We invite Larry Velez, founder and CTO of Sinu, to help us understand and accommodate millennials in the workplace. Top of the list: make sure your organization’s systems and tools are mobile-ready.
(6:58) The trend: Millennials love iPhones!
(9:23) Finding balance for seamless integration of devices, data and more
(12:45) Yahoo’s semi-cautionary tale
(15:47) Being remote but having an office for those who need it
(17:07) Trust Issues: Why the older generation fears the cloud
(22:35) Accommodating millennials by increasing usability of your tools
(24:40) The value of video
(28:30) The gift Banksy left on Larry’s office
Larry’s firm, Sinu: www.sinu.com
Remote: Office Not Required: https://www.amazon.com/Remote-Office-Required-Jason-Fried/dp/0804137501
Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. 2019 is a year of big changes for the Goldenburg Group as we roll out a new brand Successful Nonprofits™. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re listening to the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast, but now we are rolling everything underneath Successful Nonprofits™. The blog, the consulting services, pretty much everything will now from this point forward just be branded as Successful Nonprofits™. Another big change is our decision to offer a Facilitated Cohort Group for strategic planning. Volunteer leaders who participate on behalf of your organization will learn and apply the proprietary, proven strategic planning process that we have developed and use effectively. Your leadership volunteer will participate in biweekly online sessions for about six or seven months while they are facilitating your strategic plan. As your planning project unfolds, they will also learn the next steps necessary in the facilitation process, and they will receive all of the tools and templates that we have developed for work group management, stakeholder surveys, the environmental scan, financial analysis, fundraising analysis, board evaluation, the retreat, and, of course, the final plan itself.
As you can imagine, this is not a passive, instructional format, so your volunteer leader that participates will implement each lesson as the course unfolds and, of course, as the strategic planning process unfolds. So, if you’re interested, visit www.successfulnonprofits.com and reach out if you believe this may be a good fit for you. As we mentioned in the last episode, before accepting any organization and their leadership volunteer under the cohort group, we will need to consider your volunteer’s skills, abilities, and bandwidth as well as a commitment to meet the time requirements of the course and the planning process. Early enrollees will receive a significant $1,000 discount through February 15th, and I believe this episode’s coming out just a few days before that, so please make sure you get on it. Today, I welcome Larry Velez, founder and CTO of Sinu, a managed IT provider for small companies and nonprofits. You are probably thinking that Larry and I are going to talk about IT, aren’t you?
Well, we are going to talk about it, but not today. Today, we’re going to talk about the challenges and benefits of employing millennials and post-millennials in your organization. So, I have to share with you that I think perhaps the perfect person to have this conversation with is someone who is running a managed IT company. The reason is so many millennials and post-millennials work in IT. So, if anyone knows how to manage them and how to get the most out of them, it’s going to be Larry. Now, in preparation for this episode, I have to admit that I had to look up the definition of millennials because I pretty much thought it was anybody born after 1990, and guess what? I was wrong. Turns out that millennials, anyone born between 1981 and 1996. Now, how they came up with the artificial boundary of 1996, I have no idea.
And maybe at some point of the conversation, Larry can shed some light on that. But then I also learned that there’s this additional generation, a post-millennial generation called Generation Z. And those are the folks that are born after 1996, so pretty much people board from 1997 until today. Now as a group, older post-millennials have a lot in common with the younger millennials, those folks born before 1996. So, think about it. They have technology embedded in their DNA practically. They have a strong involvement in online communities and social media. And also of note, they have significantly less work experience than earlier generations. Again, I did a little bit of research, and I found out that today only 58% of people between the ages of 18 to 21 were employed. Now, I’m kind of surprised by this because I think I got my first job and a family business like probably in middle school.
And then I got my first job at a grocery store in high school. So, I was surprised that such a small percentage of 18 to 21-year olds today are employed. And we went back and compared, and it turns out in 2002, that number was 72%. In 1968 that number was 80%. So, if you’re hiring a 21-year old today, there’s a greater than 40% chance that they have no recent work experience or probably no work experience at all. So, let’s move on with this conversation with Larry Velez to talk about how it’s different managing, motivating, and getting the most out of millennial workers.
Hey Larry, after that long intro, welcome to the podcast.
