Millennials: Where’s Our Money?

In 2007, during the beginning of the Great Recession, I was a self-employed millennial running my own PR firm full-time. I unexpectedly lost three of my largest accounts.

I had a sense that I needed to be going after more clients, increasing my revenue and saving up more money, but I was a young entrepreneur with a lot to learn about running a company. After all, I started the business fresh out of college because the job market was so bleak and I couldn’t land a position in my field or anything stable enough to carry me financially. The business had allowed me to cover all my bills and stash away a good deal of cash, but, when the recession hit, I became afraid. When I began the business three years earlier without any money, I didn’t even have enough to open a bank account. Now, here I was again with no more money and no one to ask for help.

Why didn’t I just go get a job? Well, it’s not that simple. Millennials came into the workforce hoping to lock down a secure career and bank on a big payday only to be disappointed that neither of those things were readily available. We watched our parents work for years at the same company and believe they had a nest egg for retirement that somehow disappeared. We make less money than previous generations and have smaller incomes and bigger debts because we’re often underemployed and underpaid.

So, we’ve figured out how to use technology to do more and spend less. We love discounts, deals and freebies. We’ve put off commitments like marriage and home ownership not because they don’t hold value to us but because we want to be stable enough to fully enjoy those experiences without major financial woes. We like money and appreciate the finer things, but live for a bargain. We did not want to follow in our parents’ footsteps so we started scrambling up extra money in addition to our full time jobs as side hustles (Pew Research).

This year, we’ll approach the 10-year anniversary of the Great Recession. It took a while but I’m doing pretty well now financially. However, I am concerned about my generation. As the oldest millennials turn 37 this year – an age where most Americans are supposed to be at their peak spending age – millennials are still feeling the aftermath of the Recession (Morgan Stanley).

 

We are the largest generation of the U.S. workforce and, as we age, many factors will bear down on our financial future: Social Security is underfunded, our life expectancy is on the rise and college debt won’t disappear. Many millennials, especially those who are entrepreneurial, don’t always learn things we should about money or by the time we do we’ve already been cast out into the world burdened by money mistakes and financial mess-ups. We are a considerably underfinanced generation, which is why we have no choice but to start saving as much as possible, living on significantly less and seeking financial advice.

Where is our money? How can millennials drive growth to the U.S. economy? What will predictions say about our financial contributions? How can we develop a sustainable plan for future generations?

We have to get to saving. Twenty-three percent of younger millennials (18–24) don’t have a savings account and 43 percent of millennials who make $75–$100k a year don’t have a savings account or have nothing saved. If we don’t save today, we’ll be playing catch up later. (Millennial Money)

We have to remain frugal. Millennials should have a vision for where we might want to be financially. We must plan for our finances to keep us comfortable and learn to live below our means. Develop a budget and set money goals accordingly – translation: buy a few less lattes.

We have to ask for help. As resourceful as we are and as much as we value relationships, we shouldn’t have a problem getting money advice and financial guidance to manage the things we value most. The earlier we enlist help, the better off we’ll be.

Contrary to what is said or perceived, millennials are not lazy, entitled slackers. We have the same needs and wants as older generations — financial security, family stability and retirement savings. As we plan for the future, we must consider the kind of commitments, goals and investments we will set with our money. We know how to use our profit—what we gain out of life—to supply our purpose in the world because we inherently understand that profit is not just about money. Profit includes your time, life takeaways, raw talents and trusted tangibles. And, millennials are going to need all of those to build a sturdy foundation for the future of our money.

This article is an excerpt from my book, The Original Millennial and appeared in The Tennessean for 12th and Broad as part of the Millennial Money Experiment powered by Regions Bank.

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Why Cultural Fit Could Destroy Your Diversity Efforts

Culture is important. In fact, it’s what sets one organization distinctly apart from another. Your organizational culture is one of the most critical elements for having well-harmonized teams in which all the members fit.

Cultural fit has its merits. Industry gatekeepers prize cultural fit as a hiring imperative. Organizations use cultural fit for competitive advantage by relying on the idea that the best employees are like-minded with matched personalities, skills and values. Cultural fit supports the assessment that when people are different from the majority, and do not fit in group it becomes difficult to work with them and integrate them into the team. But there are serious limitations with the value of balancing fit with diversity and inclusion.

