Training Millennials: Like Getting a Squirrel to Focus

By November 1, 2016November 1st, 2020LTEN Bonus Focus

There’s a revolution going on in companies all across the country. Businesses everywhere are seeing an infiltration of young 20-somethings; or what some refer to as millennials.

For older established workers, especially aging baby boomers, these fresh-faced newbies are like foreigners who don’t know the language or culture of corporate America – and don’t seem to care. Even their rules are different.

Regardless of how you feel about that, the fact is, this group isn’t going anywhere. They’re the fastest-growing faction in the workplace, with some experts estimating they’ll make up 46 percent of the global workforce by 2020. Whether this becomes a problem or a great opportunity depends on how managers choose to address the situation.

How to Train Millenials – It Starts with Day 1

Your new employees may arrive for work knowing nothing about deadlines, office politics or basic business behavior. They may not be dressed appropriately, but they want to jump into the job they were hired to do and they don’t want to sit around and fill out forms or watch training videos.

As a boss or manager, you need to train these new additions to your workforce. To do that, you need to understand the way they communicate and how they process information.

Consider the way millennials grew up; lots of information, lots of distractions and short attention spans. This jumpy sporadic listening behavior reminds me of the squirrels I see in my yard. They’re constantly moving and seem fidgety and unfocused. The only thing that seems to gain and hold their interest is an acorn.

Through my years of experience in research and teaching, I’ve found that squirrels are lot like today’s new workers. I’ve also discovered a way to get their attention and keep it. I call it the ACORN strategy and it’s an efficient tool to get them to focus on the information you’re presenting.

The Strategy

When you’re presenting information to new employees, keep five things in mind:

Audience – Your new employees want to know, “What’s in it for me?” What will they get out of the information you’re providing? Remember they we have “remote control” length attention spans. If what you are saying doesn’t interest them or is irrelevant to them, they’ll merely click you off and stop listening.

Credibility – Why should a new employee be on board? In a society where virtually everyone has a voice and a forum to express their opinion, you must figure out how to distinguish your message from the rest of the “noise.”

Order of Message – Millennial workers won’t sit through a slow or suspenseful build-up, they want you to get to the point quickly then move on.

Remember Me – We are a society of poor listeners, no group more so than today’s 20-somethings. Even when you have a lot to say, you need to make the information “digestible” in easy to chew bites so that employees can internalize it and remember it.

Need to Connect – Gone are the days when we can claim there is no place for emotional connection to the message in the business world. Research has shown that humans need to feel something to be moved to action. Connect to your new employees beginning on day one if you want them to stick around.

Building the ACORN isn’t difficult because it’s common sense and it doesn’t take long to do. Yet, this easy strategy can have a transformational effect on your message and how all your employees – especially the younger ones – respond to it, and to you.

Patricia Scott, Ph.D. is president and CEO of Uhmms and is a lecturer at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at or via her website:

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