CMN

Millennials spotlight values, inspiration as recruiting tools

Editor’s note: “Mind of a Millennial” is CMN’s segment tapping into the unique perspectives of dairy industry professionals of the millennial generation. As this segment of the population takes on increasing leadership roles at companies across the industry, we delve into the challenges millennials face in today’s fast-paced workforce, from communication to management style to work/life balance.

MADISON, Wis. — As another tumultuous year winds down, we are pleased to bring you our fourth-quarter installment of Mind of a Millennial. The millennial leaders of today’s dairy companies found themselves in a unique position these past 18 months as the ongoing pandemic, remote work and virtual meetings presented an opportunity for this segment of the population to bridge the gap among generations when it came to embracing new technologies, connecting virtually and considering remote work possibilities.

Recent data shows that by 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. In the year ahead, the leaders of this generation seek to create mission-driven and collaborative workplaces, where people feel inspired and motivated. When it comes to the challenges companies face today in hiring and retaining workers, millennial leaders say the industry has a great story to tell, with a place for all who want to make an impact on the future of farming, food manufacturing and sustainability in production. As the line between work and personal life is increasingly blurred, millennials say today’s workers seek employment from companies that reflect their own values and beliefs.

As one panelist puts it, “Future generations will be attracted to an industry that is making the world healthier, happier and more environmentally sustainable.”

This round’s participants are:

• Kristen Coady, senior vice president of corporate affairs, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Kansas City, Kansas
• Ben DuCharme, account executive, M3 Insurance, Madison, Wisconsin
• Samantha Haertlé, brand director, Steve’s Cheese, Denmark, Wisconsin
• Colin Newman, chief of staff, International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C.
• Emily Yeiser Stepp, vice president, National Dairy FARM Program, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), Arlington, Virginia

1. Following a year of primarily virtual meetings and communication, how much of a role do you anticipate virtual meeting platforms will continue to play in the dairy industry moving forward? How can millennials help to bridge the gap between generations when it comes to virtual communication?

Kristen Coady
Dairy Farmers of America

Coady: After being thrust into a virtual-only world in 2020, I don’t see how we go back. Virtual meetings — or at least a hybrid of in-person and virtual — are going to be our new normal. Through the pandemic, I think we all came to realize we are not bound by the constraints of only including people who are in our physical presence in meetings. As we go forward, we can continue to be more inclusive in discussions than before, and I think millennials can play a role in setting an example of how to successfully involve those in person and those participating virtually in a hybrid meetings format. (After all, we have been doing this with our friends over Facetime for years.)

DuCharme: It has become quite clear throughout the last couple of years the benefit that virtual meetings can have. Moving forward, I see them continuing to serve a purpose in instances where they provide convenience and time savings in low leverage situations, or offer the opportunity for parties to meet in a different way than just a conference call. I think discerning whether a message is best delivered virtually or in person will be important, not only in dealing with other generations, but in general. Understanding your audience and their preferred communication method will always help when attempting to broach a difficult situation.

Haertlé: Well, first of all, I believe the remote aspect of any position has arrived to stay. With analytics indicating that people actually perform better while being happier, everything is said. Of course, not every position can enjoy the perks of not going to the office for an old-fashioned meeting. And even those who do, many have started craving that small level of water tank interaction. So I believe a balance has to be found, and the fine line will vary according to each industry, company and person, too. We should never write off human interaction, nor technology.

Millennials are the physical evidence; we are the very last hinge generation. Younger ones/Generation Z may never even know what an office is, depending on where they decide to work in the future. But millennials are the ones that are proving to baby boomers that technology is not just something “hip” — it brings revenue, impacts the bottom line and with proper measure, it can make our lives much better and more productive. Rather than bridging the gap, I believe they, as early adopters, have shown older generations that they have nothing to be afraid of.

Newman: Virtual platforms have allowed for greater access and scheduling flexibility. While many employees are looking forward to the return of an in-person work life, the collective experience over the past year will have a lasting impact across all generations. As millennials assume larger leadership roles within the dairy industry, they will continue to develop workspaces that support remote working and virtual exchanges. These enhanced work environments will help the industry become more diverse, inclusive and attract a larger talent pool.

