Rising to the Millennial Challenge

millennials

The millennials offer the opportunity for work cultures to be more competitive in today’s global marketplace. Think about it – moving faster, collaborating more, increasing practical coaching, and aiming for meaningful accomplishments. All of this in today’s marketplace where these very attributes are beginning to separate the dominant companies from their competitors, writes Dave Hanna

“These new Millennial candidates are very different from those we have interviewed in the past. They don’t care about climbing the corporate ladder; they want a good salary, but don’t seem obsessed with having the top salary; they want to be part of a meaningful project and work with the right team. …and they want everything right now!”

These are some comments I have heard from clients and colleagues in recent years. Each of these individuals has expressed to me their companies are trying to rise to “The Millennial Challenge.”

They don’t have much time to rise to the challenge. An EY Global Study in 2015 on Work-Life Challenges predicted that “by 2025, Millennials will comprise three-quarters of the global workforce.”

Their drive for meaningful work that provides a sense of accomplishment is much stronger than many of their predecessors. Create early opportunities for them to learn and contribute. Millennials quickly learn from and share with other team members.

Each Generation Reflects Its Dominant Culture
It occurs to me that the expression “The Millennial Challenge,” is 180° backwards. It isn’t that young Millennials are strange and the veterans are normal. Each is the product of how they have been acculturated into the world of work.

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have been raised in bureaucratic work cultures:

  • Those in authority call the shots.
  • Break down work into its smallest possible parts and then train each person to do his/her part well.
  • Don’t deviate from policies or other permitted scripts.

Small wonder today’s research finds these people characterized by command and control managerial styles, individual jobs and rewards tools, structures upon structures, “need to know only” information systems, and income tied to job security. This is the “normal” culture with which Millennials are expected to align themselves.

But Millennials have been acculturated very differently in their life experiences. They have grown up with technology: from computers, the internet, search engines, social media, endless entertainment avenues, and innumerable apps. They can dip into news sources, research materials, scholarly works, and foreign cultures faster than their predecessors could find one technical book in a library. They not only move very fast, but they also collaborate in teams, seek out coaches, and text each other rather than sit in meetings or talk on the phone. Most importantly, they want to have meaningful work and a sense of real accomplishment in what they do.

The millennials offer the opportunity for work cultures to be more competitive in today’s global marketplace. Think about it – moving faster, collaborating more, increasing practical coaching, and aiming for meaningful accomplishments. All of this in today’s marketplace where these very attributes are beginning to separate the dominant companies from their competitors.

I believe the real challenge is “The Bureaucracy Challenge,” to nudge those accustomed to bureaucracy into adopting faster and more flexible ways of working together. I see many of my clients and scores of other companies seeking the very attributes of the Millennial Generation.

What Millennials Expect From Their Employers
So, to you managers of “The Millennial Challenge,” here are a few suggestions to reshape your company’s competitive market culture instead of enduring culture shock on both sides:

  1. Be a coach, not a boss. Younger associates have matured under a system where peers come together and coach each other in schoolwork, business work, and a plethora of other activities. Coaching is in short bursts, not long lectures. A text or brief chat probably gets more attention day-to-day than formal sit-down meetings or lengthy memos. Most importantly, coaching in the Millennial sense embodies a tone of helpful guidance rather than job evaluation.
  2. Collaboration: help your Millennials understand the purpose and goals to be achieved; the important deadlines and business boundaries; and looking beyond their own team to optimize their contribution to the company.
  3. Connections: let them know the big picture so they understand their roles and how they connect with others. Expect them to develop trust and alignment with others for the greater good. Then let the team get going and be prepared to coach as needed.
  4. Critical Data: define clear and consistent performance criteria up front.
  5. Leaders: Millennials value highly those leaders who consistently demonstrate honesty, integrity, and treating others with respect. This should be nothing new, even to those raised in a bureaucratic culture.
  6. Job flexibility: Remember, their drive for meaningful work that provides a sense of accomplishment is much stronger than many of their predecessors. Create early opportunities for them to learn and contribute. Millennials quickly learn from and share with other team members.

Are these expectations radically different from what you consider sound leadership?

One Final Note on Millennials and the Current Worldwide Pandemic
The worldwide chaos created by the Covid-19 pandemic has hit Millennials particularly hard. Statistics show many Millennials have lost their jobs and had great difficulty landing on their feet. One study reported 37 per cent of Millennials don’t trust big business. Some Millennials admit taking less-than-desirable jobs out of desperation. And many indicate they are hoping to find a better employment match as soon as things approach normalcy.

Here is one case example that might provide some hints on how to creatively handle the economic hardships imposed by the pandemic.

Millennials have been acculturated very differently in their life experiences. They have grown up with technology: from computers, the internet, search engines, social media, endless entertainment avenues, and innumerable apps.

A German manufacturing company with 900 associates was hit hard during the 2008 economic recession. It lost 40 per cent of its sales overnight. Rather than lay off any associates, the company instituted a plan (backed by its Works Council) wherein all employees went on a weekly schedule with reduced work hours and pay. Full healthcare benefits remained in force for everyone. The cost savings enabled this company to stay in business. When the recession ended in 2010, everyone went back to full work and pay. The company realized a 50 per cent production increase in one year, while all its competitors were hiring and training new employees and slowly ramping up their output.

Whatever you might find as a solution, consider carefully how not to lose the unique abilities Millennials bring to you, balanced with the loyalty to your long-term associates.

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