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On Participation Trophies and the Millennial Workforce

· Jeremy Boudinet · 5 Minute Read

On New Year's Eve, millions of Americans closed out 2016 in the most fitting way possible: watching ABC's New Years Rockin' Eve featured performer Mariah Carey go down in flames like a doomed zeppelin. As the absurdity unfolded, I googled Mariah Carey's age and turned to a colleague.

"Carey is 46 years old. And still an entitled, unprofessional diva."  My colleague quipped his agreement: "Too many participation trophies." 

A New Year's Resolution for Millennial Potshots

In recent years, the proverbial 'Participation Trophy' has become the symbolic nom de guerre in our national dialogue about millennials and the general decay in American cultural values. Search the term on twitter, and you'll enter a hellscape of digital animosity towards anything and everything. Search 'millennials' on YouTube, and you'll find this video ranked at the top.

The gist: Picture the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" but with lyrics like, "see they grew up with undeserved confidence/cause they got trophies just for participating." And people eat this stuff up. 

Small wonder. Yes. Many millennials are insufferable, entitled douchebags. Many of us deserve more derision, not less. Every generation has those kinds of people. But the annoying lust for millennial schedenfreude is particularly counter-productive, especially in the workplace. You want millennials to be more self-directed, proactive and accountable for their performance? Lead by example. That's it.

Here's the problem: the participation trophy as a symbol for millennial entitlement is no accident. It caught on because, unlike helicopter parenting, video game systems, and social media, participation trophies lay the blame for millennial entitlement squarely away from the boomer parents, themselves.

It's the ultimate irony. Mainstream America has fallen in love with the 'Participation Trophy' narrative trope because the truth is, we as a society could do better with self-accountability and accepting criticism. By alluding to participation trophies, we implicate the most convenient, absurd collection of culprits. Peewee soccer coaches and 3rd grade teachers, what have you done to our children? While absolving ourselves of responsibility entirely.

Did you feel special when you got a participation trophy? Me neither. Did you stop getting them after elementary school? Me too. Are college admissions more competitive than ever? Yes they are. Is the job market as competitive today as it ever has been? You bet. So maybe it's time to stop dividing ourselves among generational and political lines, and start figuring out how we can help each other get ahead. 

How Great Business Leaders Regard Millennials

Today's workforce runs on Millennials. We're its largest demographic and the keys to success for thousands of businesses. How do great leaders regard their young millennial workforce? Here's one example. 

On January 2nd of this year, Ted Alling shared a Facebook post that resonated strongly with his large following of 20-30 year olds here in Chattanooga. 

Small background on Ted. He's the Co-Founder and CEO of Access America Transport, which became one of the most successful logistics companies in North America on the strength of a legendary workplace culture and fiercely loyal reps and managers. After selling the company in 2014, he co-founded two startup accelerators, invested in successful startups like Bellhops, Reliance Partners and Ambition, and partnered with fellow millennial advocate Gary Vaynerchuk to bring more jobs to Chattanooga.

Ted and Gary are both successful for the same reasons. They are self-accountable hustlers and communicators. They know that great companies start with a vested interest in helping others. Not just clients, but employees as well. If you hire well and hold both young reps accountable to transparent, clear goals, you're off to a good start. If you go the extra mile and build a legitimate rapport and mentoring relationship with reps who show promise, you're on the path to success. 

As it has with every generation in post-war America, hustle, accountability, and authentic communication are the best ways to assure trust, loyalty and enthusiasm in the workplace. So let's leave the participation trophy mentality at home in 2017 and get to work.

Special thanks to Ted for inspiring this post. Best of luck to everyone in your 2017 business endeavors.

Ambition: Sales Management Software for Millennials

Ambition is a sales management platform that syncs Salesforce and other data systems on one simple interface.

Ambition enhances clarity around key sales performance metrics and equips managers with a drag-and-drop interface to build powerful contests, reporting, and incentives with live performance data.  

Ambition is endorsed by Harvard Business Review, AA-ISP (the Global Inside Sales Organization), and USA Today as a proven solution for managing millennial sales teams. Hear more from business leaders who use Ambition in their organization..

Watch Testimonials:

  1. FiveStars: Adam Wall. Sr. Manager of Sales Operations . 
  2. Filemaker: Brad Freitag. Vice-President of Worldwide Sales.
  3. Outreach: Mark Kosoglow. Vice-President of Sales.
  4. Cell Marque: Lauren Hopson. Director of Sales & Marketing.
  5. Access America Transport: Ted Alling. Chief Executive Officer.

Watch Product Walkthroughs:

  1. ChowNow. Led by Vice-President of Sales, Drew Woodcock.
  2. Outreach. Led by Sales Development Manager, Alex Lynn.
  3. AMX Logistics. Led by Executive Vice-President ,Jared Moore.

Read Case Studies:

  1. Clayton HomesHBR finds triple-digit growth in 3 sales efficiency metrics. 
  2. Coyote Logistics: Monthly revenue per broker grew $525 in 6 months.
  3. Peek: Monthly sales activity volume grew 142% in 6 months.
  4. Vorsight: Monthly sales conversations grew 300% in 6 months.

Contact us to learn how Ambition can impact your sales organization today.

About Ambition
Sales Leaders, HR Professionals, and C-Level Executives use Ambition to recognize, motivate, and develop employees into more engaged and productive versions of themselves. Funded by Google, used by the Fortune 500, endorsed by the Harvard Business Review.
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