Did you know that our world today is actually more futuristic than old sci-fi movies even predicted? If you doubt me, watch the original Star Trek series, where their ‘communicators’ are a profound but simple technology enabling them to – gasp – talk with someone not in the room. Then look at your own cell phone – especially those of you with smart phones – and think about everything that piece of equipment does beyond just help you call someone. Today’s mobile phones are far superior to Star Trek’s ‘communicators’ and the trend in technological improvement just continues.
But despite the fact that it’s 2016 and we have been plunged into the world of science fiction, not much has really changed in terms of basic culture and human interaction. We still bury and marry. We still struggle with jealousy. We still climb corporate and social ladders. There are still heroes and villains both in our local communities and world politics.
By some miracle, there are still parts of our culture that our great-great-greats would find familiar. And, of course, there are parts they couldn’t begin to have the vocabulary to define. What does that mean? Rather simply, it means that our world is complicated. Your agriculture business probably doesn’t look like a hipster internet startup company that builds a workout gym at the office for employees to use. But the business also probably doesn’t look the same as when it first began several decades or more ago, either.
I write from a perspective of Millennials because a) I am a Millennial and b) that is where my experience lies. But you aren’t running a business that only serves Millennials. You also aren’t running a business that never serves Millennials. Today, there are four generations working side by side in the workplace – according to Forbes, that number is very soon going to be five generations.
To run a business in this very big and diverse world, you have to practice discernment. You have to be willing to look at your employees as individuals more than generations – because no one fits into an exact box. And you have to be adaptable to try and meet everyone’s style of learning to get the most out of each one.
Does that mean that traditional methods are completely dead; that no one works a job simply because they are told to anymore? Definitely not. Believe it or not, even Millennials can be traditional. Your job as a manager is to find the traditional learners and embrace that method for them, but also find more modern learners and help them work in a way where they flourish, too.
In short: you are not running a traditional business or a modern, progressive business. That is a false dichotomy and a trap meant to make you only think only one way. Instead of wondering if your company should be traditional or modern, work towards making it traditional and modern.
It’s true that your grandfather – perhaps even your father – didn’t have to manage his company this way. He also didn’t have to worry about sales and marketing to as widespread a population as we do. He probably didn’t have to worry that his industry would die (or diminish) and people wouldn’t need his product anymore. And he (perhaps along with you) watched movies where a phone that fits in your pocket was a revolutionary tool that had only one purpose. Remember, ours is a more complicated world. Whether that is a good or bad thing I will leave for each of you to decide for yourself.
The silver lining is that understanding the needs of each of your employees forces you to be a more engaged manager than previous generations ever had to be. While that does mean more work for you, it’s also encouraging that at the same time we bemoan how social media has disconnected us, in this way our culture is actually forcing us to be more personal. And if you ever mistakenly thought that your work life didn’t impact your personal life, let me assure you: Forcing yourself to learn traits like discernment will make you a better person. Your spouse and children will thank me for this advice someday.
Emily Enger is a Millennial farm kid turned farm journalist. She also works in marketing, serving as communications director for a nonprofit that covers nine rural counties in northern Minnesota. These opinions are her own and should not take the place of legal or professional advice. To comment or pitch future topics, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org . For reprint permission, email editor Joan Kark-Wren at email@example.com .