Though countless others have come before them, individuals categorized as Generation Y (the “Millennials”, born 1981-2000) are members of the largest generation in history and have displayed behavioral traits that will inevitability challenge employers to build a cohesive, engaged, productive and strategically successful organization.
Woven into the very fabric of all that they do, outsourcing of activities, collecting information and even socializing with others has become a standard practice in their daily lives. This “living” model puts the world at another inflection point that until recently, saw generations of laborers evolve into today’s knowledge workers. However, it appears that Generation Y workers are being assessed not only on necessarily what they know, but also how well they can locate it. The claim that Generation Y members do not want to take the time to “understand why”, and instead only want to know the answer (or worse, take a “just tell me” approach) creates a whole new set of challenges for companies trying to figure out how to source, manage, retain and engage the younger cohorts of the Millennial workforce.
How will organizations ensure their strategic capabilities are sustained given “surface level” knowledge is the trend amongst Generation Y? How will companies engage a generation focused on outsourcing what they need, to one where individual capabilities such as curiosity, business thinking, analytics and problem solving and inter-personal communications become their foundational skills?
In summary, how can companies get Generation Y to be Generation “Why?”
Analyzing Generation Y
Search the Internet on characteristics of Generation Y and you will find numerous lists that include everything from A to Z, including Achievement-Oriented to Zen-like Work Life Balance Expectations. However, when it comes to having the foundational skills needed to run a business, a few of Generation Y characteristics seem to work against these new workforce members. Five specific characteristics resonate, including:
Being Tech Savvy The Millennial crowd has grown up only knowing a world with easy access to computers, constant, global Internet connectivity, and the smart device, regardless of the manufacturer. Their use of technology in every aspect of their lives has created a dependency on the same when it comes to having a base of knowledge to work from. Businesses now have to
consider not just how but from where generated research comes from.
Looking At Greener Grass
Regardless of the domain, be it job, entertainment, material possibilities and mediums of connecting to others, members of Generation Y are constantly searching for the next best thing and when they find it (or think they find it), they jump on it! This scattered focus can lead to the tendency to take what looks good, even if it is not what it seems, and act on it despite possible longer terms risks.
This “knee jerk” approach can often leave a business in situations that produce
negative results and could be avoided with more focus spent on the process by
which information is obtained and decisions are made.
Communicating Through a Screen
The days of passing notes and calling a friend’s house never existed for the Millennials, who instead have grown up exchanging text messages, sending instagrams and chitchatting online.
Communicating quickly without ever seeing someone or saying a word, their communication capabilities seem to be centered on technology proficiency versus traditional, fundamental, active listening and verbalization skills.
This can result in poor understanding and reciprocation with their
It is no secret that Generation Y members have DNA of instant gratification, even greater than their ancestor generations, which creates significantly impatient generation of people. Intolerant of waiting for anything, the characteristic drives acceptance of information accuracy without deeper cross checking and validation, quick decision making based on assumptions and limited assessments of risks associated with decisions made.
Looking For a Trophy
Since birth, Generation Y has been raised in an “everyone gets a trophy” environment irrespective of contribution or success. Millennials crave attention in the forms of feedback and guidance, seeking frequent praise and reassurance that they are doing well on whatever it is they are working on. When a “great job” response does not arrive after mediocre deliverables are delivered, today’s business leaders run the unique challenge of resetting output and reward expectations.
Generation Agnostic Business Fundamentals
Regardless of the country, industry, company, division, etc., an organization’s historic and future success is significantly dependent on developing and performing core capabilities within its employees, regardless of functional area. This universal fact along with the regular retirement of the Baby Boomer generation and increased employment of Millennials is forcing the ultimatum on how to ensure these
foundational skills do not erode. Ironically, each of these skills has a vein of analytic capability requirements running through it. Combining this with the Millennials' characteristics discussed earlier requires unique solutions to help change the ways businesses will fill the gaps in these skill sets, including:
Analytics It is no surprise that the workplace is becoming more technologically advanced and complex, and with this comes the need for analytical thinking that includes the ability to assess a present state, determine the desired future state and what to do in order to close the gap. The key for businesses is to enhance the Millennials’ skills in knowing how to gather, review, and evaluate data that is necessary to formulate and support compelling business decisions. Looking at the generation’s characteristics discussed earlier, this will not be an easy road.
Communication Communication is the most fundamental skill needed within and across any organization if it is to be successful. From sharing the vision, driving and executing new projects and coordinating internal resources, the blending of traditional communication methods with the Millennials’ communication characteristics will be critical, especially as senior leaders make requests requiring analytic related tasks.
