How to Get the Most Out of Millennial Employees with Aaron Levy, Co-Founder and CEO of Raise the Bar

Aaron Levy, Raise the Bar Consulting

Many companies struggle to keep millennials on their team for longer than a year or two, but why? Adam talks to Aaron Levy, Co-Founder and CEO of Raise the Bar Consulting, about it on this week’s episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast.


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Adam Robinson: Welcome to The Best Team Wins Podcast where we feature entrepreneurs and business leaders whose exceptional approach to talent and the people side of their business has lead to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson and for the next 25 minutes, I’ll be your host as we explore how to build your business through better hiring. Today on the show, Aaron Levy is the CEO and co-founder of Raise the Bar Consulting. It’s a Chicago based business which was recently founded. He has two employees in his bootstrapped company and we are excited to have him here on the show, Aaron welcome.
Aaron Levy: Thank you, Adam I’m excited to be on.
Adam Robinson: We’re excited to have you on and today we’re talking about millennials in the workforce. Your business is all about helping employers better understand, attract, and retain the millennial demographic. Something I find particularly interesting and something our listeners find really interesting and is one of their top issues that they report to us. It’s such a hot topic, the cost of turnover is high, and millennials are the predominant incoming job demographic. I am really excited to have you on and to dive into the world of millennials with you, Aaron so thanks very much.
Aaron Levy: Yay.
Adam Robinson: That’s right, let’s hear it. Let’s start off on the right foot as is the tradition here on the podcast. We always start off on the right foot which is the best news, business, or personal that happened to you, Aaron, in the last seven days. What is your right foot for last week?
Aaron Levy: My right foot is actually this morning. I finally got back into the pool for a master swim class this morning. Each year I compete in a couple of triathlons and getting into the pool in the winter is probably the hardest and least frequent part of my training. This morning I got in, really happy with myself and I started the day off right.
Adam Robinson: Congratulations. Alright, let’s dive right in. Why don’t you give listeners the 30 second pitch on Raise the Bar. What does your company offer?
Aaron Levy: We go to work on addressing millennial turnover in organizations. It started from the last probably five, six years where I had a friend who had a six figure job, a high six figure job and left with no other job in mind. He wasn’t getting recruited out of his job. He kept getting promoted within his current job, and he left with no plan. It really got me curious and almost obsessed with finding out what was going on in the market. What was going on with, not only my other friends, but the businesses I was working with and noticed that there was something core to all of these leave stories which we go to work on. We really go on to work on identifying how you can attack the underlying needs that drive millennials behavior, and really to unlock the potential of people and their organizations.
Adam Robinson: Fantastic, so let’s dive in then to some of the statistics you cite on your website. You cited a Deloitte 2016 study that states that, “44% of millennials if given the option will leave their job in two years.” First, define millennial. What do you mean, and what does Deloitte mean by millennial? Define the demographic, and then why are they leaving? What do you think’s going on there?
Aaron Levy: The definition of millennial in a broad sense is anyone born from 1981/82 to 2000. I would … We’ll probably talk about it as we go through this. The question of is it millennial generation, or is it period of your life when you’re in your mid to late 20s to early 30s? That’s how we’re defining it for the base of this conversation the way that most people think about millennials.
Adam Robinson: Why are they leaving?
Aaron Levy: When I looked at a lot of these leave stories and tried to understand what were the underlying factors as a coach and a facilitator. Really the three things that were common to every leave story at least one of these three and why a millennial left their company was one, they want to do work that makes a difference. Something that’s meaningful. Two, they want to be heard or recognized by their coworkers in their company. The third reason that they’re leaving and probably the biggest and most important one is they want to work at a company that cares deeply about their growth and development because they care deeply about their growth and development. If they’re not getting any one of those three, it’s likely they’re less engaged in their work. If they’re not getting all three of those, they’re leaving pretty quickly from the organization.
Adam Robinson: I know you’ve done a ton of research on your own at Raise The Bar. What are some of the stories that you’ve heard from companies and individuals you’re working with about millennials in the workforce? Either relative to the things that you just mentioned they’re looking for, or their decisions to leave. Give our audience some real world perspective here.