Yeiser Stepp: I believe that the virtual component of meetings, trainings, etc. in the dairy community will remain an expectation. There is nothing that can replace the networking aspect of live events. That said, for those seeking the information from these meetings, and particularly for millennial farmers who may not be able to as easily leave the farm or need to stay home for family or community obligations, virtual meetings do not cut them out of the fold simply due to distance or cost. Time is valuable, and a lot of us are weighing the benefits of two to three days’ worth of travel for a total of four to five hours’ worth of content at a conference. Given that millennials likely are embracing virtual more readily than other demographics, I think we can be the champions for making virtual work and making it less intimidating. If we (millennials) step up and help to make it work, I think others will more readily welcome it in the future.

2. The dairy industry, like many others, is facing some challenges when it comes to recruiting and retaining new workers. What are some aspects of the industry that you find compelling, and how can the industry communicate or spotlight those attributes to future generations?

Coady: I always tell candidates there is never a dull day in the dairy industry. I find there is always a challenge to tackle, or an opportunity to learn or grow your skill set, all while being able to contribute to an ever-evolving industry. In looking at future generations, we are seeing younger employees wanting to work for companies that serve our society and align with their values. Our industry has a great story, and when recruiting, I think we can better highlight our larger purpose and showcase the impact we have in sustainability initiatives, how we innovate and focus on the communities we serve — things that are of interest and critical importance to future generations.

There is a place for everyone in dairy — no matter your background or area of expertise — and by working together we can have a true impact on livelihoods, rural communities, health and nutrition around the world and be part of the solution on environmental issues.

DuCharme: I have always appreciated the people involved in the industry and the camaraderie that exists among peers and even competition. On top of the great people, I think that one of the coolest things about the dairy industry is the connection to heritage and identity, specifically for us “Cheese Heads” in Wisconsin. As someone who provides a supporting service to the industry, I feel a sense of pride in my work and connection to history and legacy.

Samantha Haertlé
Steve's Cheese

Haertlé: That’s accurate, although the best anchor I have and many others do is actually the history behind long-lasting dairy companies, the legacy. They are rooted in real family traditions, practices and dedication. If that’s not enough to make an industry compelling in this modernized industrialized playfield, we are not going in the right direction. But worldwide trends are supporting my theory and inclination. Nowadays, we all understand that smaller farms mean better and healthier practices, both for the consumers and the animals as well. That also translates into higher-quality products. Aside from the fact that keeping the livelihood of those families that run those farms is essential to our local economy, not just for the company. Those spotlights, I believe, have been communicated for the past few years, up to the point that consumers, now more than ever, are desperate to consume organic, clean and traceable products. They want to know where their food comes from, who produced it, who transported it, what chemicals it has and does not have, and everything in between. So we are not trying to sell marketing here, just telling the real story behind a real iconic small company. And luckily, the audience already did the rest!

Newman: The concept of work is changing rapidly. Millennials and younger generations do not tend to separate work from the rest of their lives in the same manner as older generations. As a result, many job seekers are looking for a workplace that also supports their values and beliefs. The dairy industry does amazing work and provides wholesome, nutritious food for billions of people around the world. Dairy businesses need to tell this story and highlight the essential work that is being done across the industry. Future generations will be attracted to an industry that is making the world healthier, happier and more environmentally sustainable.

Yeiser Stepp: The impact someone can make in the dairy industry is huge. In other industries, you may work your entire career and wonder if anyone took notice or if you made a difference. Not in dairy. If people want to be fulfilled by the work they are doing and who they are doing it for, then dairy is where you need to be. Dairy is at the forefront of some of the most exciting technological advancements, particularly when it comes to sustainability and social responsibility initiatives, and we are ready to welcome the best and the brightest in those fields to continue to make dairy second to none. In order to spotlight those attributes to future generations, we need to start selling our industry outside of our normal network circles. Just because youth may not come from a traditional agricultural background does not mean they are not interested and couldn’t contribute greatly to our industry. It is essential to leave our preconceived assumptions and comfort zones to embrace and recruit these new potential dairy industry leaders.

3. What are some of the ways you job search, apply and even post job openings? Do you still follow the traditional format of a resume and cover letter, or are there new ways people are looking at hiring employees and checking credentials? What role does LinkedIn play in your work life?

