Last year, millennials surpassed Generation X in the workplace. Today, in the U.S., one in three workers is a millennial, someone between the ages of 18 and 34. They’re numerically the largest generation, standing strong at an estimated 80 million. But beyond the numbers, the millennial mindset is changing traditional views of business, creating challenges and opportunities.
A 2015 Deloitte survey highlights the millennial attitude:
- About six in 10 respondents said a sense of purpose is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employer.
- Nearly 64 percent believe businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society.
- The 2014 survey showed that only 28 percent of millennials felt that their current organization is making full use of their skills.
Businesses need to focus on more than just profits and embrace new skill sets to tap into the strength of millennial leaders. While making a business and leadership shift will be challenging, it is necessary to remain relevant in the face of these new realities.
Jon Mertz, author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders, focuses on bringing generations together to guide and challenge millennials in the workplace. According to Mertz, while current generations need to provide a foundation, millennials will mold it in three key ways:
Strengthening Purpose in Profit
Businesses are driven by at least two purposes: an internal purpose in active projects and a higher purpose in what is offered and delivered externally as products and services. Purpose exists in most business activities. What is usually lacking is clarity.
When a project is undertaken with teams, the reason needs to be communicated clearly. The following three questions need to be answered succinctly:
- Why do we need to move from Point A to Point B?
- Why can we no longer stay at Point A?
- What does Point B look like when achieved?
Outside of projects, communicating what role your products and services offer in terms of purpose is essential. Products and services play a role in making your customers’ lives better. Define this higher purpose in what your business offers and then communicate it clearly and often.
An emerging way to design your business is to establish a B Corporation. B Corporations are built and held accountable to positively impact social and environmental needs. “Purpose is built into the business through B Corporations, and I believe we will see more millennials adopting this model in the businesses they lead,” said Mertz.
Using Empathy to Lead Collaboratively
Empathy is too often viewed as just a warm and fluffy idea. The new reality is that empathy delivers strength in leadership by understanding another’s condition from their perspective and adopting a helping mindset. Leaders who get this right strengthen their collaborative skills and will achieve more productive results.
“To operationalize empathy, businesses need to become flatter organizations, so people work more closely together to solve a customer problem or innovate to deliver a better product,” said Mertz. “Within this mix, accountability is required. No one is above the principles and values of the organization.”
The key is collaboration across a broader, more diverse range of individuals. Social technologies have extended the ability to collaborate over longer distances and millennials are using the technology to collaborate more effectively. Define the right technologies and then determine ways to leverage them to support greater empathy in collaborative relationships and deliver stronger solutions and results.
Solving Problems For the Long Haul
Businesses are often criticized for having a short-term view on performance and solutions. Quarterly results trump long-term results. Investors get impatient, but leaders do, as well. Millennials are tired of problems being kicked down the road. Solving problems now for the longer term is vital. In many ways, solving problems for the long haul serves a higher purpose as well, leaving the operations and strategy in better shape than before.
“What businesses need to do is take the longer-term challenge and design a longer-term solution,” contends Mertz. “When this is done, the solution needs to be broken down into achievable, smaller bundles of solutions. Time stitches the smaller solutions together in a logical, more impactful way.”
Defining the overarching solution and the tangible steps to move toward the goal will keep millennials engaged while also building a more sustainable business. It’s a win-win approach. A mindset shift is required, along with a refreshed way to lead. Millennials will bring these shifts, but other generations need to lay the groundwork now.
Business leaders need to embrace change and make the most of these strategies. Older generations need to step up to the challenge and support the changes needed to build a stronger future, engage millennial talent and shape a lasting business legacy.
Dana Manciagli is a career expert, speaker and consultant. She has spent more than 30 years as a Fortune 500 sales and marketing executive and is now retired after more than a decade at Microsoft. Dana is the author of the book, “Cut the Crap, Get a Job!” and a prolific blogger. She sits on the worldwide board of Junior Achievement and has her MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.