Larry Velez: Thank you for having me. Great to be here.
Dolph Goldenburg: Now, I know you’ve got a pretty diverse staff at Sinu. What traits do you encounter in your millennial and post-millennial workers?
Larry Velez: Well, not only on our team but actually if you think about, since we are the IT department for so many organizations, when you think about hiring someone new or one of our clients hired someone new… Think about the process of payroll, making sure their paycheck is going to work and the very first thing they do is they talk to the IT department. They’ve got to set you up with an account or an email. So, we see people day one, you know, right after the HR person or the outsource payroll processing. We see new employees that are our clients right away. So, we get a very good impression of how the workforce has been changing over time and how the newer, younger generation is working. For them, it’s really a shift in how they communicate and which devices they’re using. That’s the biggest shift we’re seeing now is the iPhone is everything because this generation, and that has some ramifications in how organizations are designing themselves now.
Dolph Goldenburg: So, Larry as you see these new hires coming into the workforce for the first time, and, of course, you or a member of your team are issuing them an email, laptop, etc., what trends do you see?
Larry Velez: Well, the biggest trend we notice is that the iPhone or the equivalent, you know, sometimes, uh, another type of phone, but the iPhone is the most important device in their life. And for some, even though especially younger people, it almost is literally painful to use a laptop, let alone a desktop for them. During their schooling years, those devices, we’re really just to get work done. They didn’t communicate through them. They didn’t compose any communication through those devices. They would write papers and then stop using it and go back to their iPhone. And that’s the transition that we’re seeing. A lot of systems in organizations are not ready for that. They don’t have a mobile app for the accounting system or the, you know, communication system. That’s the shift for them: it’s painful to sit in one place and sit in a desktop literally and work.
They want the iPhone. They want to walk around. They want to walk to a different couch and stand up and have a very fluid motion of a day to day work, not Sort of like the 1950s office worker that would sit there for, you know, in one spot for eight hours. So, that’s the biggest change. The iPhone is the center of their world when it comes to devices. And a lot of organizations are just transitioning to the point where all of their systems that they these people to work in are ready for that. They have an iPhone APP or a web-ready mobile interface. Some of them don’t have any of that, and that’s pretty challenging. And they’re stuck in the middle, right? Because they’re new. So, they can’t really speak out and say, “What is going on here? I need an iPhone APP,” but those tools are not really ready for them. So, we’re going to see a few years of that transition as organizations start upgrading their accounting systems to the cloud or their donor tracking system to the Cloud. And then once it’s in the Cloud, then it can have a mobile app. And so that’s the biggest thing we’re noticing.
Dolph Goldenburg: And so, what exactly would that look like for the workforce? Does that mean we would all be on mobile APP? Would some of us like myself who are kind of old fogies still be able to have a laptop or a desktop?
Larry Velez: Well I think those, there’s going to be pendulum swings and I think, you know, as things transition, there’s going to be some balance. So, there are some things you do on your phone, like Twitter or something, and there are some things you just need a bigger screen. I think fast forward a few years we will be using different size screens and probably a lot of voice, a lot of Siri, Alexa kind of interaction five, 10 years into the future. Until then we’re going to balance and use multiple devices, and I think the younger generation is very, very fluid with that where they can pick up an iPhone, start a conversation, put it down and pick up their laptop, continue the conversation and go back and fluidly move between small screens, medium screens and large screens and eventually your big hundred-inch television is going to be a powered by Google, Amazon or Microsoft technology and be just a seamless integration between the way you work.
Dolph Goldenburg: Well, I have to share with you, I think my television already is powered by Amazon and Netflix and Hulu because we don’t have cable. We don’t get any TV unless it comes in through them, and then we plug the laptop into it, and that’s how we make it all work. So, it’s interesting because I guess I’m kind of already at that point, but so this fluidity that we’re seeing among millennials of being able to go from the small screen to the medium-sized screening to the big screen, outside of technology, what other areas does that fluidity apply?
