Performance Ignited

The Lesson Managers Can Learn From Bernie Sanders' Success

The Lesson Managers Can Learn From Bernie Sanders' Success
Image credit: Berniesanders.com

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After President Barack Obama took office, and throughout his two terms, many pejoratively labeled him a “socialist.” Now, just a few years later, Bernie Sanders is running for president openly as a socialist (technically, a democratic socialist) -- and he has a lot of momentum.

How did that happen? Millennials. They’ve been a huge help for Sanders in early primaries. In his huge upset in Michigan on Tuesday, he beat Hillary Clinton by an extraordinary 81 to 18 percent among voters age 18 to 29. He beat Clinton in New Hampshire by earning 87 percent of the votes of people under 30, and defeated her by 70 points in Iowa among 18 to 29-year-olds. Sanders is a huge draw for millennials because they entered the workforce during the Great Recession and he speaks directly on issues like student loan debt and financial reform.

Related: 5 Ways Millennials Are Like No Generation Before Them

If millennials can disrupt the political climate so much that a socialist can be considered a serious presidential candidate, every hiring manager should be focusing on how millennials might change the workplace. Millennials, roughly described as those born between 1980 and 2000, have become the largest generation in the American workforce, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Some call Millennials “entitled,” but like it or not, ignoring them will be at your own peril.

Millennials make up more than half of my own workforce, and since we work with more than 1,000 companies to measure this work happiness levels, I can tell you that there are three big changes coming to the workplace that you can blame -- or thank -- millennials for. Most notably, my millennial employees want to give, and receive, transparent feedback at work. They want to do work that’s socially responsible, and they will quit a company faster than you can blink if they don’t like coming to work every day.

So, what to do?

Reimagine the annual performance review.

Over the last few years many companies, including 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies, have started to rethink or kill off the traditional, once-a-year annual performance review. Giants including Deloitte, GE, and IBM have already revamped their reviews to be more frequent and goal-oriented. Anyone who wants smart millennials on their teams will need to follow in their footsteps because millennials want more frequent feedback.

In a global survey by Success Factors conducted in 2014, 1,400 Millennials said they want more feedback from their managers. This means that leaders should consider doing reviews on a monthly or weekly basis, and tie those reviews to very specific, measureable goals. Thankfully, there’s a lot of new, inexpensive technology emerging to handle administering frequent reviews.

Related: Equity Crowdfunding's Unlikely Proof of Concept: Bernie Sanders

Feedback, feedback, feedback.

This was the first big difference that I noticed between millennials and other generations. They want to be heard, but it’s up to you to choose whether to listen. Allow your millennial employees to give feedback about workplace issues anonymously. This can be anything from wanting an extra microwave in the lunchroom to complaints about management style. It’s important to note, however, that you also need to follow up on feedback -- if not, it’s useless.

Business for social good.

From Occupy Wall Street to the Black Lives Matter movement, many millennials are socially conscious. Companies need to find a way to not only boost the bottom line for shareholders and other stakeholders, but also address some of the world’s most pressing challenges, whether it’s a local or global effort. Millennials care about having a purpose, and they care about working for companies that provide them with an outlet for that.

At my company, we spend an entire day every quarter volunteering time at a local charity. It’s fun and a great team-building effort that has attracted (and retained) some excellent employees. We also donate one percent of revenues to nonprofits. There’s a financial upside to this, too: an index of 400 socially responsible companies tracked by Domini Funds has outperformed the S&P 500 since 1990.

Related: Crowdfunding Isn't Just for Cool Tech Gadgets. Just Ask Bernie Sanders. (Infographic)

Although Bernie Sanders is doing exceedingly well for a self-identified socialist, he still is the underdog and will have a hard time clinching nomination. Whether you agree or disagree with his millennial backers, there’s no doubt that all candidates are now paying much closer attention to their needs. If they had the last year to do over, candidates from both parties, in particular Clinton, might have spent more time tweaking their policies to appeal to millennials. Don’t make the same mistake they did – get on board and ahead of what millennials want or you’ll just be playing catch-up when they leave your company for a competitor that is willing to listen.