We’ve been deliberate to communicate the importance of workplace diversity yet overlook the concrete problems that are likely to emerge if homogeneity takes priority over genuine inclusion. Cultural fit, when misused in hiring for personal comfort, likeness, preference or chemistry, becomes one of the biggest threats to diversity in the PR workforce.

When done carelessly, the concept of fit becomes a dangerous catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not. Hiring for fit can keep demographic and cultural diversity low, force people into a given prototype and reinforce the myth that skill and talent is exclusive to a dominant group. This creates situations in which our organizations look diverse in appearance but are deceivingly homogenous. Sameness in profile, even with very different backgrounds, can breed the kind of culture that leads to uniformity and irrelevancy in the workforce, uninformed or overconfidence decisions among teams, and exclusion of high-performing candidates.

When done thoughtfully, the concept of fit becomes a progressive attempt to highlight contribution. Hiring for contribution can make our organizations more productive and profitable by redefining cultural fit to be closely aligned with business goals. This creates organizations where people with different perspectives, attitudes, and aspirations can work positively together. Achieving diversity through contribution is sign of future innovation. It signals that organizations committed to evolving to where they need to go are ready to trust high-level contributors to take them there.

To use cultural fit more effectively, we must decide that contribution has more value. Focusing on contribution in hiring shifts an existing organizational culture by taking the energy up a notch and setting the stage for creativity to flourish.

Instead of looking for someone who fits neatly your organization’s culture, seek to discover how this person will introduce something new and unique to your current culture. Instead of asking someone to match closely with your existing culture, seek to determine whether they are likely to energize your culture and nudge it in the right direction. As a result, your organization can become a home for big ideas and better growth.

Assess what your organization is doing well and what important measurable goals you can crush. Assess what is not going well and is a battle to achieve. Determine which aspects your organization’s culture directly affects how you reach those goals. Ask what qualities and differences are likely to influence the existing culture in a meaningful and positive way. In doing so, you reframe the concept of fit by developing a cultural profile based on contribution.

While there’s nothing wrong with asking the question, “Is he a culture fit,” it shouldn’t be completely synonymous with, “Do we like him?”

The beauty of diversity is having people come together to work on a common goal. We can’t lean on cultural fit to the degree that we become afraid of the perceived conflict in putting together different people or begin to treat diversity efforts like a chore that needs to be managed. The next time someone asks, “Are they a culture fit”, carefully consider what the answer might be. This approach could destroy all that we’ve what we have been striving for in championing diversity in our industry. When we rely on contribution, we create an opportunity to shift a culture with diversity and make inclusion a real concept.

What Makes a Great Mentor?

I will admit. I have some amazing mentors. They each come from different walks of life and parts of the country, have different areas of expertise and serve a different purpose in my life. Having a diverse group of people who pour into me regularly has made a major impact in my personal and professional development.

That’s why I make mentoring a priority and work really hard to help young professionals. As part of that desire to teach and groom others, I am happy to serve as an advisor for the diversity and inclusion committee with The Plank Center in Leadership for Public Relations. This group’s purpose is to be a catalyst for other professional organizations, to help identify and bridge gaps, and assist organizations seeking to adopt best-in-class practices in the area of diversity and inclusion.

We are devoting resources to diversity and inclusion research and we are launching an online research library designed to help students, educators and professionals locate public relations research on diversity and inclusion, leadership and mentorship.

We will celebrate our efforts and honor leaders in the industry this week at an annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala. The gala recognizes the dedication and impact of individuals who have fostered relationships with their organization, community and profession.

Though I am still early in my career in comparison to the majority of my industry’s leaders, I don’t think its ever too early to mentor. My mentors have been responsive, tough-loving, open-minded, free-hearted and innovative, and I try to model them in the way I mentor.

What about you? What things do you think make a great mentor?

Aerial Ellis plank center diversity inclusion

Where Are The Leaders?

Millennial Leaders

So many headlines seem to focus on the idea that millennials are not poised to lead. We are incompetent, shiftless and non-committal. We show up late. We act entitled. We demand more than we earn.

These generalizations don’t change that fact that millions of original millennials are employed and show up to work every single day ready to achieve. These assumptions don’t diminish the thousands of problems being solved by original millennials who revolutionizing the way business is done.

While we should expect to see an influx of millennials in leadership positions over the next few years, you’re probably asking “where are they?”