Larry Velez: Well, I think that balance of fluidity is not just about the devices. It’s about how data is being consumed and produced. We went from typing letters and sending memos to sending email, which were concrete things, which there was a time when you could read all your emails in a day. Now, we’re at Twitter streams, Facebook streams and Snapchat streams, which are continuous streams you can’t possibly consume every message of. So, we are balancing between this overload, and now slack is becoming popular, and there will be a Microsoft clone of slack and then a Google Chrome slack. We are already hearing this sort of slack fatigue happening where you just can’t keep up with the conversation. It keeps going on through the night in the morning. I have to pause it. So, I think we’re going to find a balance where there’s going to be a pendulum swing between an overload of information of these streams of data and then a throwback. Then people are going to go back, well, I need pen and paper or some balance.
So, I think we’re always going to see this pendulum swing back and forth. But I think that balance, that’s another area. We’re also seeing it in how offices are being designed. There was a theory of standup desks, and that was popular. Now, it’s kind of receding. There was a theory of open-planned offices without any offices, and now there’s some pushback that that may not be the most productive. So, I think people are different. Some people thrive in noise. Some people thrive in silence. Getting to know how your people work and what environments they need and what devices they need, but most importantly, having your solutions, your business solutions, the systems that you use, be able to meet those people where they want to be. If it’s on the iPhone, let’s meet them there.
If they want a big [inaudible] screen layout because that’s the way they want to work, then let’s make sure that that system can be that flexible to operate that way. So those are the few areas, the places that they want to work in. And working from home is another trend, for example, which became popular and now it’s receding. Arguably, it destroyed Yahoo in a place that they couldn’t compete because too many of their employees were working from home. So, finding the right balance and making sure all of your systems and your infrastructure can bring the balance that’s right for that employee at the right time is what we’re seeing organizations tackle now in 2019 into the next few years.
Dolph Goldenburg: So, you just shared something with me that I did not already know or understand. So, it’s a little bit tangential, but I’d love for us to kind of walk down that path. I was not aware that part of the downfall of Yahoo is that too many people were remote workers. Can you help me unpack that?
Larry Velez: Sure. Yahoo, remember, plays at the highest level of competition, right? Unlimited funds, the very smartest people in the world competing against Google, Microsoft, Amazon – companies that have unlimited budgets. So, if you’re in their arena at the highest level of business competition, you need your people to be the absolute best. And unfortunately for them, Google and Microsoft had all their people in the same offices collaborating and working in very high-speed feedback loops. Meanwhile, Yahoo’s director of HR was in New York, living in New York. Many, many, many major teams and management of their company were not in their headquarters. So, that means they were just a little bit slower. That doesn’t mean they were ineffective. But if you’re competing against Google, you can’t be even 1% too slow because they’re going to overrun you.
So, it’s a marginal or an outlier example, but I think it’s a, a place where it didn’t work for them. They can’t, you can’t be in the industry. You can’t build rockets and have people working from home, but not everybody’s building rockets. Right? That’s just a couple of companies. But there might be some negative to an organization that hasn’t embraced it the right way. Although there are trends and there’s a book called Remote by 37 signals that’s all about how to do remote correctly and how to make sure you’re in the right place. So again, it’s about balance. Not every organization thrives in the same way. And it usually comes from the top-down. So, usually, if the management board, the second director thrives in a certain way, then usually they shape the organization in that, whether it’s working remotely or in a major city or in the suburbs or in another country for that matter. Those are some of the factors that come into business. I mean we tend to deal with a lot of business issues as well as IT because we have to. We have to know where things are going and how these organizations are shaping themselves through technology. So, that’s some feedback there.
Dolph Goldenburg: In terms of remote workers, I know I have walked into – as a consultant, as an interim executive director – a number of workplaces where especially younger people really want to work remotely, want to work from home. And sometimes it’s been in organizations that are in New York, and, for listeners that may not fully understand, a lot of young people, people in their twenties, in New York have multiple roommates in very small apartments. And so I’m always surprised when they say I want to work from home.