Sales and Marketing Creating successful sales and marketing strategies, supporting methods and policies that include all aspects of advertising, sales, pricing, etc. are critical to growing a business. The company’s capability to analyze competition, marketplace, and industry trends essential to the development of an effective marketing strategy determines its ability to compete. Like other functional areas in the business, analytics comes into play as a core competency for success.
Negotiation Negotiating, whether formal or informal, is a daily activity within and outside of companies. Unfortunately, it is a skill developed significantly on practice. The more experienced negotiators are more likely to know what to say, when or when not to say it, and when or when not to make concessions. The key is to be able to analyze the overall situation, the players “sitting across the table” and the means by which the most optimal outcome can be accomplished.
Financial Management Traditionally, Finance and Accounting teams have long tenured resources, applying a proven set of techniques to manage money, including income and expense differences as well as investment risks. The key is to know how to interpret and analyze financial statements, in such a way as to identify the items that may adversely affect the company’s profitability. Once again, analytical competencies are crucial.
Time Is Ticking
Given the analytic-related impediments found in the Generation Y profile, the question remains as to what might today’s business leaders act on now, given the clock is ticking on their own professional longevity, to help build the analytic-based, fundamental skills needed to sustain their business over the following decades? How can the seasoned professionals of the Baby Boomer and X
Generations deepen the mile wide and inch deep knowledge of their younger workforce? What can be done to get them to confidently answer and become business “whys”?
Leaders need to play to the Millennials’ strengths while also creating situations that take them away from the characteristics that can deter their analytical development. Ironically, leaning on “old school” techniques of development can have the greatest impact on the Generation Y members, for instance:
Utilizing brainstorming sessions when solving problems will help develop the Millennial analytical skills while also leveraging one of their comfort zones, namely, team building and collaboration. While brainstorming encourages participants to think on their feet and enhance listening skills, the key is to stick with a white board and dry erase markers, removing them from the tendency to “see what the Internet” says, and go with that.
Pulling a Generation Y employee into more senior level discussions to listen in can always produce positive development in the fundamental skill areas discussed earlier. Creating a scenario that takes Millennials out of their day-to-day transactional-based work can help them see the bigger picture and higher level strategy and the direction the company is moving in. This insight will allow them to understand how their role applies in that bigger picture and better comprehend the need for deeper analytical skills to support the company’s direction versus just taking delegated assignments.
Encouraging the “open door” management style can provide mentoring opportunities for Generation Y employees. This forces increased one on one communications that can be both productive as well as “coaching moments” for more seasoned leaders, pulling Millennials away from their comfort zone of hiding behind devices for communicating with others.
Reviewing and adjusting recruiting process mechanisms and tools that are
more oriented to the foundational skills assessment of Millennial
candidates, on boarding those who match and recommending to those who do not
development areas needed for future consideration.
Investing in programs delivered internally or through external partners
that develop specific foundation skills discussed for Generation Y employees
with “fast track” potential while engaging them in the recommendations
Generation “Why” or “Why Not”?
Current business leaders have an opportunity to get in front of the inevitable future of Generation Y being their replacements as leaders of their organizations, especially when it comes to developing the analytical skill sets needed irrespective of functional area served. Decades from now, the investments made over the next years in developing the Millennials into an analytical Generation “Why?” will be clear. Simply put, those that do will see from their rocking chairs their company enjoy a trajectory of success. On the other hand, those leaders of today that choose not to act may find their company’s future in a losing position, with its stakeholders reflecting on past generation leaders' lack of preparation and asking, “Why Not?”
About the Author
David P. Spencer currently holds the role of SVP, Business Development for Corbus, LLC.
Mr. Spencer started his career as a Software Engineer and has since advanced into Sr. Executive roles while generating millions of dollars for clients implementing revenue generating and cost reducing IT-enabled business solutions. With his expertise, he has been able to expand the growth potential for companies with whom he has built business relations.
Mr. Spencer serves as an executive coach and client advisor to global Fortune 500 CXO’s leading sales, information technology, operations and HR related functions in transforming their operations to meet challenging business objectives. With a total of 27 years of business experience spanning multiple industries including Manufacturing, Retail, CPG, Automotive and Media & Entertainment, the past 14 years have been spent in the IT and Business Process Outsourcing sector, where clients have leveraged his expertise to positively impact desired business results.