Coady: There is certainly a place for the traditional resume and cover letter; however, I think it really depends on the type of job. In my hiring experience, the best candidates come through recommendations and/or those who reach out to connect to learn more about a company before a job is posted. Showing interest and networking are keys to securing a job that fits the culture you want to be a part of. Networking also keeps candidates top of mind as things evolve and jobs become available.

LinkedIn makes it easier to connect with others in your field in order to mine for information and make better informed decisions. It also is a great resource to connect with potential talent who might not be aware of our industry, but could bring a wealth of knowledge to a role within an organization.

Ben DuCharme
M3 Insurance

DuCharme: I have used LinkedIn and Google searches as a way to find opportunities. I typically have used a traditional resume and cover letter. I think this depends on the type of job you are applying for. If you are applying for a job where creativity and expression are vital, then it might be worth it to mix it up, versus a job that is more traditional. For me personally, I usually err on the traditional side of things like this.

Haertlé: To be honest, in my experience I have found Indeed to be the most effective platform to fill a position with the right candidate. Perhaps the “new thing” in the market, which for what I hear is not actually “new,” is to stop guiding searches only by the good old resume and cover letter. With new generations being born with a tablet and internet since day one, who won’t be able to build a killer resume?... So that’s not the bar anymore. I try to source for the person’s true skills. Those valuable behaviors and assets hide beneath the personality hood. For example, someone that takes pride in their work, or is open and willing to learn. Wanting to belong to something greater than himself or herself — basically most of the things that are not in a typical resume. What I haven’t done for ages is to search for jobs myself. Since my last semester in college, I’ve been fully devoted to Steve’s Cheese full time. And lastly, regarding LinkedIn, it just made everything extremely easier and more trustworthy. Thanks to it, you don’t need to have someone hired just to learn if there are any red alerts; in LinkedIn you sort of anticipate major potential catastrophes, or at least it lowers the chances of occurrence.

Newman: In Washington D.C., LinkedIn is a top resource for candidates and employers. LinkedIn is also the primary social media platform for leadership training, career guidance and building industry relationships.

While social media platforms and online job boards have streamlined the career search, the traditional resume and cover letter are still the preferred application format. In addition, personal relationships and connections remain an important part of the job search.

Emily Yeiser Stepp
National Milk Producers Federation

Yeiser Stepp: I’m probably a little older school in this arena. As someone seeking applicants, I still value individuals who provide a resume and cover letter but in a way that highlights and differentiates the candidate. That doesn’t mean it needs to be graphically designed, but the personal touch goes a long way. I’ve found that it is so easy for good candidates to get lost in applying only through LinkedIn because it is so easy to just press “apply.” Following up with a personalized email or message, resharing your resume, cover letter and any other relevant highlights to the hiring manager will ensure consideration. Ultimately, the best job search and references are the network that you build for yourself. I have found all of my jobs, or been made aware of them, through my network, not a formal job posting. Agriculture — and in particular, the dairy community — is small, so the potential of someone knowing someone who knows you is pretty likely. Skill sets and credentials are important, but the soft skills, particularly passion and team work, are of even greater value.

4. What social media platforms does your company use to network, advertise or post about recent company developments, products or services? Which of these do you find the most beneficial in your experience?

Coady: Currently we have accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. For DFA, each platform serves a different purpose, whether it is connecting with our family farm-owners through Facebook or industry professionals and potential candidates through LinkedIn. No matter the platform, our primary goal is to make sure we are building a community that is engaged and up to date on what our cooperative is doing to deliver value back to our family farm-owners.

DuCharme: Our company uses multiple social media platforms, but by far the most used is LinkedIn. For business purposes, I find LinkedIn is the most useful. It allows you to brand yourself professionally, stay in the know with businesses that you work with and network with other people professionally.

Haertlé: I have to give the lead to Instagram — that’s where the next generations are (aside from Tik Tok, where we just recently opened a new account for recipe videos). Instagram is perfect to engage and put not just the product out there but to give a little hint and taste of how those products can spice up your life, your cooking, your dinner interactions… the storytelling behind the product. It creates a whole new level of engagement and brand exposure.