Aaron Levy: Yeah, thank you for asking for stories. That’s where it really rings true and hits home most. Someone I was working with, or actually a friend of mine that recently left a job at a private equity firm. He had been working there since a year or two out of college. It was a great job, great pay. He had a really good situation and he left. He left to go get his master’s in sustainability. He left because he wanted more meaning. Meaning that he was getting from his private equity job just wasn’t there for him. He wanted to do something that had a greater good towards the world or feel like he was doing something more meaningful. There are plenty of studies out there where it says something along the lines of, “75% say that they’d take a pay cut to work for a responsible company.” It goes to show that meaning is really important. Having a purpose behind what you do is really important for employees.
Adam Robinson: Let’s talk about this notion of changing the world, we hear that all the time. How will millennials change the world? As a demographic, what are the things, the trends they’re driving as far as the workforce goes to altar the practices of employers and what it takes and what it means to be an employer in this next generation?
Aaron Levy: They already are changing the world and already have. If we look at the gig economy, on demand rides, on demand food, even on demand massages that you can get. This instant gratification and this efficiency of technology that we’re taking advantage of. If you look at these office spaces. I’m sure you’ve gone and any office space you see that’s new, they’re large, they’re open, they have bright light, there are fully stocked pantries. They have a ping pong table and all these other things that are built to attract young talent and to bring them in and to almost make it more like a college atmosphere that is fun and engaging and there’s connection there.
Adam Robinson: You’re hitting on a couple of things that you seen employers do to appeal to millennials, but also to build loyalty and the proverbial ping pong table. I’ve written about it’s got to be more than that, certainly, and I know you believe that as well. Take us through what employers need to do to appeal to millennials in practice, not just conceptually, but what are the real things they need to do or offer to both attract and then build loyalty and inspire people to stay?
Aaron Levy: One is very simple, but often missed is show them you care and that you understand them by speaking their language. One of the ways I like to talk about this and when I was really happy to hear in the way in which you do it is, really communicate with them and communicate the meaning of their work to them so that they have purpose and they can sense it. It doesn’t need to be saving children in Africa. It can be as simple as we make the hiring process more efficient so other people’s lives are better, or we help connect the right people in the right businesses so they live and work the way that they dream of. Those are powerful messages that once communicated can really impact employees. Some of it is as simple as spending the time to think about what’s important to my employees. Not just thinking about it internally, but going and talking to your employees and asking them. I would say the other big thing is also dedicating time to their personal development and growth.
Adam Robinson: What do you mean by that?
Aaron Levy: Dedicating resources and time whether it’s a mentorship program, whether it’s giving them the space to go to an event or a training, fostering and inspiring them to go after how they can grow and develop within their career. Oftentimes, in the very basic level it’s one to one with either in their manager or with someone who they report to in a way that it says, “How can you grow and develop yourself within your career?” By even asking that question, you’re helping the employee.
Adam Robinson: We are focused on small and mid sized, generally entrepreneur or owner led business here on The Best Team Wins podcast. For those folks listening that may be thinking, “That sounds great, but big companies have training budgets. I don’t really do that.” Sounds like what you’re talking about is localization between manager and team member to make it real. What are things smaller employers can do to compete for top millennial talent?
Aaron Levy: That’s a really good question, a really good point. You don’t always have all those resources to pay for everything. One of the ways that you can do that is really make sure you’re a manager of listening and growing your people and focusing on that as a way to attract talent. There’s going to be some things that are table stakes now. Especially if you’re a young, growing company in Chicago or around the country. There are somethings that millennials are looking for in the organization that you almost need to have. I wouldn’t say they’re must haves, like the cool office or things like that. It’s very important to listen to the people within your organization and they speak and bring others in, because they say, “This is a really great place to work. They really care about my growth and development. They really have meaningful work, and they really hear and recognize us within the organization.” That will bring people in and attract top talent.
Adam Robinson: Couple of questions on some new workforce structures. In a prior episode, we had a serial entrepreneur Tim Heitmann on the show. This is a guy who is a heck of an operator, he gets it, his company’s been in the Inc. 5000 list 10 years in a row. On the Inc. 500 list, several years of those 10. A top flight gourmet popcorn business that serves the US nationally. He told us on this episode that his company was moving to a self managed organizational structure. The completely flat, manager-less organization that Tony Hseih at Zappos really thrust into the mainstream. It’s how will you see popping up all over the country. Do you think this flat organization appeals to millennials? What do you think about it overall?