Larry Velez: Yes. I mean, New York is a dense city and, and you’re right, that happens. A lot of people live with multiple roommates, but some people can thrive. We’ve seen people that need the noise of a cafe to be effective. They need that background noise. Some people thrive in a noisy environment, and some people don’t. [inaudible] Even that book Remote talks about still having an office for the people who need it, but don’t force people to be there that don’t need it. So, you gotta find the right balance. You have to know your people. You have to know your team, and you have to recruit accordingly, right? We’ve had organizations that were completely disbursed internationally, and they purposely recruited that way because they were able to gain talent that they maybe couldn’t afford from a major city like New York or San Francisco or something. So, maybe they can get a really, really great person for a role, but they live, you know, in France or Brazil or some other place. So, it’s a balance of how you run your organization, finding great people. You have to expand, especially if your funds are not unlimited. If you’re competing for talent in New York City, you’ve got to pay you gotta pay, cause their Brooklyn Apartment is expensive. So, if you’re a smaller nonprofit, you may need to expand your geography to other cities and be more flexible with how you grow.
Dolph Goldenburg: Folks that are best able to work, for example, from that noisy cafe, do you find that’s predominantly millennials, or do you find a lot of us in our forties and 50s work really well in the noisy cafe?
Larry Velez: I think there’s a lot of, you know, uh, talk about millennials are this, millennials are that. I, I’ve met millennials that are cut throat business people that, you know, it reminds me of 1980s, you know, stockbroker, Wall Street, you know, these are people that want to be in business. They want to be millionaires and billionaires. So, I don’t think these generalizations really apply. I think every generation has people that thrive one way or another. So, I don’t think it’s a generational thing as much. But the one distinction generationally I do see is around the technology and the devices. Another thing we’ve noticed is even on the management side, one thing that’s interesting is management, executive directors and C-level employees now they are of an age where their deepest, darkest secrets when they were children were already on Gmail or Yahoo.
So, they have no fear of the Cloud of email of technology versus the generation just before that didn’t grow up with email where their deepest darkest secrets when they were 10-years old are not recorded in the Cloud or not recorded digitally. So, they have a different relationship with trust. And we’re noticing that now when we’re having conversations with management where they used to resist. Ten years ago, we were having conversations with management, and they were resisting the Cloud. They were resisting the connected world because they didn’t grow up that way. But now these people are CEO, CFO, CEOs, and they are super comfortable with technology. So, that’s the shift that we’re seeing. I think fast forward another decade, we’re going to find a generation of employees and maybe managers that are super comfortable with voice and really the way they operate. You know, we’re having a podcast now.
It’s the way we’re consuming information now, but I think we’re going to get more comfortable with literally, you know, sending voice as the communication method or voice as the content creation method. So, when you write your speech, you just dictate it to a piece of software. In a few years, people are going to get more comfortable with that. So, I think those are the generational changes we’re seeing is basically how did they grow up? What technology or what experiences did they have when they were 10 to 15 years old which is what shapes you as a person? And now we see so much of that happen when they become managers or CEOs or C-level executives that now they’re comfortable with how they grew up with the technologies that were around back then.
Dolph Goldenburg: So, I have to share with you that I find it kind of funny that people are starting to become more comfortable with voice again. My first job out of college was with a family service organization, so you know therapists and mental health counselors. We had a psychiatrist on staff as well. And the psychiatrist was in his seventies, and he had a secretary. She’s probably gone now because this was about 25 years ago. Rose was in her eighties, and Dr. [Wolfsberg] would actually read like dictation into a tape recorder. Rose would sit at her typewriter, not a computer, but would sit at her typewriter with headsets on kind of the way you and I have right now as we’re recording this podcast and literally like type out exactly what the psychiatrist had said. So, I find it funny that we’re moving back to voice and that – I’m using air quotes here that – we’re getting comfortable with essentially dictating into machines. Fifty years ago, that’s how everybody typed every single memo. They dictated into a machine, and someone else typed it for them.
Larry Velez: Yeah. Well, I think you’ve heard this before. Things go in cycles and technology and business practices go in cycles, and you saw a resurgence of pen and paper I think for a while where people went back to that. So, I think you’re right. Things go in cycles, and voice is something that, you know, when technology and typewriters were created was dismissed as too much. Now, it’s finding its way back because the software can handle it. We’ll see a lot of value in voice. We think podcasting is a way to get messages out that is underserved right now. So, I think it’s great.
Dolph Goldenburg: I agree with you, and we are going to have another episode later this year on how and why nonprofits should consider starting their own podcast because you’re right, it’s a great way to communicate what you want to communicate to your tribe, whatever your tribe may be. So yeah, I am right there with you.
