Embracing Millennials and the Young Workforce Might Be Your Most Effortless Road to Success
Growing up, I—probably like you—caught flack for my music tastes from my parents. Being an avid music fan and the former president of the Duran Duran fan club on the Island of Oahu, I remember my folks’ “Turn that down!” objections well. Yet, my favorite band (at the time) revolutionized pop rock, with the likes of Beck, The Killers, Pink, Mark Ronson, Gwen Stefani, and Justin Timberlake proclaiming great influence on their careers. Regardless, I’m biting my blogging tongue about the new music I hear today. The cycle continues.
I liken an aspect of the challenge of anticipating and leading change in today’s most innovative companies to the dynamic of relating to the music of younger generations. Try as we may, no one can control either—not even a bit. In the case of music, if we listened to the new generation and embraced their anthems we’d not only benefit from a wider assortment of music to enjoy, but also forge a better connection with our kids.
Likewise, leaders could soften their preferences, opening their thinking to the inevitably changing tastes of the marketplace as well as the shift in corporate cultures. The easiest way to do this is to listen to the young workforce—for purposes of this article, millennials and (soon) Gen Z. “They” say these youngsters are narcissistic, attention-starved, and lazy. Notwithstanding, the young workforce can make monumental contributions to your leadership strategy and vision. Without question, the signals they send will sink or elevate your company’s appeal to its customers as well as its talent, current and prospective.
1. Confident, assertive sense of empowerment. At the risk of branding myself an antique, when I was in corporate America, leaders and consulting partners protested a lack of feedback from their workforce. In hindsight, the mantra was, “Keep your head down, and keep your job.” An emboldened—not only by their inclusive upbringing, but also a need to perform and earn (see graph from PwC Millennial Survey below) their way out of an ever-increasing student debt burden—young workforce has turned this dynamic completely on its head. “New-age leaders have a new appreciation for possibility,” says DeAnne Aussem, US Leadership Coaching Center of Excellence Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
"Social media and technology are opening generations to what is possible and highlights what will and will not work for them." The greatest skill a leader can have is to listen, making this a golden opportunity. Want to know why a project will fail, how a product could be more marketable, or what dynamics are reducing engagement and retention in your organization? The younger masses are here to proclaim to you all your solutions.
2. Blurred spirit of work and life. It pains me to make this point in light of Non Voyage, one of my most trafficked blogs campaigning against around-the-clock work. Notwithstanding, our culture is migrating in the opposite direction. "Flexibility is key. For example, today's project team calendars have both work and life events on them," says PwC's Aussem. "It's an example of one powerful tool to promote camaraderie, engagement and accountability to help colleagues help each other with honoring their personal interests and commitments." The bottom line is that while some see the young workforce at their desks only when they please, they want—even demand—the flexibility to completely integrate work and life. Some even call them work martyrs. For better or worse, they are yours around the clock. Focus on giving them this capability while creating awareness about the always pervasive health and engagement detriments of overwork.
3. Passion and sense of purpose. Countless studies show that the younger workforce advocates profit as long as its motives are benevolent, ethical, and advance society. Incorporating these preferences into your strategy and workplace can certainly bolster the bottom line in very simple ways. For example, serving higher quality, organic foods on-premises can lower healthcare costs. Also, having more frequent, highly publicized community service days and generous charitable match programs can bolster your brand image in the marketplace.
4. Curiosity and ambition to learn. An ongoing, albeit accurate, stereotype of the younger workforce is their addiction to devices. The conventional wisdom that they are always surfing meaningless drivel is misplaced, however. My fourteen-year-old niece and her friends are constantly consuming information and can have educated conversation about social issues, politics, pop culture, and countless other topics. PwC’s Aussem asserts, "Previous generations tend to have deep expertise in one or more areas and let their reputations speak to their accomplishments. The new age worker wants to be broad and is eager to learn about many different things, which is what prompts them to define their personal brand and ask 'why' of their experts often." This appetite will lead them to voraciously consume resources for learning and skill-building. Give them these tools, and they will take the initiative to become more capable and also provide rich feedback to make them better.
5. Champions of diversity. Included in the young workforce’s global awareness is an understanding of what makes us different and what can bring us together. Should perceptions persist that our society is stuck in the muck on diversity, the younger workforce certainly would not be to blame. Since they will soon compose what the Brookings Institution calls the “majority minority nation,” this trait is quite logical. Speed to true diversity and inclusion remains a competitive advantage. Corporate initiatives in this regard should leverage the younger workforce’s outside perspectives for greater efficiency in adoption.
It’s time to stop shunning the attitudes and preferences of the young workforce like some new wave of alien music. Rather, this group has insights on the ever-elusive dynamic of where your markets and corporate culture are headed. Be their ear. Hold them close. And one more dynamic in your favor: a recent PwC NextGen Survey shows that one of their primary values is collaboration. The table is set. So embrace the assets at your disposal, improve your culture, and instead of telling them to “Turn it off,” get them to “Turn it up!”
Enjoyed this article? Check out Leading on the Cutting Edge: The Five Key Culture Traits That Drive Innovation.
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