Aaron Levy: I actually love it. I think it does, and for some very deep rooted reasons. Some of the research that I did as a coach and in my early years working in employee performance was on Ed Deci’s Self-Determination Theory. He talks about the importance of giving people autonomy, helping them feel related and connected to each other and then also making sure they feel competent in the work they’re doing. This model of helping and allowing employees to self structure and self manage their team kind of hits on all three of those and is a really powerful driver of motivation that can drive the individual and the team forward as a whole so I’m a big fan of it.
Adam Robinson: Tim’s point was, “If you hire great people who know how to execute and you set the vision for them, then managers just get in the way of good people doing what they know they should be doing anyway.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
Aaron Levy: On a general sense, yes. What my hope and my wish for management is that they are the people that drive the potential of their employees in situations where there are managers like that. In group organized structure, this is really powerful and there’s pitfalls to it, too. Groupthink can occur if you don’t have the optimized team. Not necessarily the right people on the team, or maybe the right people in the organization with different cultural backgrounds, this might not work as a model. It’s a delicate balance of what works within your organization, what works within your teams.
Adam Robinson: Let’s talk gig economy for a second. The whole new type of work is available now that didn’t exist five years ago. Gig economy, think wide sharing and on demand delivery and these other models. How do you think this incoming generation, gen-y/millennial, has influenced this trend? Do you think that this has accelerated because of the work style tendencies of this demographic?
Aaron Levy: Yeah, I totally think so. It’s efficient, it’s instantaneous, it gives you as a consumer the autonomy to go and be as you want, and also if you think about it potentially as a second job. It gives you autonomy to live the life that you want. That really resonates with millennials and myself as a millennial. I love the efficiency of it. I know there’s plenty of pitfalls of the gig economy and I think it’s something that’s truly efficient. As you said, it’s probably been progressed by the millennial generation.
Adam Robinson: Let’s think about that, maybe a step deeper. You said there are some pitfalls there. What are a few that you would see relative to the generation? What are things that might potentially counterbalance the appeal in terms of flexibility, be your own boss, that type of stuff?
Aaron Levy: The potential harm in that is when you have a bunch of employees of a company who are not technically employees of a company. You have a bunch of independent contractors, and thus the company does not have the same support that it might give if it was a full-time employee in terms of insurance or any other things of that nature. There’s a potential downfall if the people who are opting into that model don’t fully see that going into it. They might say, “Okay, I can get money on the side,” or, “I can work my own hours.” You’re essentially your own business person. That’s a bigger risk although, it’s much easier to get into. When I started my business, I’m sure when you started your business, there’s a lot of hurdles you have to jump over and take and you really have to be committed to being your own business owner. If you sign up to be a driver at Uber, it’s a lot different and a lot easier. Those hurdles are smaller.
Adam Robinson: Our staff at Hireology are mostly millennial. Myself I’m a gen-Xer. Our average here is about 27 years old which puts everybody smack in the middle of demographic. Some of the conversations I have with them repeatedly and the feedback they get, you just, you hear macro-level commentary on the generation. Of course all the usual stigma, “This generation is whiny. This generation is lazy. They’re ‘entitled or spoiled.'” Of course you and I know that is nonsense, but other generations may have that perception. What does the research say about the roots of those stereotypes, and what does it say about whether or not they have any truth to them?
Aaron Levy: It curdles in my stomach when I hear those, especially the entitled. I was reading a Gallup study the other day, and it was talking about how millennials are very often characterized as entitled job hoppers. The reality is that they’re not entitled, they’re just not as engaged in the work that they’re at. They don’t want to switch jobs, but their companies aren’t really giving them compelling reasons to stay. When they see what might be a better opportunity, they have every intensive to take it because they’re not loving what they’re doing and they realize, “If I’m 40 and doing this, will I be happy? If I’m 80 and doing this, will I be happy when I look back on my life?” They’re asking some of these bigger questions and I think it’s indicative of the age and also of this instantaneous, “Why can’t I go after what I want now,” or, “My growth in a way that I want now.” If they don’t see it, they’re going to go after it, and I would say not entitled, but empowered.
Adam Robinson: When my generation coming through certainly the rule of thumb was, “You, make sure if you take this job you’re going to be there for three or four years because anything less than three or four years you’re going to look like a job hopper.” I don’t hear that ever now. People don’t seem concerned about four jobs in four years doing four completely different things. I don’t know that the world views that as negative anymore either, but the comment on that. Is what you were talking about? You’re saying, “If this isn’t giving me what I need in terms of work life balance, professional growth and investment and engagement personally, I’m out of here.” That’s the gist of it.