In terms of managing and working with millennials, the first thing that I hear you say is you’ve got to have flexibility. You can’t treat all millennials like, you know, you’re a millennial, so you’re a slacker, or you’re a millennial, which means, you know, you’re only going to talk to me by text and never going to look up from your phone and actually talk to me. What are some other things that those of us, they’re a little bit older – in our forties, 50s and up – what are some other things we should be thinking about when we’re managing or working with millennials?
Larry Velez: Well, I think you really need to audit and survey the systems and the tools that your organization uses and are they ready for not just your generation and how your management team works, but the next generation? The most flexible and the most capable of those solutions are able to do that. They’re able to meet you. Whether you’re a mobile-first person or you’re a keyboard-first person or a laptop-first person, they should be able to meet you. So, I think creating that audit and really putting systems on notice that are not ready. If you’ve got a donor management system that has no path of an iPhone, like they’re not even talking about it, let’s have a serious conversation of is this right? Maybe we’ve been using this for many, many years and everybody knows it, but this is a time where you need to really reassess, is this the right tool to get us to the next level?
If not, what else is out there? And don’t wait until your people that want to be mobile-first are really frustrated and may not stick around because they may feel like this is not a good work environment for me. Really audit and survey all of your business solutions from accounting through donor management, through CRM, marketing, sales, you know, expense reporting, all the tools that you use. Make sure that you’re comfortable with where they are landing as far as the usability in a mobile-first world, in a world where someone may be at home with just an iPad, and they need to get work done. Just audit that, see where you land and make sure you’re comfortable there. Start pushing those vendors. Start pushing that software. That’s something we help our clients do all the time to push them to make sure that is they’re thinking about it, and if they’re not, we’re going to be talking to some of their competitors and seeing, you know, what else is out there.
Dolph Goldenburg: Nice. So let me ask you, what about face to face communication? What are some things that those of us, you know, my age and up should be thinking about?
Larry Velez: Well, video conference I think is becoming so natural for everyone. I think everyone’s a lot more comfortable. We’re starting to see trends of meetings being recorded and streamed to other offices. Everyday meetings where there may be three people talking a strategy about something but record it and you’re not going to put it on YouTube; obviously, is to public, but think about what system that you have is that, you know, Microsoft 365 or Google, that can capture that and stream it and show it to other teams or have it as a reference. So, start thinking about capturing these in-person meetings, having more video conferencing. Obviously, meeting someone in person has a certain level that’s hard to replace of collaboration, but I think you can really lean on technology today to have more “facetime” with more of your team.
Maybe do reviews over video. Interviewing is an area a lot of organizations are finding huge value in doing a pre-interview when you’re hiring somebody over video, saving a lot of time versus bringing someone and having them meet with five different people and finding out, well it’s not a good fit. Well, you just took out 15 to 30 minutes of five different people in your organization where you could have maybe had a quick five-minute chat or tell them, hey, send me a video, let me know what you think of other organization. Let me know what you think about our mission. And the people that can get that together, if they can’t get their iPhone to work enough, then maybe they don’t want the job that badly or maybe you need someone that’s a little more technical savvy to be able to do that. So, we’re finding video in recruiting and hiring has some big advantages, and that’s an area where we’re making sure that when people have recruiting tools or resume tools that they can handle video submissions, or they can handle someone applying from Facebook or maybe possibly from Snapchat and trying to get a job that way. We’re trying to make sure that any system that interacts with the people on your team has some video abilities or at least just thinking about it.
Dolph Goldenburg: I am all about the online video chat. Like, right now you and I are on online video chats so we can see each other. We see when we’re smiling and when we are frowning. And I like that a lot. I’ll also share with you that, like yesterday, for example, was not recording podcast sessions yesterday, but I had a video group training that I did. Then I also had a coaching session and when remote, I do coaching sessions by video as well. And what I do love about it is I can record it and I can send it out to people and say, okay, you know, you can refer back to this whenever you want. But then the other thing that I love is there’s an accountability. And so, for example, if I’m on a video chat with you, you know I’m not checking my email. I’m not doing other stuff. Like, literally, I’m on a video chat right with you, Larry. There’s something that I really like about that because so often I’ll be in phone conferences, not-video, phone conferences, and I can just tell that two-thirds of the people are checking Facebook, reading their email, doing other stuff. You could actually hear when they forget to mute themselves, and you hear them typing away on their computer, and you’re thinking, okay, can you come back us?