In my new book, The Original Millennial, you will discover that original millennials are valuable, loyal, high-performing leaders. You will learn lessons of leadership for your own life and career. You will take away inspiration and hope that future is in good hands with an original millennial at the helm.

As we countdown to the release in just a few weeks, you may pre-order my book today for only $8.99. This gets you access to exclusive interviews with millennial leaders before the book is officially released.

Share this post with a millennial!

What’s Life Like For Students of Color at a White College Campus?

Collaborative Conversations on Race

I attended an HBCU and was engulfed by the black experience in college. Not until I began teaching at a predominantly white university did I begin to examine the experiences of students of color who spend their college years as an racial minority.

I am happy to lead a discussion on Tuesday, September 20, 6 p.m. that allows our students of color at Lipscomb University to share what life is like on a majority white campus.

Join me for this candid chat!

Did you attend a predominantly white university? What was your experience as a person of color? As a white person, what opportunities did you have to experience life on campus through the lens of a student of color?

Participate in the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #culturalcomm

#blackstudents #latinostudents #diversity #inclusion #intercultural #communication #crosscultural #race #ethnicity

The event is free and open to the public.

To learn more about the Collaborative Conversations series at Lipscomb University, visit: http://www.lipscomb.edu/leadership/news-events

Sneak Peek from The Original Millennial Thought Leadership Series

Have you pre-ordered your copy of my new book, The Original Millennial?

Early adopters who pre-ordered the book have been receiving exclusive content from The Original Millennial thought leadership series. Here’s a sneak peek from the book featuring an amazing original millennial!

MEET BRANDON FRAME:

Brandon Frame, founder of The Black Man Can, has devoted his career to combating negative images and shaping perceptions of Black men and boys in more honest and multidimensional ways.

A Connecticut-native, Brandon founded the digital platform in 2010 to promote and advance positive, reinforcing images of Black males. Since then, The Black Man Can has grown into a full-fledged institute that provides motivation and mentorship to boys of color across the country. In addition to founding The Black Man Can, Frame is the Director of Business Partnerships and Program Development of Hartford’s High School, Inc. He has received numerous awards and honors including Top 40 Under 40 by The Hartford Business Journal and BET Honors Next In Class.

WATCH BRANDON’S INTERVIEW

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To begin receiving exclusive content PRE-ORDER a copy of the book for yourself or to share with millennials you know, love or mentor.

TWEET TO YOUR FOLLOWERS:

Calling all #millennials! Join The Original Millennial thought leaders series now for only $5.99 http://bit.ly/theOGmillennial @theOGmillennial

Your contribution to this project is an early investment that will empower leaders of the millennial generation years to come.

Pick My Panel for SXSW

I am so excited to have an opportunity to do a book talk at SXSW 2017 in Austin, TX for my upcoming release, The Original Millennial, but I need your help.

You have to vote for me! The proposals with the most votes will be considered to present at the conference next year. You may log-in and vote now through September 2. Will you vote for my proposal? Click below.

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After you vote, follow @theOGmillennial on Twitter and tweet this to your followers:

Pick this #SXSW panel: Leadership Lessons for The Millennial Generation
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/61297
We are on COUNTDOWN for the official release of the book. PRE-ORDER today!
Your contribution to this project is an early investment that will empower millennial leaders for years to come.
Thanks!

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

*I originally published this in June 2015. In wake of more deaths approximately one year later, I am sharing this again…today.*

 

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. It looks as if perhaps this coming fall in August I will unfortunately and again have new content on the same topic – now with the incident in Mckinney, Texas and who knows what else between now and then.

For all of these tragic instances, a firestorm of commentary and disagreement ensued across news media and social media, and protests arose all over the world. Some students wonder how this could happen in the United States. For others, unfortunately, police brutality and discrimination are all too familiar. Yet for a large majority of my students at our private, Christian, predominately white University, police brutality and the racial disparities that accompany the topic are foreign concepts. They are often confused but curious and compassionate in their attempt to make sense of tough issues that even us mature adults struggle to comprehend. Naturally, they are faced with anger, frustration, sadness, disbelief and lots of questions.

“The victim had to be doing something wrong, right Professor Ellis? Wouldn’t the news media tell us if something was done unfairly?”

