Grooming Millennials for Senior Management

I’m often met with shock when I tell people that I’ve owned two PR agencies.

Sure, I’m a millennial, but I started my PR career at a relatively young age. When I ran Urbane Imagery from 2004-2012 I hired two millennials in part-time senior roles, and when I was in charge at duGard Ellis Public Relations from 2012-2015 we had seven millennials on staff, two of whom had director titles.

Millennials understand how the biggest misconceptions surrounding our generation may annoy agency leaders. We’re portrayed as being overconfident, self-centered, self-entitled and preoccupied with our hand-held devices to the detriment of face-to-face contact.Unfortunately, the culture at many PR agencies is not conducive to cultivate millennial employees for senior roles.

However, underneath myriad labels, millennials posses key attributes that PR agency owners need in order to enhance the longevity of their agencies and embrace social media marketing.

As millennials move into the management ranks PR agency owners have an opportunity to leverage our energetic, ambitious and entrepreneurial spirits for the continued success of their firms.

With that in mind, here’s three tips for how to groom millennials for senior management:

1. Explain why. Millennials need to know “why.” We are curious problem-solvers. We need to know why precise operational procedures are in place. Why a distinct strategic solution is implemented for a particular client and why billing and accounting policies are structured in a certain fashion. Why do managers need to explain things frequently? Because providing clear explanations reveal the thought process behind your leadership decisions and creates knowledge-sharing opportunities. Rather than assigning repetitive tasks, take a moment to give millennials focused responses as to how their contributions fit into the bigger picture (and the bottom line). Explaining “why” lets millennials know that your agency has a business imperative to make their career growth a priority.

2. Learn how to coach failure. Millennials don’t fail well. We often have expectations to win at every turn. The desire to win comes naturally to us, so senior agency executives need to show us what to do when things don’t work out. “Get millennials to use their critical thinking skills by talking through what went wrong and how to improve the conversation for the next time. Make failure a teachable moment. Point out the hiccups and make recommendations for a fix,” said Jamal Hipps, chief creative officer at MPYER Marketing & Advertising.  This allows agency owners to assess potential leadership behaviors and attitudes among those millennials who are most willing to harness their strengths and openly address their weaknesses.

3. Provide for a sense of ownership. Millennials embrace ownership. We like to say, “I led that project” or “That’s my campaign.” We desire quick promotion, rapid progression and various interesting tasks and assignments. But, for owners and managers, it can be unnerving to relinquish control and critical decisions to millennials. Don’t fret. First, test responsibility by sharing all your projects and letting millennial employees choose which ones they want to tackle. Then, by providing needed resources and being available for questions, managers can offer millennial team members ownership of specific assignments/projects. Remember, millennials are the most ethnically and socially diverse generation to enter the workforce, not to mention the first generation weaned on social media and online communications. They don’t call us “digital natives” for nothing.

As the face of current agency leaders changes, millennials will need to step into the second tier. It is up to agency owners to transform us from swift and savvy technicians to strategic and visionary leaders. The above recommendations are your blueprint.

Let us know what you think we might be missing here.

 

**This post is an excerpt from my thought leadership series, The Original Millennial. Pre-order the book here.

How The Millennial Generation Has Redefined Diversity

A client came to me once and said, ‘Aerial, how do we get our millennials talking? They bring value to our organization and seem have a deep appreciation for diversity but we just don’t know how to engage them. Is there some kind of internal communication strategy we need to implement?”

I belong to the millennial generation so I understood the necessity behind their inquiry. An obsession with Generation Y, also know as millennials, has overtaken all aspects of culture. Millennials are likely the most studied generation to date. Brands and organizations have formed a fascination with how to relate and connect to millennials. Media and scholars have developed a 21st-century style of urgency to understand this demographic. Not since the baby boomers has a generation been the target of such fixation and the growing generational gap is redefining how we think about diversity and inclusion.

 

Millennials Leading a Cultural Shift

Not only are millennials the largest generation to date, we are the most traditionally diverse generation in history. A culture shift in the population shows that of the 80 million millennials and counting, 60% classifying as non-Hispanic white in comparison to 70% of the previous generation. That percentage is projected to continue a decline as ethnic minorities (blacks & hispanics) will account for 60% of the population by 2045. Of millennials in the US, 59% are white and 27% have immigrant backgrounds. The ethnic profile of the millennial is far more blended that than of previous generations. In addition, there are millennials who come from an increased percentage of single-parent homes, blended families, and families with same-sex parents than ever before (Broido, 2004).

Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss described the generation as an ethnically diverse generation who are team players, optimistic, confident, trusting of authority, rule-followers, achievers in school, and generally achievement-oriented in everything they undertake. Furthermore, millennials will make up an estimated 50% of the workforce by 2020 ultimately changing the face of organizational leadership.

Here at the 2016 NOW Diversity Workforce Diversity Breakfast Forum with panel of young professionals for The Millennial Report on Workforce Diversity – myself, Kinika Young (Bass, Berry & Sims), Marcus Johnson (Edward Jones) and Luke Marklin (Uber) and Q&A facilitator Jonquil Newland (News Channel 5) giving insight on how millennials are changing the workforce. (Photo Credit: NOWDiversity.org)

Millennials Needing Expression and Acceptance

For millennials, walking into an organization and seeing all types of people is a norm. Diversity of race and gender is a given and in some cases a must. While older generations likely consider demographics, equal opportunity, and representation as the frame for diversity, millennials are much more concerned about the diversity of thoughts, ideas and philosophies as we contain an unending curiosity to understand differences and explore opportunities for collaboration.

There is a growing segment of millennials who are refusing to check our identities at the door while many organizations are remaining unchanged in their response to our need for expression and acceptance. This need is not just an expectation we hope to receive for ourselves but one we want to see granted to other cultural groups as workplace demographics evolve. Our appreciation for share of voice is aligned with an appreciation for cognitive diversity.

This means organizations are forced to rethink and redefine their approach. Instead of using the phrase ‘diversity and inclusion’ to describe race, age and gender in a traditional fashion with no ties to business growth or evolution, the millennial generation has compelled organizations to consider a combination of unique traits to overcome challenges and achieve business goals as the diversity of experience and the inclusion of thought become increasingly more crucial to future innovation.

Millennials Commanding Inclusion and Innovation

As millennials move into leadership, a transformation in traditional diversity and inclusion models will challenge past approaches and break barriers that have hindered the progress.

Connectedness is part of our generational DNA and breeds the kinds of transformation organizations of the future will command. While there is much work to be done, the millennial generation is a likely catalyst to show how advocacy, learning, and leadership can collectively leverage opportunities to see greater inclusion and innovation.

If making a commitment to diversity and inclusion truly means allowing an individual to bring his/her true and whole self to work, organizations must ensure millennials, along with other culturally advanced cohorts, can work in a collaborative environment that openly values tangible participation from individuals who have different ideas and perspectives that can have positive impact on business outcomes.

This post is an excerpt from my thought leadership series, The Original Millennial.

Pre-order the book below.

The Original Millennial Aerial Ellis

What I’m Reading: Year of Yes

Before I decided to read this book, I started the year knowing that 2016 would be a year like none other. Now after four months in, I was obviously right. 2016 has been super amazing so far with many unexpected happenings and a number of important goals coming to fruition. So as I came across this title, it immediately caught my attention.

Year of Yes chronicles how Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder, committed to saying “YES” for one year and the serendipitous way it changed her life. In true Shonda Rhimes fashion, it is nothing less than a page turner. It gives a close-up view of her thoughts, experiences, insecurities, failures and victories. As someone who has changed the face of television, she openly shares a refreshing lesson on how to change your perspective through courage and vulnerabilty.

What a powerful impact the word “YES” can make!

Highly recommended.

Year of Yes Aerial Ellis review

 

A Chat about Women of PR in Leadership

1 out every 3 public relations professional is a woman. While the public relations industry has become a female-dominated field, the leadership roles across the board are held by men. And, the wage gap is even wider. Agencies like Burson-Marstellar and Hill-Knowlton are pushing initiatives to lessen the divide.

Understanding the importance of this discussion, the PRSA Diversity & Inclusion Committee, in partnership with the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, hosted a Twitter chat during Women’s History Month to explore workforce gaps in the PR industry and discuss how we can better work to develop women leaders.

Here are highlights of the chat in a Storify story. https://storify.com/aerialellis/women-in-leadership-pr

PRSA women leadership diversity Aerial Ellis

PRSA women leadership diversity Aerial Ellis

Aerial Ellis Oscars Diversity Inclusion Communication

Is Diversity America’s Superpower?

With all the recent chatter about #OscarsSoWhite for the second straight year where no minorities were selected among the 20 acting nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced the development of a change management plan to reposition its voting requirements, recruiting process and governing structure aimed at increasing the diversity of its membership and doubling the number of female and minority members by 2020.

Prior to this announcement, superstar Will Smith who many feel offered an Oscar-worthy performance in the film “Concussion” but did not receive a nod this year, did an exclusive Good Morning America interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts where he expressed his disappointment at the absence of minority nominees. Even more, Smith shared his thoughts on why those diverse roles are missing in Hollywood and should be all the more celebrated because “diversity is America’s superpower.”

