Millennials: Embracing Your Organization’s Future

By Dana Gillis, Executive Coach ― Mention the word “millennial” to a “baby boomer” manager in today’s workplace, and a predictable response might range from a heavy sigh to a furrowing of the brow. Today’s multi-generational workforce presents a unique challenge to today’s corporate leaders . . . or does it? What if business leaders decided to embrace the benefits millennials represent for the future of an organization, rather than bemoan the stresses their presence puts upon traditional ways of managing and leading?

Workforce History

millennials The millennial generation has become a force to be reckoned with in today’s workplace. Cross-generational workforces are nothing new. In the aftermath of World War II, veterans returning home brought different sensibilities into the workplace based on their experiences in theaters of war around the world. As former service members took advantage of the benefits of the G.I. Bill, had families, and moved up the corporate ladder, they established and entrenched their military learning into hierarchical organizational structures. The mystique of the “Company Man” was born. Flash forward to the 1960s, and the workforce saw an influx of baby boomers who were groomed to tick all the boxes to get the right promotions and make it to the corner office―the ultimate symbol of corporate success. Solid retirement plans and an ever-improving standard of living meant that senior executives transitioned more easily from the boardroom to retirement and manicured golf courses to make room for the next generation of corporate leaders. My, how things have changed!

The Ripple Effect

The economic recessions of the early 1990s and 2000s and the Great Recession of 2007 – 2009, created anxiety and uncertainty that reverberated throughout the workforce. As a result, many baby boomers were forced to postpone the gold watch and dreams of recreation, travel and self-fulfillment once afforded by a fully-funded pension and retirement. The ripple effect was that millennials entered the workforce adding to the strain Generation X was feeling. The promotional opportunities for advancement slowed and the norm of working with one company throughout one’s career became an anomaly rather than the norm. The perception that millennials were not as focused on the aims and goals of the workplace caused tension in the office. This was a new challenge for corporate leaders to manage.  A recently released survey on millennial attitudes shines new light on the generation’s potential to impact the workplace of the future in far-reaching ways.

How Do You Lead Millennials?

A 2016 survey of millennials conducted by Deloitte and published in 2017, revealed that today’s business leaders don’t have to wallow in frustration in finding ways to lead millennials. Surprisingly, the millennial generation can be reached through several basic tenets of leadership. Clear communication, straight talk, and passion resonated with most survey participants. How can today’s organizational leaders capitalize upon the study’s findings?

Communicate Clearly

In articulating an organizational vision, use plain language that is both aspirational and easily interpreted from the board room to the assembly line. Make sure people know where you as a leader want to take them. Employees should understand what will be required of everyone to get to the intended result. Most millennial survey respondents (66%) preferred this style of leadership.

Encourage Passion

Millennials are a group that is passionate about its beliefs. If there is any question about that, recall the passion they’ve brought into national elections over the past several cycles. Once again, most respondents to the Deloitte survey (58%) expressed an affinity for business leaders who passionately stated their stands on important issues.

Share a Vision

In looking at a snapshot of the millennial generation’s preferences for being led, the fearless leader can glean that there is a commonality that can be leveraged to pave the way to a shared vision and shared goals. Based on new learning, organizational leaders should not fret over how to lead the millennial generation. Millennials’ desired leadership style is not as radical a departure from tradition as one might be led to believe. The tried and true methods of clear communication, along with a shared belief and vision of purpose and direction, will serve today’s leaders well in guiding the organizational leaders of tomorrow.