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Communicating with Millennials, Part 1: Be Transparent

by Ann Allsopp

· Millennials,communication

Millennials. Everyone’s talking about them, and everyone’s got opinions about them.

As this generation floods the workforce, they’re forcing a change in the way we communicate. More and more clients are asking us: How do we reach millennials?

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be talking about how to engage millennials in your organization and develop a communication strategy that works across ALL the generations you employ.

Today, we’re kicking off the series by talking about who millennials are, why they matter to your compliance program, and how to incorporate a key element of communicating with them: transparency.

Millennials: Who are they?

Let’s start with the basics. The U.S. Census Bureau defines millennials as those born between 1982 and 2000, making them 18-35 today.

OK, but why all this talk about millennials in the first place?

For starters, there are a lot of them. The millennial generation, at 83.1 million, is the largest in history, even outnumbering the 75.4 million baby boomers. They now make up one quarter of the world’s population. Even I (the author of this blog post you’re reading) am a millennial. *waves* Hello!

Source: http://www.briansolis.com/2015/08/marketers-care-millennials-anyone-living-digital-lifestyle/

In fact, millennials will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% of the workforce by 2030. (By comparison, Gen Xers represent only 16 percent of today’s workforce.)

In addition to being a big generation, they’re also highly diverse, with 44.2 percent identifying as part of a minority race or ethnic group. This makes them the most diverse generation in history.

As digital natives, they’ve grown up with social media and online noise. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones are second nature.

All this means they’re entering the workforce with different expectations, skills, and experiences than previous generations.

Millennials and Compliance Programs

Let’s say you’ve grown up online, and you’re used to the instant gratification of social media and text messages. You can communicate important information in 140 characters or less, and you expect others to do the same.

Now I hand you a thick, text-heavy Code of Conduct that’s written like a contract, and I require you to complete several 40-minute courses on dense topics like bribery, insider trading, or conflicts of interest.

Will you complete the training? Probably, if you’re required to. Will the presentation be effective in helping you learn and retain the information? Probably not, and chances are your opinion of the company will take a hit as well.

This is the challenge many companies—and compliance programs—face now. Millennials (and, increasingly, even other generations) expect open, direct, and engaging communication. This means that they have little patience for slow, legacy technology and the long, text-heavy documents of Compliance Past.

That’s the bad news.

But here’s the good news for ethics and compliance professionals: millennials’ values often overlap with those of your compliance program.

As the most diverse generation in history, millennials are more accepting of people from different ethnicities and backgrounds. They also care deeply about corporate social responsibility (CSR). In fact, a recent survey found the three-quarters of millennials would take a pay cut to work at a socially responsible company.

All of which means that, given the right content and communication strategy, millennials could be your biggest fans.

And that brings us to the first fundamental ingredient of millennial-minded communication: transparency.

Be Transparent

Back in September, I attended the SCCE CEI Conference in Chicago. One of my favorite sessions was “A Conversation with The Priceline Group, Inc.: Driving a High Touch International E&C Program Strategy.”

In the session, Eduardo Andrade, SVP and Global Compliance & Ethics Officer of The Priceline Group, discussed Priceline’s strategy for reaching their millennial employees. One of their key takeaways? “Be transparent.”

Millennials want open communication, and lots of it. They expect to be kept in the loop regardless of their position in the company, and they’re less likely than previous generations to accept an organizational policy that information is communicated on a need-to-know basis.

So how can you make your compliance content more transparent?

1. Provide the “why.” In the SCCE session, Andrade explained how the Priceline Group keeps their content transparent: "We explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

Similarly, back in January, we covered the power of “because.” Providing a reason makes you more persuasive to any demographic, but it’s particularly important when communicating with millennials. As often as possible in your compliance content, provide the reason behind the rule.

2. Clarify your expectations. Millennials prefer direct and positive communication. It’s important to tell employees which behaviors are off-limits, but make sure you also clearly define the positive behaviors you expect to see.

3. Acknowledge areas that need improvement. The Priceline Group was recently in the news for their CEO’s resignation after a Code of Conduct violation. As Andrade explained, instead of sweeping the issue under the rug, Priceline Group took the opportunity to discuss the violation with employees. As a result, employee confidence in company accountability skyrocketed. Andrade quoted Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

But you don’t need to go through a high-profile CEO firing to acknowledge high-risk areas. If you know expense reports have been an issue for employees in the past, turn those mistakes into a learning opportunity.

By making their compliance content more transparent, the Priceline Group was able to reach their millennial workforce and drive real behavior change, and they saw proof of the results in their employee surveys. With millennials, a little transparency goes a long way.

Ready to make your compliance content more transparent? We can help. Schedule a free consultation with the Rethink Compliance experts.

This is part 1 of a series. Check back for part 2 in the coming weeks!

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