Then we use Facebook, mainly to engage with baby boomers — they are quite strong in the Facebook niche, and even though our content may be a little bit more institutional than Instagram, and certainly than Tik Tok, it also brings in revenue, brand awareness and lets the audience interact and share their experiences with the brand.

In the short to medium term, we strongly and firmly believe that the Tik Tok approach will end up being the most profitable. The possibilities on that social network are endless; engagement goes through the roof there.

Colin Newman
International Dairy Foods Association

Newman: IDFA has a great communications team that is very active on several social media platforms including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. However, my favorite digital platform is our podcast, The Dairy Download. It’s an informative quick listen that brings people together from across the dairy industry. I highly recommend it for your morning commute or while exercising. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts.

Yeiser Stepp: NMPF is active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. We spend most of our time on Twitter, because that’s the best place on social media where we can most directly reach congressional offices and reporters. We also have a Facebook business account because that’s where our members are. Our stakeholders that are on those platforms definitely acknowledge, appreciate and amplify our message, which makes the greatest impact.

5. How does your leadership style differ from those of other generations? What is your approach to feedback/criticism, team-building and encouraging positive results?

Coady: To be honest, I’m probably a little vintage in my leadership style. One thing I think is unique, and that I fully attribute to what I have learned from executive leaders at DFA, is that when it comes to working on a project, everyone has a seat and a voice at the table, no matter title, experience level or department. Many times, you find the most junior person in the room has the answer or a different perspective to offer that leads the group to a better solution.

I continue to have to remind myself to stop and celebrate the wins of the team. In such a fast-paced environment, it is easy to move on to the next thing, but for team-building, it is important to take a moment to recognize positive outcomes even if it is just dropping a note of thanks to the team that worked on a successful project.

DuCharme: I don’t see it as much as a generational difference as I do simply personal differences in leadership styles. I love honest feedback, and love to give honest feedback. Ego strokes don’t make anyone better. One of the lessons I have learned recently is the importance of getting to know what drives and motivates others and learning to play to those motivators. What motivates me might not motivate a team member, so the more you can appeal to what motivates members of your team, the better the results you will get.

Haertlé: First of all, I believe everyone’s leadership is a consequence of many life factors that that particular person went through in his life. To me, being a good leader is mainly about transparency, being an open and honest communicator. In a nutshell, keeping everyone in the loop, updated and motivated. That makes teams feel they truly belong and that their presence and opinion are valued. It also builds trust for smaller companies, which can be a major cornerstone to success. To keep me in the loop, I am constantly seeking inspiration and ways to convey that inspiration to others; if that step is successfully done, bravo! You are bringing and arising passion and deep purpose to your life. Then the rest comes as a positive cascade effect.

To encourage positive results but taking the negative pressure out of your team’s shoulders may not be super easy, but my approach is trying to ensure and guarantee that everyone will make mistakes, small or large. Just addressing that very intrinsic human value, that happens to be inevitable, creates a relaxed atmosphere that casually brings the best in everyone. Sometimes, and more often than never, the simpler works the better! It can be as easy as reminding ourselves we are humans.

Newman: Millennials tend to prefer a workplace that encourages teamwork and open-door policies. In the future we will see traditional work hierarchies decline and flatter organizational structures emerge. Younger generations respond better to positive feedback than criticism. In addition, they want to feel that they are being heard within their workplace. Flat organizations will encourage greater collaboration and yield a stronger employee commitment to their work “family.”

Yeiser Stepp: I am in a place in my career where I am definitely still trying to establish my leadership style, but I’ve always valued side-by-side leadership. I cannot expect my team or any other stakeholder we work with to do what I am asking of them if I’m not willing to do or have done it myself. I do also try to lead by example, provide as much openness and transparency (possibly to a fault), and a collaborative, team approach to everything we do. Hierarchical leadership, I think and hope, is a thing of the past. Everyone is a part of the team, regardless of job title, and can make or break a team or an organization. No single person can or should be expected to have all the answers. The power comes from everyone sharing their best ideas to generate the greatest idea for the most positive result. Feedback and constructive criticism are vehicles for improvement. I want and ask my team to have an open feedback loop because that is the only way I can help them and help myself lead the team more effectively.

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