Small Business Strategy, Financial Insights and Growth Ideas Without the B.S.

Labor Shortage and The Laziest Generation. Where are all the cowboys?

In a survey of over 15,000 blue and white-collar workers under the age of 35, 74% could not remember the last time they worked more than 40 hours per week.


I’m a gen x. A genuine latchkey kid. If you fall down, rub some dirt in it. You don’t have a road to travel that will take you to a preferred destination, build one. Don’t have anything to build with, use your freakin’ hands.

I’m guessing most of you are like me. We’re business owners or leaders. We’re chance takers. We’re get it done no matter what people. We’re pirates. We’re cowboys. Challenges—bring it. We gotta to bring in the herd.

If any of that rings a bell with you and you’re like me, you don’t understand this generation of workers. Too often they’re unmotivated, lazy, slow, and generally unwilling to do whatever it takes to win. They have no ambition at times and are generally content to do the minimum and be all-too happy with good enough being good enough. Here’s the dirty truth of it all—they don’t have to want more. More on that later.

And not only do we not “get” these bums, but we also can’t seem to find enough of them to run our businesses. In fact…

In a recent survey of over 5000 small businesses, 66% point to accessing good labor being a top 3 obstacle to achieving their growth goals.

Where have all the cowboys gone? Hell, maybe that’s why Yellowstone is so popular. Most of the viewers are dreaming about being what they’re not while some are the real-life everyday cowboys dreaming about driving the larger, lazier, wannabe portion of the audience to the train station. (If you get the reference, we can be friends). But the truth is, there are not only fewer cowboys, there are…well…fewer people.

This is the birth rate in the US:

We’re simply not producing enough people to fill the gaps left by the baby boomers and early gen xers and the problem is accelerating. There is less competition for jobs. Lower competition levels produce lower levels of talent that are less motivated to achieve—because they don’t have to work as hard to stay competitive while having what they want—leaving employers feeling like they’re offering more and more to get less and less in return.

Sound familiar? What in the actual hell are we supposed to do about all this? Here are three ideas to consider:

Think about employment differently.

The world of work is changing rapidly. The “gig” economy has exploded with jobs from receptionists to mechanics to marketers and even CFOs realizing they can make more and build a business for themselves working for several companies instead of just one. It’s cheaper for the employers with less hassle and more flexibility and offers greater compensation and a real business of their own for the workers. But here’s the real thing: gig workers must hustle and be good, or they’ll starve.

If they’re not good, they know it’s WAY easier to fire a gig worker and the next job is unlikely to come. They desperately need your approval and recommendation to succeed, so they are far more likely to hustle and work. And think about the characteristics of this person. Hard-working, innovative, fast-paced, results-driven, and exposed to a wider range of business situations than what your company is facing every day.

The downside, you can’t control them quite as much. They’re not exclusively working for you. But I’d ask you, how’s all that control working for you today? Is it a benefit beyond the cost? Listen, I don’t think you can build your entire company on freelancers and gig workers, but if you get creative you might be able to get more work done, better, by better more experienced people, cheaper, and without the struggle to find the right people.

If you’re not looking at Fiverr and Upwork, you might be missing this opportunity to run your business better.

When hiring your team–look at different types of people.

Too many companies are looking to hire people with several years of experience doing what they need them to do in their industry and with a strong educational background. The problem, beyond the fact that the education system is an freakin’ disaster, is the people that meet this threshold on paper often don’t possess the characteristics to be the employee you want them to be. Experience and education don’t translate into productive, hungry and loyal employees. You know what does? Employees given an opportunity that they didn’t quite meet “on paper” and are given a training path to learn the job, the company, and the industry.

Look for less traditionally qualified people and look more for the characteristics of the person. Look at the community college kid, recruit from the trade school, seek people graduating from non-traditional colleges, recruit the big school kid with the C average because he was chasing beers and girls his freshman and sophomore year but got it together late. Give a less “qualified” person a chance to do big things and they might appreciate the opportunity more, work harder for it and be loyal to it.

Build them up in our ways.

There’s never been a more important time to think about a real training program. The shit these folks don’t get is staggering and most of ‘em aren’t ever going to get it. But what if you could build it into them? I know, I know. You don’t have time for that, right? Well, the most expensive and time-consuming thing you can deal with is constant turnover and recruitment of less-than-optimal staff.

If you or one of your people can build a simple PowerPoint deck on the things you need them to know about your company, you can build a self-paced “class” on each topic. Then, and this is critical, you test them and have your people talk to them about what they learned. They must pass both the test and the staff evaluation of their learning.

A success story.

Company Challenge:

  • A regional industrial parts and equipment company was struggling to attract and retain sales talent.
  • Sales had been flat to slightly down for nearly a decade while the industry was booming.
  • Hiring sales talent with 2-5 years of experience with Bachelor’s degrees from bigger schools was leading to high turnover and low performance
  • The company had little training as they hoped the candidate’s prior experience and education would eliminate the need for it.


The Solution:

  • They started hiring kids right out of community college that were bright and socially strong, paying them about 60% of the salary in the previous model, but juiced the incentive structure.
  • They hired a marketing company (they had no real marketing person on staff) as a freelancer (through Fiverr) to help them build training deck visuals (for about $1100)
  • In 2 weeks the CEO and Sales Leader had built 3 high-end looking decks for their sales team full of great proprietary info: how to tell their story, handling rejection and objections and daily performance expectations.
  • Then they signed up with KnowledgeCity, a training platform that not only houses their in-house training program but offers tons of “off the shelf” training programs in everything from presentation skills to accounting—only a few hundred bucks a month.
  • After the new sales team passed the KnowledgeCity tests, the sales leader spent two days taking them through in-person sales school with his best people and one day taking them to meet customers.
  • Additionally, the Fiverr freelance marketing team did such a good job on the decks, they reached an agreement to build an email marketing automation effort, web strategy and sales support function—all cancellable within 60 days if it didn’t work.
  • Three years later, the owner of the company celebrated their 480% sales growth by selling the company to one of his manufacturers for about 14x what it was worth before they changed hiring practices. Every single community college kid was still employed and all but one had been promoted twice.

Go. Fight. Win.

The rules of the game are changing. We’re not getting yesterday’s mindset of go-getters back. It’s time to adapt, but the good news is we’re good at that. With just a little innovation and having the guts to do things differently, we can stop complaining about finding cowboys and start building our own. And after all, isn’t that how the best cowboys are made?

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