Ocasrs Diversity Will Smith Nominations Aerial Ellis

Is diversity America’s superpower?

Yes and no. Not only is diversity a superpower for America, it is a global force that makes the world go around. Beyond our differences, there is an unparalled ability to exercise influence and project power across the globe. Power is the ability to control, circumstances and access such as financial, social, and cultural resources. It is complex, dynamic and omnipresent in all relationships. Power can restrict or restrain people through the control of resources such as money, knowledge, and social institutions.

Since the power of diversity has become an undeniable element of culture, industries are trying to catch up to create spaces of inclusion, especially in Hollywood. Leading figures Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith announced that they would not be attending the coveted Oscars ceremony and spoke out in protest for what is seen as the systemic exclusion of African-American, Latinos, women, and other minority groups from recognition by their peers. Actor/comedian Chris Rock, the host of this year’s Oscars, even wrote an essay nearly two years ago about Hollywood’s diversity problem. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African-American women in her second year as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also shared her disappointment in the statement, “While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion.”

The message says certain voices, no matter how valuable or respected, will have low or no access to the influence and access that comes from power.

Because of power, we often maintain and perpetuate patterns of privilege in culture unknowingly. Members of the mainstream society or dominant/majority group define what is normal and are rarely forced to see or think about the “other” identity, standpoint or plight, if at all. Meanwhile, those who feel left out or overlooked are consistently in the difficult position of trying to dwell in two worlds – they are often reminded of theiOscars Diversity Aerial Ellis #oscarssowhiter marginalized status, communicate from that perspective and feel forced to deal with forces that seem impossible to break. The Academy is a membership organization that directly reflects the demographic makeup of the industry it serves. Many in Hollywood from production to management feel a perpetual lack of opportunities or an imbalance that industry gatekeepers are unlikely to fix.

 

Within any industry, decision makers must be deliberate about creating a culture of inclusion.

Why? No industry can experience the strength of diversity and continue to be viable without the inclusion of the unique talents, voices and abilities. As people of color make up 39 percent of the U.S. population with upwards 3 billion in buying power predictions, changes in spending patterns and decision-making process will continue to reflect a constant shift. Industries must invest time and resources in aligning that shift with consumer demand, audience preference and organizational leadership.

So if diversity is America’s superpower, how should we use it to achieve greater inclusion? Here are a few things we cannot do.

  • We cannot be frustrated about the lack of recognition yet overlook the lack of influence and leadership.
  • We cannot allow those in power to openly insult those who contribute at a high-level by assuming that are not a “cultural fit.”
  • We cannot think that diversity means non-white – all people are part of diversity and have a role in advancing its power.
  • We cannot operate in our comfort zone by being satisfied with everyone at the table looking, speaking, and thinking in the same monolithic ways.
  • We cannot write plans and make statements about diversity tactics without clear and transparent goals of inclusion as well as metrics and timelines to measure the change process.
  • We cannot ignore the significance of marginalized groups who build efforts to celebrate their own cultural impact while welcoming others who acknowledge how that impact has made our society even better.

Superpowers are not a cure-all because developing cultures of inclusion can be a long complicated journey when often it doesn’t have to be.

If diversity is our superpower, we must allow the space for it flourish, witness its magnitude and let it make us greater.

 

 

 

Inclusion Must Honor the MLK Legacy

As we return to work after observing the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we must pause to honor his legacy and reflect on the impact of his work as it lingers throughout our communities.

If we consider the presence of that legacy being carried out in our organizations, we would immediately consider the practice of diversity and inclusion.

Sadly however, many organizations spend more time talking about how they can and should improve workplace diversity than taking any measurable action toward workplace inclusion.  Statements and declarations, committees and councils, trainings and assessments — all sound great. None of those things truly move the needle toward inclusion. When policies are not matched with strategic efforts, results will never come about.

In light of this much needed work, I was happy to create and coordinate the annual MLK Diversity Breakfast hosted by the Lipscomb University Department of Communication and Journalism and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Friday, January 15, 2016 in partnership with the Council on Workforce Innovation and National Organization for Workforce Diversity.

This event is aimed at inspiring interactive conversation among local leaders who are champions for diversity and inclusion by sharing ideas, addressing issues and rethinking practices that affect our multicultural communities.

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(Aerial Ellis opening the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast at Lipscomb University.)