But then the other thing that I love, and you mentioned this – and I really want to drive this point home – is that in recruiting, videos help save money and you know, and so like, especially if you know you are looking to hire a really key position and you want to be considering folks that live in other regions to do that first interview by video and not pay to fly someone in. You’re just going to have a much more effective video interview than you would a phone conference interview if you want to avoid the costs of flying a candidate in.
Larry Velez: Right. And one thing I would add to your focus and distraction comment is that as we are overloaded with more slack streams and Twitter streams and all of this, it’s possible some people need to focus, need the video, need the ability to focus their attention to audio and video at the same time to really fully immerse themselves in the conversation that’s happening. I think you’re right. Some of that is needed, and video helps with the focus.
Dolph Goldenburg: And admittedly I’m a MAC person, but I’m sure you can do this on PCs, I have one button that I can click on my computer and it disables all notifications, updates, etc., and that helps me focus so that way, like, when I’m talking to you, I’m not watching things scroll across the top right-hand corner of my screen.
Larry Velez: Definitely. Yes.
Dolph Goldenburg: Well Larry, I want to have time for the Off-the-Map question, and I have two possible questions. So there’s a work of art on your left shoulder, and I got to ask you, what’s the story behind this? Cause I don’t often see rats hanging in people’s offices.
Larry Velez: Yeah, no, definitely. Originally, our office was in Tribeca downtown many, many years ago before Jay-Z moved there and made it too hip, inexpensive for anybody to be down there. But we moved to midtown just to make it easier for our team’s commute. But our original office was in Tribeca, and that’s a picture of our building. It’s actually a photograph of our building, and there’s a street artist name of Banksy that makes illegal paintings in the streets. And he made a piece on the side of our building. So, we were lucky enough to find a photograph of it and buy it from the photographer. So, that’s what it is. It’s a rat that’s cutting off a scaffold rope. And I don’t know exactly what his commentary is, but the construction workers are erasing the painting of the rat. So, he’s trying to have multiple layers of the painting, but that is a photograph of our original office when we were smaller, and now we’ve grown into a bigger office in midtown. So, we just kept it as a memory there. We actually have another photo over here. Maybe I can show it to you. I have another one of his pieces.
Dolph Goldenburg: Oh, nice.
Larry Velez: This is in the UK. This is not a photograph. I mean it’s a photograph of the piece, but it’s not something’s original to us, but let me put the camera back here. But yeah, that’s the story of Banksy. You know, I’m originally born and raised in the Bronx, in New York, so, graffiti street art is in my blood, and I was around that all my life. So, I’ve got a special connection with street artists like Banksy.
Dolph Goldenburg: That’s awesome. Larry, if you can get me the contact information for that artist to reach out and say, hey, you know, can I put this photo on our website? And dear listeners, if they will let me do that, then I will put this photo on our website.
Larry Velez: Great.
Dolph Goldenburg: All right, well, Larry, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about working with millennials and with post-millennials. I have been wanting to have this conversation for such a long time, and I appreciate your insight. It will help me work better with millennials because there are more and more millennials in the workforce every single year. So, it helps me to work better with them. Thank you.
Now, as I promised him the intro, Larry and I will also have another conversation about managed IT for nonprofit organizations, so stay tuned. It won’t be right away. That’ll be in a few months, but stay tuned for that.
In the meantime, you can find Larry and his well-managed staff of millennials and post-millennials and those of us older than that at www.sinu.com. Hey Larry, thank you again.
Larry Velez: Thank you very much.
Dolph Goldenburg: If you missed Larry’s URL or the link to that Pew Research Center data that I cited earlier, no worries. Just put your 19-year old intern on it and retrieve the link from the iCloud file they texted you or go to our website www.successfulnonprofits.com, and you can get all the information you need there. Now, my conversation with Larry made me think about the old adage: change is inevitable except from a vending machine. And the best way to prepare for change is to engage in strategic planning. So, be certain to visit www.successfulnonprofits.com to learn more about our Facilitator Cohort Group for strategic planning and reach out if you think this is the right solution for your organization. That is our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.