Aaron Levy: Yeah, that’s the gist of it. I was actually talking to someone yesterday and he was mentioning how he is building his personal brand. That can come off as entitled. It’s a part where we’re calling for more from our organizations to engage us, to help us grow within the organization, not be as bored at work. I know there’s a study out that said, “Millennials were twice as bored than baby boomers at work.” That’s because they’ve grown up with technology. We’re more capable of automating our work, being efficient, working smarter and not necessarily harder.
Adam Robinson: What can other generations learn from this demographic as it relates to work? You mentioned a couple of things let’s call that efficiency. How can older generations better integrate with this incoming workforce and how do companies need to adjust?
Aaron Levy: That’s a really good question, I think it goes both ways. We’re talking about millennials and how can organizations adapt to millennials. It’s both ways and millennials can adapt to organizations. One of the ways in which you can do that is to get curious, is to listen, is to hear the feedback and the ideas of a millennial and say, “Yes, they haven’t been in this industry for 10, 15 years but actually that is valuable for us because they don’t have a … They have a beginner’s mindset. They’re not stuck into groupthink for the last 15, 20 years.” I was listening to one of your other podcasts and Mike Maddock was talking about we have to constantly innovate and change. When you have new people on your team, I always ask them, “Whatever we’re doing today, don’t just do it to do it. Ask why and try to understand why.” That’s one thing that millennials do a great job of is asking why.
Adam Robinson: Let’s spend a few minutes talking about your organization. How does your company help other organizations with a millennial turnover problem? What kind of methods do you employ and what works? What have you found works for adjusting these kind of issues?
Aaron Levy: There’s several different ways to go about it and we go about three different ways of strategy within our organization. One is, we work with the leadership to focus on getting clear and how they communicate the meaning of their work to their employees. That’s very simple, but sometimes takes time and there’s some nuances in that and we go to work with leadership on that. The more fun stuff, I would say, is also building a manager toolkit of soft skills. We work with people who have the biggest impact on their engagement work, their boss. We help build their toolkit of knowledge and skills. Skills like listening and providing feedback and leading and developing your team. The third thing that we do with organizations is we provide a development coach to tap into the high potential millennials and give them a coach that will support them and their growth and development within the organization.
Adam Robinson: Fantastic, so where can listeners go to find out more about what you do?
Aaron Levy:
Adam Robinson: okay, Aaron that’s great. Thank you very much. Now for the lightning round with some very quick question and answers here. We try to pull our guest to get their take on where things are headed. Do you think the US economy is going to get better or worse over the next 12 months?
Aaron Levy: Saving the tough for questions for last, Adam. As an optimist I would say the economy is going to be better although it’s going to be a, definitely, interesting next 12 months.
Adam Robinson: Do you think it’s going to get easier or harder for companies to find the people they need over the next 12 months?
Aaron Levy: Harder, continually harder.
Adam Robinson: We always like to poll guests on what’s on their bookshelf or nightstand. What book are you reading right now and would you recommend it to our audience?
Aaron Levy: I’m reading two if that’s alright with you.
Adam Robinson: Of course.
Aaron Levy: One is, How Bad do You Want it? It’s, “Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over Muscle,” by Matt Fitzgerald. Highly recommend it. It’s to do with endurance sports but I think it plays a big role in how we think about our lives and our business. I am also reading What’s your Story, by Craig Wortmann, which really talks about how stories are one of the best ways to communicate and to get people to act, because they convey emotion and context all in one so I love both of those.
Adam Robinson: Thank you to the recommendations to the audience. Now we’re at the closing question here. If you were to come back on this show one year from today and report on whether or not you accomplish what you see is the most important thing that’s going to bring your business forward in the next year, what is that thing?
Aaron Levy: Our purpose and goal is to help people unlock their potential and the power they possess. When thinking about a year from now, I would want all the companies and the people I’ve touched to feel empowered to excel and grow themselves in their lives and in their organizations.
Adam Robinson: That’s the final word. You have been learning from Aaron Levy co-founder and CEO of Raise the Bar Consulting. Aaron, thank you for being with us on the episode today.
Aaron Levy: Thank you so much, Adam. This was great.
Adam Robinson: That’s a wrap for this episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast where we feature entrepreneurs and business leaders whose exceptional approach to the people side of the business has lead to incredible results. I’m Adam Robinson author of the book, “The Best Team Wins,” which you can find online at Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.