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Managing Young Employees in the Age of Social Media

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Young people bring new tools and new attitudes to the workplace, which can be both a source of innovation and a source of conflict. What’s a service center manager to do when faced with a raw 20-something recruit who just doesn’t look at the world the same way? Try to view it through his or her eyes, advised panelists at the recent Copper & Brass Servicenter Association annual meeting in Palm Springs.
Selling a product is about building relationships with customers. Young employees who use social media such as e-mail, texting, Twitter, Facebook and the like exchange a lot of information in a short amount of time with very little oversight. For a sales manager, it’s difficult to track and potentially risky.
“Relationships you have built over a period of years could be eroded with the click of a mouse,” observed Garret Herringdon of Southern Copper & Supply Co. A relationship is just a common bond between two people. If someone from the younger generation wants to use social media to create that bond with a purchasing agent of the same mindset, then that is a relationship. It’s just a different kind of relationship, he added. “What we have to do in management is try to make sure that the correct information moves back and forth.”
Commented one audience member: “It’s our job to impress the importance of relationships on the young guys, but don’t sweat how they do it. For us to sit back and say a tweet is not as good as a phone call is ridiculous. They will find a way to connect. That is their skill. It’s our job to make them understand the value of knowing their customer.”
Young people are very good at the breadth, but not necessarily the depth, of relationships, noted Mark Azzaro of Williams Metals & Welding Alloys. They may have 1,000 Facebook friends, but perhaps only 20 buy metal, and maybe only five of those are good prospects. “We have to teach them which relationships to really develop.”
“Obviously we need to embrace the younger generation. They are the future of our companies and our industry. The way we do it is to empower them, but to keep it within the fence lines. They don’t necessarily see the big picture,” said Bob Brookes of E. Jordan Brookes Co.
The fundamentals of sales management—respect, empowerment and accountability—must never change, but methods will, agreed Dan Becker of A.J. Oster. “In 10 years, these social media types will be our purchasing managers and vice presidents. We need to get on board and stop resisting them. Otherwise, we will fall behind and fail.”