of how we traditionally sell, and they’re showing great results for it. They spend much less time waiting to check in with customers and prospects, shortening the sales cycle as much as humanly possible. They factor data points into their sales pitches far more consistently than more traditional sellers do. Most of all, they’re constantly asking why. Why do we have to sell in a linear mode, instead of running multiple deals in parallel? Why can’t we use the data to identify what we are doing wrong as well as what we do right?
All these questions and challenges have, at times, resulted in moments of creative tension and even conflict. But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. To constantly improve on how we do things – something particularly important for a fast-moving space like SAP Concur’s – we need to break the mindset that we know all there is to know. Having 10 years of sales experience doesn’t mean you can’t learn something new, just as being new to the industry doesn’t mean you don’t have something unique to teach. The trick is to acknowledge that tension openly and constructively: that way, we’re all able to help each other grow.
I don’t think our business, or any other business, needs to hire millennials to succeed. I think we do need to hire individuals who can not only understand and make sense of data, but know how to apply it wisely to their everyday decision-making. We also need to reward and praise individuals based on the results they deliver, not on how well they follow one methodology or another. If you can achieve great things with unconventional means, perhaps your approach should become the new convention!
Finally, we need to constantly encourage our people to keep learning and never stop. That applies irrespective of age, seniority, or experience. Personally, I’ve found myself challenged when it comes to incorporating data into my rather more established ways of doing things, something my newer colleagues are quick to encourage me on. When we get rid of labels like “millennial”, we open a two-way street for learning new things and tearing down the ones that don’t work. We’ve got to keep that street open if we want to grow as a business and as people.