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How to communicate?

Businessweek has run an article on Communicating with Twentysomethings. Ignoring the truly awful term “EmpowerME generation” for one second (at least the author didn’t use “iPod generation“, I suppose) it lays out five rules for effectively managing those of us born between 1978 and 1988.

Four of the rules are essentially cleverly named (“Don’t assign, explain”, “Don’t dictate, solicit”) ways to paraphrase the simple sentence “talk to your employees”, which is surely sound advice if a little obvious. But then there’s number two:

Cold Stone Creamery is one of the largest franchises in the U.S. What sets it apart from other ice cream chains is simple. When customers throw a tip in the jar, employees sing a song. While the chain offers high-quality ice cream, its attraction is the experience. Most of its employees are teenagers. When I spoke to leadership at Cold Stone, they acknowledged that a 16-year-old doesn’t dream of scooping ice cream into her 30s. The Cold Stone approach is to encourage them to use the position to learn life skills regardless of their chosen careers.

I am currently between the ages of twenty and thirty. If I went to an ice cream stall knowing that a tip would solicit an impromptu singalong from the staff, I would not tip. Or rather, to avoid not tipping I’d simply not purchase anything – I’d go elsewhere or, indeed, just not eat ice cream at that particular time. If I were looking for a job and applied for one in an ice cream parlour only to be told of this rule, I would walk away and do just about anything else. I find it very hard to believe that anyone my age – or, for that matter, older than maybe 12 – could find the whole singing nonsense anything other than asinine.

More to the point, on what planet is learning to sing a song in response to a coin being dropped in a jar a “life skill” unless, of course, one plans a later career as a busker? The whole ice cream example reeks to me of a writer in desperate search of a case study without enough time to find anything really suitable – apart from anything else, said business employs teenagers, not the twentysomethings who are supposedly the focus of the article.

Anyhow, without further ado, my top tip for communicating with twentysomethings: just talk to us. Normally. It’s really not difficult. But then, when being paid by the word, perhaps it’s tempting to overcomplicate matters.

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