For managers grappling with generational differences at work, there is a resource, and his name is Chip Espinoza.
Espinoza is a nationally recognized expert on the Millennial generation, a content expert for CNN on the subject of Millennials in the workplace and a consultant for The Boeing Company, Microsoft, Schneider Electric and Special Olympics, among others. He has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, Fast Company, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review and he serves as the academic director of the Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Leadership programs at Concordia University Irvine.
“Chip is an extremely gifted teacher, speaker and author,” says Paul Marqaurdt, MAED ’99, a colleague of Espinoza’s and
the program director for CUI’s online bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts. “The thing about Chip is he’s very unassuming, down to earth, the guy next door, but he can walk into a board room of Fortune 100 executives and be right at home. He makes everybody else at ease.”
Espinoza’s two books, Millennials@Work and Managing the Millennials, put him on the map as an expert on creating successful work environments for managers and Millennials. He now speaks around the U.S. and the world.
“What differentiates my work is that I don’t want to have a conversation about Millennials, I want to lead a conversation with Millennials,” says Espinoza. “Millennials are wired to problem-solve and participate and be involved. I have so much fun in the classroom with them and working with them. I’ve really been inspired by the Millennial generation.”
Espinoza’s journey toward organizational and generational expertise started during seven years as a youth minister at Newport Mesa Church in Costa Mesa. There he created a highly organized youth ministry of 300 students, with small groups and leaders. The church promoted Espinoza to executive pastor and the opportunity “was incredible,” he says. “It became a place where I really understood systems theory, organizational development and organizational behavior.”
“I don’t want to have a conversation about Millennials, I want to lead a conversation with Millennials.”
His defining career moment came while teaching at a nearby Christian university where he noticed generational differences between so-called Generation X students
“In the ’90s, students would take the syllabus and throw it in their backpacks without looking at it,” he says. “In the 2000s, students would go over it line by line with a red pen. Millennials think everything is negotiable. A syllabus is a starting point. They say, ‘Can we get an extra week on this? Can we shorten this paper? Can we drop this book?’ I was amused but some of my colleagues were really put off by it. Many of them made comments about needing to quit because they couldn’t connect with students anymore. That started me on a journey to ask, was this taking place in the workplace as well? Were companies and organizations experiencing this shift? As it turned out, they were.”
Espinoza created an elective course called Emerging Management Theory and began exploring generational diversity.
“That was the catalyst for everything I’m doing,” he says. “That’s when I committed to get serious and start writing about it.”
His first book, Managing the Millennials, identified core competencies for managers of Millennials. It was published by Wiley, a leading publisher of academic books. Espinoza soon found himself speaking to major companies, starting with Microsoft, about how to integrate and manage Millennials.
A Millennial is generally someone between the ages of 14 and 32 and is “the first generation not to need an authority figure to access information, so they don’t feel the need to build relationships with authorities,” says Espinoza. “They will look everywhere in the world before they ask someone in authority. That comes across as disinterested, apathetic, know-it-all or dismissive of leaders’ knowledge base.”
Millennials also were allowed to participate in their parents’ decision-making—and now expect to have a voice in decisions wherever they go.
“They’re very capable and success-oriented, but the world they have grown up in has catered to them,” Espinoza says. “It’s not by any fault of their own. Work may be the first place where the authority figure is not for them, so it’s a cultural shock.”
Because they haven’t been allowed to fail in life, “You find that Millennials come in with incredible expectations to be successful, so they’re stressed out. My job is to create environments where managers and Millennials can thrive.”
Espinoza teaches Millennials and managers to adapt to each other. "Millennials must learn how to build relationships with authority figures," he says.
“People who want more responsibility will adapt. If you’re unclear about something, seek out direction.”
Managers must give up their “experience bias” and start with Millennials where they are.
“People with the most maturity have to adapt first,” he says. “It doesn’t excuse other people from adapting but I’m asking managers to suspend the bias toward their own experience. If you say, ‘This is how we did it and this is how you’re going to do it’—the Millennial does not take interest in your experience because it’s being pushed on them. If you start with the Millennial’s experience, no matter how limited, and take an interest, it allows you to speak to them in a way where they are receptive rather than resentful.”
His third book, which he is presently writing for Pearson Publishing, is about Millennials who manage people who are older than them.
“I’m most surprised that the topic is hotter today than when the first book came out,” he says.
Espinoza has taught classes at CUI for four years and served as an academic director for two. He continues to teach organizational behavior and organizational consulting in the Organizational Psychology degree program.
“I align so well with Concordia’s theology of vocation....I’ve really found a home in so many ways at Concordia.”
“I love the other directors I work with,” he says. “Concordia is a place where you’re encouraged to integrate your faith into the curriculum. There is a very concentrated effort to do so, which I appreciate.”
The goal of the program is to connect working adults with their aspirations, dreams and goals.
“That’s what we do,” he says. “They want to change positions or have upward mobility and they are lacking their degree. They get in and start to establish a theoretical framework of organizational psychology and see where they can apply it in their work. It’s fascinating. One student was promoted to vice president of one of the biggest title companies while still in the program.”
Espinoza is convinced that students learn from each other as well as from the course work. “We embrace and value the experience of those people who are coming to us,” he says. “In many ways they can teach each other as much as we can teach them.”
He is most excited about having “a fantastic faculty” made up of leaders in their various industries.
Espinoza speaks thirty or more times a year at workshops and conferences in places like Shanghai, Mumbai and all over the U.S. His wife is the admissions director for a private school in Rancho Santa Margarita. They have three sons and a daughter.
“What’s so awesome about coming to Concordia is I align so well with their theology of vocation,” he says. “My ministry can be in the marketplace and that is embraced, valued and validated. I’ve really found a home in so many ways at Concordia.”