We spend a lot of time helping our clients solve their Millennial talent challenges. And rightly so – getting Millennials on-board and keeping them around is critical to the future success of all businesses.

75% or more of your employees will come from this enormous and powerful group by 2025.

Solving the War for Talent issues is critical. It’s also critical to look at the flip side and that’s why we’re exploring a different Millennial dimension today.

Millennials as Customers
Millennials’ purchasing power is on the rise and it will continue to grow as Millennials rise through the ranks.

How are their buying habits forcing businesses to change, and what can you learn from their impact?

The short answer – a lot.

Millennials Are #1
This year Millennials took over the #1 spot. There are now more Millennials working than Boomers or GenXers. They are staying single longer, which gives them more spending power. They are traveling, eating out, and exploring the world more. They have disposable income and they aren’t afraid to spend it.

They will be spending $1.4T (yes, that’s trillion with a T) per year by 2020.

It’s that spending power that connects us with Marriott, whose leaders realized Millennials could no longer be ignored or dismissed. They needed real solutions, or they risked losing their share* of this HUGE collection of customers. (*Note: it could be argued their delay in acting has cost them a large portion of “their share” of these customers. They’ve already missed with the millions of Millennials turning to new solutions like hostels, non-name boutique hotels, airbnb.com, or vrbo.com to find the travel experience that’s just right for them…but that’s a topic for another post.)

Marriott’s Challenge
Marriott was behind. They needed to quickly figure out how to gain some traction with Millennials. And, they’d have to change everything to create a win.

“Marriott is known for creating perfectly predictable experiences for its guests. Turns out, Millennials want the exact opposite of that.”

Marriott worked extremely hard to build systems that delivered a perfectly predictable experience for their guests anywhere in the world. “This worked like a charm with Baby Boomers who liked everything to follow a nice, neat formula.”

Now, with Millennials, they have a growing customer group that’s traveling twice as much as their existing customers, and they aren’t interested in ‘perfectly predictable’ at all. In fact, they weren’t interested in Marriott at all.

Our brains are amazing problem solving machines. They are at their best when tackling tough and complicated challenges.

Why aren’t more people solving more problems all the time? Because most people don’t take the time to define the problem. Most people see the symptoms of the problem, and then work to get rid of the symptoms – usually one at a time.

When you take the time to define the problem, your brain grabs hold of it and won’t let it go until it discovers at least one possible solution. Our brains like resolution. They like to make sense of things.

How can you tell if you’ve defined a symptom or a problem? Simple. Ask “why?” or “what?” And keep asking why or what until you can no longer answer the question. If you can answer the question, you’ve most likely found a symptom. Keep going. If you can’t, you’ve found the heart of the problem.

Q: Why is Fred always late? (A: His car is constantly breaking down.)
Fred’s constant lateness is a symptom of his car breaking down.

Q: What’s causing all these rejects? (A: The extruder machine keeps stopping mid-batch.)
Q: Why does the extruder machine keep stopping mid-batch? (A: The power coming in keeps dropping.)
The rejects and the extruder machine performance are both symptoms of the real problem, an unsteady power supply.

The key to WHY-WHAT success is to keep pushing. Keep asking why and what until you find the source of problem.

There’s a reason many quiz shows have lifelines like phone-a-friend, or options for hints and clues. You can be smart and highly skilled, and still not know everything. This is especially true when you need to move, or are moving, into a new space where you have little to no expertise. It’s also critically important when you have to move fast – when you don’t have the time to learn everything you need to be successful on your own.

Marriott built an organization of experts for selling and delivering the experience Boomers want. They did an expert job optimizing and managing.

Unfortunately, managers aren’t great when it comes to driving dramatic changes. Marriott leaders knew what had to happen, they knew where they needed to go. They struggled with knowing what to do and where to begin.

What’s the best move when you find yourself in this situation?

Reach out! Partner up! And that’s just what Marriott did. They weren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.” And they found a perfect partner in Fahrenheit 212 – a high-end superconsultancy out of New York with all the Millennial expertise Marriott needed to create a win.

Confident and empowered employees deliver top quality solutions. Marriott had to create an environment that enabled the thinking and activity they needed. Instead of “trying to institute change from the top, they chose 14 locations around the world and allowed small teams to experiment with new concepts for their hotels.” Then they shared and leveraged the learning and success across the larger organization.

Start small to think BIG.

Pick a division to overhaul or an important problem/challenge to solve…create a task force, and then turn them loose. Check in to help clear roadblocks, not to control the outcome. Leverage test and learn approaches to reduce risk and accelerate success.

Marriott didn’t set out to create a better Marriott brand, a new brand, or a new business. They focused on delivering an outstanding experience that was exciting for Millennials. It was all about the customer and not about the company. “There wasn’t a Marriott logo anywhere. The whole project was inspired and executed by Ashley, the [local] manager.”

How do you win with customers? Do one thing great! SUV’s we not invented for soccer mom’s, they were invented for a much smaller, more industrial customer. Post-it® Notes weren’t created because people were walking around wishing to stick up notes in random places, they were created for people (pastor’s) who needed to mark pages that were delicate.

When you define a problem and then set out to create an amazing solution for that problem, you almost always end up attracting others as well.

Marriott waited too long and it cost them hundreds of millions. They waited until the problem got so bad it could no longer be ignored.

Putting things off makes everything “more” – more stressful, more risky, more expensive…you get the idea.

Leaders who anticipate the future find solutions that are up to 10x more profitable than leaders who simply react.

It’s time to get good at being curious, reading the tea leaves, and listening to your head, heart, and gut. Read the trend reports, keep an eye on behavior changes, watch the tech sector. Constantly be thinking “what’s coming next?” and how can we leverage it or take advantage of it? This is beyond thinking about where you want to be five years from today. It’s about making calculated bets on where the world is moving so you can be there when it happens.

You Can Win With Millennials
Marriott desperately needed to find a way to win with Millennials. They didn’t set out to change their entire company, or to shake up the hotel industry. They set out to find a solution to a very specific problem. Turns out they will achieve much more than winning with Millennials. They will discover and implement changes that “penetrate the very core of the Marriott brand and begin to transform every aspect of the hotel experience.”

You can learn from Marriott’s Millennial journey. You can benefit from the millions they invested in this initiative.

You can decide not to wait until the problem can no longer be ignored.

You can decide to take action. Today.

You can win with Millennials too.

This post was inspired by Fast Company’s article: Inside Marriott’s Attempt To Win Over Millennials.

AMEND Consulting specializes in helping companies take action.