The Millennial Advantage

    By Yordanos Eyoel and Megan Schumann

What is it about seeing newly minted graduates in caps and gowns that gets us nostalgic? In our two cities, Boston and DC, it’s hard to miss the many graduation ceremonies that take place each year.

To the recent graduates: Irrespective of your chosen path (and there is no right way!), you may find yourself wondering: “Am I prepared for this?”

But here is the good news: some of your “millennial” habits will actually help you in the workplace.

Who are we to assert this? We are millennials nearing our first decade of working life at Deloitte and New Profit and find ourselves consistently impressed by both our peers and junior colleagues. Let’s just dispel the myth that millennials are lazy and move on.

One thing we admire is how our fellow millennials quickly and broadly leverage their friends and networks. Working at a small, impact-driven venture philanthropy versus a large management consulting firm has its differences, but we’ve both observed the value of strong internal and external networks. And the rising ranks of millennial managers are helping organizations -- and those they serve -- take a more networked mindset.

Over the last three years, Yordanos has been working to help build New Profit’s K-12 education funds by bringing together unlikely bedfellows including social entrepreneurs, policy makers and entertainers, with the mission of transforming our education system. On a recent project, Megan reached out to a data scientist friend to help with text mining, a designer to help create an infographic, and found others who could provide input based on their on-the-ground humanitarian experience.

As millennials, this is simply an extension of how we engage in other contexts, from raising capital for a creative project (Kickstarter), to supporting a movement (#blacklivesmatter) to finding our next adventure (AirBnB).

Millennials were made for-- and are remaking -- this networked world. As the largest segment of the U.S. labor force, we are finding ways to boost the efficiency, quality, and creativity of work through our networks.

But having a natural affinity to networks, by itself, doesn’t guarantee success. It’s about the ideas you spark with others and commit to working on together. Call it entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, or simply good leadership. We may not yet have the right language but the value of these skills is clear. The challenge comes in deploying them effectively in our own unique contexts.

Here are five ways to leverage your millennial advantage:

  • As you chart your career, get comfortable with hearing (and saying) “no.” Your role at work is likely to be more fluid than in your parents’ generation. Both of us have initiated and served in multiple roles at our organizations, including hybrid roles that have us wearing multiple hats at once. This flexibility has both an upside and a downside. It can be an opportunity to craft a better-fit role without switching jobs. The drawback is that the combined set of responsibilities may leave you feeling scattered or overwhelmed. In these moments it’s up to you to speak up about what you’d like to do more or less of, recognizing that there will always be work that just needs to get done. Part of the art of saying “no” is providing a compelling alternative for delivering quality work.

  • Find -- or form -- a tribe that shares your values and goals. Every organization has its mix of sub-cultures, or “tribes.” Keep an open mind when exploring different parts of your organization. You may find that you get more excited about a certain type of work than expected, or that people who are unlike those you’ve interacted with in the past complement your style. Being open can make you not just culturally competent but also malleable to different work styles. Every experience we’ve had working with different people has equipped us with new skills and approaches, and introduced us to a fresh set of potential mentors, advocates, and allies that have become our tribes.

  • Listen to the rhythm of the organization. Understand its strategic priorities and currency. Professional development is a give and get. Your vision for your trajectory needs to align with the priorities of the organization – or you need to make a compelling case demonstrating the linkage. By discerning what is at the heartbeat of the organization, you can make a case that helps others see the value in your development and/or transition into a new role.

  • Be patient. Build your credibility before you introduce the really radical ideas. Credibility comes from being visible and consistently delivering quality work. Sometimes we millennials can race to action and demand immediate change. It is important to take a stance of inquiry and honor what has come before you. No matter how compelling, it can take a while for new ideas to get traction. Give those you work with time to internalize your ideas. And remember that incremental change is still change.

  • Be purposeful but not rigid. Some level of ambiguity is a constant in the professional world, especially in entrepreneurial cultures. Make peace with that uncertainty. It will enable you to rise to new opportunities that you didn’t necessarily know you were even looking for. Certainly reflect on the vision for your life and work backwards to identify what skills and experiences will get you there, but allow room for new self discoveries. Both of us have taken career paths we didn’t envision for ourselves while in college -- for Yordanos, it was helping start a social enterprise; for Megan, helping write a book -- and those experiences have opened exciting new doors.

We millennials are often portrayed by the media as noncommittal, high-maintenance employees.  As any generation that has come before us, we have our quirks. But certain qualities that have been viewed by some as a liability, such as spending significant time immersed in social media, actually position our generation to advance an increasingly networked, diverse workplace.

 Megan Schumann is part of Deloitte’s Social Impact practice. Yordanos Eyoel is an Associate Partner at New Profit.

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