“Professor Ellis, wasn’t this an issue during segregation? Why are we seeing so much about it today?”

“But Professor Ellis, does this mean most cops are racist or that we should fear them?”

“So Professor Ellis, how do we fix stuff like this?”

My answer to them: “Well, it’s complicated.”

 

I could share with you how I lecture on the basis of these questions but that’s a 2000-word essay, not a blog post. I tell my students we have many things to consider…

  • We’d need to consider how racism has always played a key role in our country and how it became embedded in our criminal justice system. We also need to talk about juries, how difficult it can be to find the truth and how media coverage and social media conversations impact the perceptions of what we believe is true. We’d need to consider the origins of racism and the repetitive narratives of injustice, violence and poverty in communities of color to examine the correlations.
  • We’d need to look at the public’s general perception about the problem of police brutality and its history in America from the civil rights movement of the 1960’s to the transition from community policing to military policing in the 1980’s. We’d need to examine data that shows if you are black you are far more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than you would if you are white, and how that knowledge has perpetuated a relationship of conflict between police officers and the black community. We’d need to talk about how the outrage makes people feel hopeless and inspired to react in protesting or even rioting.
  • We’d need to examine the disturbing trend in the news media where a person is often criminalized when they have been killed by a police officer rather than insisting they deserved to a chance to be charged, brought to trial and have remained among the living. We’d need to research at the trend of citizen journalism becoming a powerful catalyst for the narrative of injustice as a tool for breaking news. We’d need ask if we can discern by only looking at the mobile phone footage of a bystander how an unarmed citizen is to blame for the overcorrection, extra force or lack of control displayed by police officers.
  • We’d need to assess how police administrators are training officers and addressing criticism since police brutality has gotten so much national attention recently. We’d need to consider that what a police officer could despise more than anything is when their authority is challenged, regardless of your color, and that could get you thrown in jail or met with excessive force. We should acknowledge that there are officers and administrators who understand how this crisis is impacting public trust and are trying to handle the issue with care and concern because their profession requires that they put their lives on the line everyday.
  • We’d need to consider our role in calling out injustice as a social and moral responsibility when the dynamic of the unknown convicts us to acknowledge stereotypes and reveal blind spots. We’d need to be honest about the relative silence over unfair treatment when it doesn’t impact us directly. We should admit we are imperfect people who have a tendency to limit our perspective, opinions, beliefs and comfort zones to be in agreement with those who relate to us most. We need to remember that what affects one affects us all, or at least it should.

I told you. It’s complicated.

I have the next generation of FOX news anchors, CNN producers, national radio hosts, online news editors, public information officers, non-profit leaders and crisis PR practitioners in my classroom. They will shape public opinion and determine how we consume messages through media. These students are studying to go into newsrooms to write stories and headlines about issues they’ve never witnessed personally, go into communities that may not look like the places they grew up in with cameras to capture the conflict of people who don’t look like them, go into companies to help generate awareness among a target audience whose lifestyles they can’t relate to, or go into organizations to help senior leaders to communicate about issues that might make them uncomfortable.

If I don’t get real with them, who will?

Now, I could be the kind of professor that ignores the cultural sensitivities that surface from answering these questions or I could be the kind that challenges students and myself to explore our self-identities and look at how fit they into the world. This is where we must consider our younger generations who are confused but curious about their role in improving our society in ways that enlighten and empower them. Violence, race and injustice – the anchors of the cultural discourse around police brutality – aren’t the easiest concepts to grasp and are no longer the kinds of one-time shallow conversations we can sweep under the rug. Ignoring the facts dehumanizes us. They have to be talked about on an ongoing basis every time a story comes out.

I challenge you, whether a professional, professor or parent, to start having open discussion about cultural issues with the young students in your communities. Address your personal biases internally, dig for more than what is reported through media, be okay with the discomfort of disagreement when a different opinion is expressed, search for a historical context connected to these issues we’ve increasingly seen in the news, seek meaningful conversations with people who’ve experienced the cultural struggles that you haven’t, and empower a young student to intelligently assess their role in doing something about the issues.

I’d like to hear from you.

How has your perspective of race and police brutality been impacted by recent events?

How has media coverage of the current events heightened your cultural sensitivity to racial issues and police discrimination?

How do you intend to help the next generation of leaders understand and address difficult issues like race, violence and injustice?

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.