“Millennials won’t come to work for you unless you have the technology and tools they are used to using,” says Jeff McPherson of Irving Materials Inc. (IMI), based in Greenfield, Ind. “We have to equip our new hires with more than just a cell phone and a vehicle.”
McPherson sees this trend firsthand as vice president of sales and marketing for IMI, and he is not alone. The concrete industry suffers from a collective anxiety about how to attract and tap into the talent of millennials, or U-35s (people under age 35), as McPherson calls them.
While it’s true the next generation expects more automation and faster tools, we can’t overlook the fundamentals required to meet these high-tech demands. “Moving at the speed of millennials” really means streamlining our business processes so that modern technology can be exploited. For example, a mobile CRM (customer relationship management) system will seem essential to young salespeople who are adept at using mobile apps, but an app is only as good as the data that goes into it.
Unfortunately, our industry, like many others, is saddled with a variety of fractured systems that are often cobbled together as a result of mergers or acquisitions. In other cases, the software we have is not entirely compatible with our business. Concrete producers simply cannot rely on consistency between major systems and as a result, our data is in disorder and often wrong.
Now that there are better tools that bring this situation to light, we can no longer be complacent about bad data.
The fact that we have a generation of workers that puts a high value on efficient processes is a blessing in disguise for our industry. Although we should not reinvent our business just for one group, their presence will force us to take a hard look at processes that exist because “that’s the way they’ve always been done.”
This is where producers such as IMI are making great strides. “When we talk about U-35s we’re really looking at two different audiences: our employees and our customers,” says McPherson. “Both audiences want more information more quickly, and it has to be accurate.”
IMI has invested significant time and energy into improving transparency and providing real-time operational information to employees and customers. “Our salespeople can manage their quoting process with mobile devices, and their customers have access to a lot of the same information. We have to make sure we’re supporting this process at every stage of the business – things like improving data entry and response times – to avoid problems,” says McPherson.
Commit to Hard Work
Our industry must commit to doing the hard work it takes, day in and day out, to optimize business processes so we can really benefit from technology. It’s like a training regimen at the gym, with the goal of winning a marathon. This includes finding repetitive tasks that can be automated, cleaning up bad data and bad data entry habits, and making sure systems are truly capturing and relaying the data they should. Once we make the effort to get in shape, technology will in turn improve our business even further.
“Our sales managers can manage their responsibilities more efficiently and accurately with mobile devices than they ever could before,” says McPherson, “and the U-35s are truly influencing the way we configure and implement new technology with their insights and opinions.”
IMI recognizes the important leadership role its tech-savvy employees can provide when it comes to accepting and adopting new ways of doing business. The producer designates regional “champions” who provide regular feedback on new tools and processes, and help train co-workers.
Concrete producers have a lot to offer this generation of business leaders, and the way we approach technology will play a large part in determining whether we as an industry will meet our full potential.