The MLK Diversity Breakfast is an opportunity for area professionals to gain a greater understanding of how to communicate about diversity and inclusion as a priority within their organizations and have access to a network of colleagues who collectively celebrate the cultural progression of the Nashville community. Our keynote speaker is a C-suite or civic leader connected to the practice of cross-cultural communication with a passion for the ways in which diversity and inclusion impacts business and community.

This year’s event featured Rose Jackson Flenorl, Manager, Global Citizenship, FedEx Corporation as keynote speaker. Flenorl directs and implements the company’s community outreach strategy in the areas of disaster relief, safety, environment, education, and diversity. She leads a team of professionals committed to representing the heart of the corporation by executing strategic programs and maintaining relationships with national and international non-profit organizations. Flenorl provided insight on the global corporation’s work in serving an evolving base of multicultural consumers, strengthening its pipeline to recruit, retain and advance diverse talent, and supporting minority business owners and community initiatives through citizenship engagement.

Last year, our inaugural event featured Anthony Carter, Chief Diversity Officer at Johnson & Johnson. Take a look at our 2015 highlights.

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(L-R: Rose Jackson Flenorl of FedEx – 2016 keynote speaker, Jacky Akbari of Now Diversity)

In addition to the breakfast, Rose Jackson Flenorl spent time talking with our communication and journalism students about the path to success in the industry. Discussions about diversity allow our students to better identify bias and stereotypes, discover advocacy with an objective lens, and communicate across global cultures as future journalists and public relations practitioners.

Though her visit, I believe all were able to consider diversity as a social action that challenges those norms, values, styles and patterns of thinking that can inspire more inclusive conversations.

If organizations strive to live up to the tenets of Dr. King’s vision, they must honor his legacy through actions that show real progress toward workplace inclusion. Initiatives must not only embrace employees for their individuality but also celebrate the differences that contribute to the success and innovation in the workplace regardless of gender, creed, color or sexual orientation.

Beyond commemorative events and celebrations, we have an obligation to act. Inclusion at any point should always be our goal. In this new year and moment of cultural reflection, I challenge you to thinker deeper about the ways Dr. King’s legacy can inspire and shape your organization’s practice of inclusion.

See a few highlights from the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast.

What I’m Reading: Improvise – Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO

What I’m Reading: Improvise – Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO

I spent the last five days in Atlanta at Public Relations Society of America International Conference where Golin CEO Fred Cook offered this book to share the inspiring story of how he followed an unusual yet fascinating path from young adulthood to the corner office.

As CEO of one of the top PR agencies in the world, Cook provides counsel to blue-chip companies like Nintendo, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, BP, and Toyota, and has worked personally with Jeff Bezos, Michael Eisner, and Steve Jobs.

This book is great for motivating readers to create their path to leadership through the practicality life experiences by changing their perspectives and acknowledging unique life experiences as a means to an end.

Highly recommended.

Aerial Ellis Fred Cook Unlikely CEO

It’s Complicated: Explaining The Role of Race in Police Brutality

Aerial Ellis

I’ve opened the past two semesters talking about police brutality on the first day of class in my Cross-Cultural Communication course at Lipscomb University. This is a required course for communication and journalism majors to grasp the challenges of communicating in today’s complex society so we go there and get pretty deep. Building communication strategies to address obstacles and opportunities within a client’s organizational culture is something I know very well but grappling with the thorny issues of our times with a room full of college students means I must dig deep and go all the way. There are a wealth of topics I could start the semester with instead but it just so happens the biggest story in the news at the time concerned violence, race and injustice – in fall we dealt with cases of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and in spring, the cases of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray…

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What I’m Reading: Between the World and Me

What I’m reading: Between The World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates.

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

This is a profound work by an amazing author passionately attempting to explain the difficulties of race and American racism to his young Black son. This work offers a powerful framework for new and present understanding of our nation’s shameful and complicated history with race and the current conversation around the cultural crisis.

I will boldly say that this is required reading as quoted by the great Toni Morrison. The author is giving a new age Richard Wright, James McBride type literally excellence.

Very impressed and enlightened.

Highly recommended.Aerial Ellis what I'm reading

Do You Know A Millennial?

If you can see the headshot to your left, you’re looking at one!

The millennial generation is bigger and more diverse than any other generation has ever been.TOM Banner 2

 

 

 

 

 

My latest book project, The Original Millennial, is part of a thought leadership series featuring the stories and experiences of millennial entrepreneurs.

I want to hear their stories! As I release this book, I want to speak with millennials who are leaders in business and community – millennials who have exceeded expectations, challenged the stereotype and inspired cultural and social change.

Be an early adopter, pre-order the eBook for only $5.99 and get access to exclusive interviews with millennial entrepreneurs.

And…share this blog with a millennial to be added to my mailing list.