Are Movies a Useful Tool for Training Millennials?

Your youngest employees have a lot to distract them, maybe more so than any other generation. After all, no other generation has had not only television, print media, and landline phones but the world at their fingertips through their smartphone (not to mention disruptive co-workers sitting in the next cubicle). I’m not a Millennial, but as I write this, I’m only moments away from checking the latest texts coming in—the weather and maybe the headlines on several different magazines and newspapers I follow—all while streaming music through my ear buds. With so much distraction, there are few traditional training methods that will hold a person’s attention. Unless, of course, you’re talking about a popular movie that’s been in the news—one your employees may have been meaning to see. Or a classic they never got around to seeing.

Have you ever thought about taking your employees to the movies, instead of to a conference room or lecture hall, for their next training session? You would have to pay for the tickets, but that may be less expensive than the cost of developing a new training program—and more fun.

A column I recently saw in Forbes by contributor Mike Kappel, on “How I used Movies to Reach My Millennial Employees,” brought the power of the movies as a training tool to mind. Kappel shares how he took his staff to see the latest Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper film, Joy, and the lessons they took away from it. Watching it underscored the entrepreneurial drive and spirit Kappel hoped his employees would embody, and the recognition that the character, “Joy,” is the customer they are serving: “I tell my team that ‘Joy’ is the customer we are serving. Think about how much easier Joy’s life would have been if someone in her world would have simply done what they promised they’d do?”

There are many movies that are instructional. Think about All the President’s Men, and the tenacity of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, as they exposed the Watergate scandal. The “follow-the-money” maxim applies equally to any corporate ethics question or concern. In the age of mandatory compliance training, and corporate social responsibility, the Watergate tale, and how it was exposed, is instructional.

My dark side thinks of movies like Apocalypse Now on difficult workplace days, but I don’t necessarily think it’s appropriate for an employee training program—or is it? If your company, or organization, has work that is psychologically draining for employees, who knows? Maybe there’s a lesson there, too.

The trick to making movies count as a training tool is setting the stage for employees with a conversation beforehand with questions to consider as they watch, and then to follow up with a conversation after in which employees are asked to share their answers to those questions.

Humorous movies work equally well. The principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off reminds me of managers I’ve known in the corporate world who consume themselves with micro-management and the pursuit of petty errors and lapses from their “by-the-book” approach. In fact, one of my old managers turned me into a Ferris Bueller-like character. She would get visibly angry every time our boss would discount, or have an unexpectedly positive reaction to, one of my “infractions.” There’s a management lesson there about focusing on end goals, and not priggishly fixating on unimportant deviations.

Even if your workforce isn’t composed entirely of children (maybe just a dozen or so child-like minds), the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with Burl Ives narrating and singing, is instructional. It offers an important cultural lesson in valuing individuality over conformity, and allowing employees to take their own unique approach to their development. It teaches acceptance of personalities, and appearance that are different from our own, and the importance of following a path that is meaningful to you. If I owned a company, I would want employees who immediately would be friends with Rudolph (without making him suffer the ravages of the Abominable Snow Monster first).

What movies can you think of that would be instructional to your workforce? How would you frame the movies for your learners, so they are primed to take away the key lessons you have in mind?

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