In Defense of Millennials

by Trudy Bourgeois

Millennials. I recently read a quote about millennials by futurist Mal Fletcher that struck a chord with me. He said, “Millennials aspire to marry the blue skies thinking of the boomers with the grassroots mind-set of Gen X.”

Sounds amazing, huh? It sounds amazing because they ARE amazing.

Why is it, then, that when millennials are discussed, conversations tend to swing negative? And why is “managing millennials” ranked as one the top five areas that keep CEOs up at night, according to the November 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Here’s what I know: Millennials are here to stay. They are ready to work. They are ready to contribute. And they are ready to do all of that on their own terms. As the mother of a millennial, I can tell you that not only are they ready to do those things—they’re doing them.

According to the Pew Research Center, millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation (based on population estimates released by the US Census Bureau). Millennials, whom we define as those ages 18 to 34 in 2015, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million baby boomers (ages 51 to 69).

It’s no wonder that “managing millennials” is at the top of the list for CEOs! Optimizing this cohort should be a top priority for any leader who wants to drive innovation, break down silos, and strengthen overall productivity. But here is the catch: baby boomers and others have to get over the biases that block acceptance of the way this cohort wants to work.

Millennials are now the dominant group in the workplace. Additionally, technology has empowered the employee and the consumer. Today, every company must think of itself as a technology company. And who knows technology better than any group in the workplace?

You guessed it. Millennials. They’re driving the digital revolution—this seismic shift.

All employees must accept that the way we work, where we work, and how we get work done have changed. It’s all about the digital revolution.
Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a recent New York Times interview, said, “There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop.”

Funny thing is, AT&T’s millennial employees won’t have a problem with retooling and changing. They are open to it, and they thrive on it. For them, it’s about constant innovation and disruption. In fact, it is time for us to rethink career development patterns and afford this cohort the opportunity to make lateral career moves to gain new experiences. The business world desperately needs this type of entrepreneurial mind-set to remain agile and relevant.

Here are some quick reminders of realities that leaders must think about in order to optimize the millennial employee to better serve the millennial customer.

1. Career customization is a must. Rethink the traditional ways of doing things.
2. Products must be customized. Listen to millennials’ ideas—they are smart cookies.
3. Involve millennials in the innovation.
4. It’s all about belonging to a community.
5. Make millennials’ work meaningful so they contribute in real ways.
6. Make work fun.
7. Remember partnership—not patriarchy—is best for millennials.

So welcome to the new world, powered by the fourth industrial revolution—millennials and your future consumers. DW

Trudy Bourgeois is the founder and CEO of The Center for Workforce Excellence, a leader-ship development and change management company focused on women and people of color. @trudybourgeois.

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