What Three Millennials Taught This Boomer Boss
Four years ago, after founding my start-up, Health Tech Hatch, and being forced to make a major pivot shortly after, I decided I needed some help jump-starting the company. I was also trying to maintain my 10-year-old healthcare blog, The Doctor Weighs In, so I was drowning in to-do lists and becoming less and less efficient by the day.
About this time, I was introduced to Francis Kong, the founder of Edge Interns. His company specialized in finding the best and brightest college students and recent graduates and helping them get meaningful internships. I say meaningful because too many people bring on interns for free or cheap labor and aren’t really providing them with new knowledge and skills. Edge’s business model is that I would pay $1,500 to Edge and I would get an intern for 3 months for free. In exchange, Francis actively mentors the interns, helps them problem solve, and acquire new skills. The benefit for me, he explained, is that he would handle any personnel issues, counseling, and even termination if the intern didn’t work out.
Francis sent me a recent graduate of the University of San Francisco, a pre-med at the time. Since I am a doctor and my media work focuses entirely on innovations in healthcare, it seemed like a perfect match. When Tammy showed up at my home office a week or so later, neither of us were quite sure what we should do. I had little experience with Millennials as my own “children” are much older. There was also the unspoken fact of the more than four decades difference in our ages.
Soft-spoken and shy, the total opposite of me (pushy and loud), I felt compelled to pull her out of her shell, get her to talk louder, and be aggressive on the phone. I also thought I had to teach her stuff. I didn’t want to be one of those bosses that just used the intern to get boring routine stuff done without giving her anything in return.
It didn’t take long for Tammy’s strengths to shine through. She was clearly smart, but, more importantly, she had an approach to work that was different from mine. She was detail-oriented (her yellow tablets are filled with long lists in tiny block print and she keeps spreadsheets of things to do galore). I am more of a big picture person, easily distracted by the immediate problem of the day. Over time, we have worked out who does what and when.
When we morphed Health Tech Hatch into a media company and eventually merged it with The Doctor Weighs In, Tammy took over as the Director of Almost Everything. She developed an editorial calendar for the blog and convinced me to quit spontaneously publishing stories that easily could have been scheduled for a later time. After watching me try to balance a whole year’s works of transactions in QuickBooks in the weeks before income tax was due, Tammy suggested she take over the finances. And this year, for the first time since I started the company, everything was in order on tax day.
When we decided to add video interviews of innovators to our site, she helped me pick out the camera and other video accessories and learned how to make videos using Adobe’s Premier Pro – a skill that I have yet to acquire even though I kept on buying books to learn how to do it (she laughed at me…Books? Really?).
Eventually, we got so busy that we decided to bring on another Millennial, an undergraduate she knew from USF. Gloria joined the team two years ago. Immediately, it became apparent that once again I had serendipitously filled a skill gap in our existing team. Gloria got aesthetics. She could actually see the difference between one font and another in a way that left Tammy and me in awe.
When there is a technical challenge related to video editing or managing the back end of our blog, Tammy and Gloria turn to the internet to find videos to show them how to solve the problem. They have taught me to quit buying books and just ask them to figure it out instead. Gloria eventually let me know that the look of The Doctor Weighs In was dated and, in fact, was downright ugly. She asked if she could create a new template for us – and she did it, on her own, with spectacular results. We now look like a real healthcare news site and not just a blog.
We brought on Steffie about a year ago to help us with Social Media. None of us really liked to do it, so it kept getting pushed to the bottom of the list even though we knew it was important to help us promote our stories. Again, Steffie, another Millennial, was a natural, creating engaging social communications and learning the ins and outs of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other channels that we now use to engage our readers. Steffie taught me that the Boomer Boss voice doesn’t really resonate with Millennial or even Gen X or Y.
Gloria and Steffie also started creating 2-minute videos as teasers for our stories. They do this on their own, choosing the story, writing the storyline, and creating the visuals. They run it by me for fact-checking prior to going live with it. One of their recent videos has had more than 250,000 views far outstripping anything we have done before.
These three young women have taught this boomer boss so many valuable lessons that I am eternally grateful. I now know that,
- You can conquer tech without a book or a class
- Making movies is easy…for them
- Millennials are better at using visuals to tell a story
- Social media is easy and can be fun
- Being organized is much better than winging it
- You can ask a Millennial to do something they have never done before and they will figure it out
Lest you think that the learning was all one-sided, I would like to point out what I have done for them in return. I was their age in the 70’s and an ardent feminist – in fact, the Women’s Movement was directly responsible for helping me get into medical school – something considered off limits for women prior to that time. I also am addicted to news and politics – and what better time to engage in politics than the wild times we live in now. And, of course, like my father before me, I still listen to the music of my youth. So my contribution to the team is that I have taught them to love politics, honor feminism, and even enjoy some 60s music. It all works out.
Pat Salber is a board certified internist and emergency physician who practiced at Kaiser Permanente, and a physician executive for a variety of healthcare organizations during her career. As a proponent of high-quality healthcare content, Pat writes for The Doctor Weighs In and has published on a variety of topics in both peer-reviewed journals and trade publications. Her book, The Physician’s Guide to Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse, was one of the first books on the topic written specifically for healthcare professionals.