I feel like I was born with a computer in my hand; I embrace them both from a business and personal perspective.
But I am a Gen-Xer, so certain realities are true. I was not born with a computer in my hand, but rather a typewriter, record player, and an Atari game console. According to the folks who define the characteristics of each generation, I have different priorities, perspectives, and drivers than Millennials (a.k.a. Gen-Yers). But how different?
Understanding the Differences
A couple of months ago, EMC shared the results of its 2014 Privacy Index survey, which took a look at data and information trends from a macro perspective. The research suggests that the younger and more connected you are, the more likely you would be to exchange your privacy for data and information.
Additionally, there has been no shortage of articles pointing to the many other big differences between Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers. For example, my wife and I are serial house hunters. Since the growing trend among the younger generation seems to be smaller homes, not McMansions, it makes us wonder what will happen to the home values of McMansions? Who will pay for a 10,000 square-foot house in Saratoga and will these areas become ghost towns as the new generations step into the center of the bell curve?
Basically, the wealth trappings that captivate (and, in many cases, motivate) Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers, such as flashy cars, large houses, swimming pools, senior jobs managing scores of people, etc., do not resonate with the up-and-comers.
Compound this with the fact that I run a rather healthy-sized operation and I am left puzzled as to “how ready are we, really?” and “do the Google-like campus trappings really matter now?”
The Experiment: Project Brigade
Given these facts, how do organizations prepare to pass the proverbial baton to the next-generation of leaders?
The answer lies in understanding what makes that generation tick. It’s not enough to say we’re different; we need to understand how Millennials think, why they do what they do, and most importantly, what motivates them to do what they do.
To get these answers, I decided to do a little research of my own. I used my love of computers, obsession for gaming, and my trusty iPad and “camped out”with a team of Millennials and a few odd old guards for the past couples of months.
Purely by chance, I found myself being invited to join a brigade in a strategy tank game and it turned out to be a perfect observation post.
Here’s what I learned about Millennials:
- They’re all about agility – Nothing stays constant; Millennials continually test, adjust, re-adjust, and improve. In fact, the speed of change is mind-boggling, as are the discussions they generate. They are the antithesis of risk-averse; they challenge the status quo and are driven to innovate.Business Tip: For Millennials, there is no such thing as linear thinking; everything is up for grabs. They expect constant change, constant testing of new mechanics in an almost consumer product-like fashion.
- They will quickly assume the “alpha” role – If there doesn’t appear to be a clear leader, be assured a Millennial will assume the alpha role and start issuing instructions. For instance, if the strategy that was suggested at the beginning of a brigade activity isn’t followed immediately, someone will invariably step up and lead.Business Tip: Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, years of tenure won’t buy you support. Millennials need to feel their management teams are listening actively and are competent. If not, they will either leave or chart their own course. Remember, they are all about adjusting and re-adjusting.
- They expect a seat at the table – They believe they were recruited for a reason and, therefore, expect their voice to be heard and valued with equal “weight.”Business Tip: Outdated management styles that practice command and control or time-based promotions will be a total turnoff to this generation and will have immediate, negative consequences.
- They are respectful and give instant praise and feedback – They are quick to praise someone who ‘frags’ (Brigade term for “blow up”) their tanks. They also sent pointers to their teammates during the game and provided constructive comments in the holding room before heading back into the thick of it.Business Tip: A transparent review process is critical, so performance goals have to be discussed and agreed to, and then measured and commented on throughout the quarter. Millennials need “in time” feedback and course correction and want to know where they do well and where they fall over.
- They research and practice a lot – The idea to “wing it” isn’t in their vocabulary. They arrange practice sessions, share best practices, open dialogue on maps and locations, and even send PDFs, videos, or links to help others with strategy.Business Tip: This generation is certainly born in the information age, they research absolutely everything; command and control or instructions without input do not sit well. They offer opinions and then discuss the options; they are very chatty on topics so a back-and-forth dialogue is important to cement their buy-in. If you like the idea of “say and do” you will be in for a rude awakening.
- They have no fear of sharing personal information– They value camaraderie and “the unit” over individual privacy. It is common for them to send things to each other’s houses and celebrate birthdays with their teammates, and without hesitation or concern of sharing what you and I may consider private.Business Tip: “Mushroom” management is a super turnoff to Millennials; open and candid communications is the only way to go. This generation expects full-disclosure and sees being shut out of the information flow as a sign that their input or values aren’t respected.
- They bond easily with people who exhibit ‘like’ values – They bond and communicate with both brigade members and competitors who exhibit a relative skill they respect.Business Tip: This means Millennials will likely not “fall in line” based on a hierarchical structure; the age-old adage of “A” players attract “A” players holds true for them. They will challenge the system and also see open communications and dialogue both in the company and with their competitors as natural.
- They have an innate ability to multi-task – The game involved driving a tank, directing guns, and required brigade members to “chat” on screen as a means of being respectful to the opposing team and playful with fellow comrades. They also had to use Skype to coordinate movement and strategy. Suffice it to say; beyond driving and chatting, I was all fat fingers and apologies.Business Tip: The use of all available technology to get an advantage, and a seemingly unbounded ability to multi-task, suggests their very high “time-to-boredom” rates. This means you need to make sure internal tools are up to snuff and there’s not too much “Well, that’s how we do it here” with legacy apps and interfaces. You’ll want to consider assigning Millennials smaller projects with fast results versus multi-year slogs.
- They have no fear in making decisive decisions–Part of building a brigade is attracting good players. Generally, people request to join and they are vetted based on their skill and temperament. Also, quitters are not tolerated. In fact, during one battle, I witnessed an interesting episode in which the chatter around a really solid player, who was being recruited by the losing team, immediately turned sour when that player bailed early when his team didn’t look like they would win. Losing gloriously is important and bailing is unacceptable.Business Tip: Millennials are all about democratic decision-making and respecting strong team players; they have very little tolerance (or time) for poor judgment. Watch out for the “This is how it’s always been done’ types.” Gen-Xers/Baby Boomers: Millennials, are like fire and ice.
- They have compassion for relative strangers – During the game, one of the gamers broke their iPad and didn’t have the funds to replace it. Rather amazingly, while the people in the brigade didn’t know each other or even know the members’ real names, they instituted a PayPal whip round to help pay for a replacement.Business Tip: Imagine what Millennials will expect from your company from a philanthropic perspective. They are strong willed but also want to be part of something larger and want to help; they have a self-less nature.
No, Millennials are not the three-headed monsters some Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers have imagined them to be. Their values are not foreign. In fact, they’re commendable. Their desire for instant feedback and to keep moving forward will challenge organizations to tackle some of today’s bloated best practices. And that’s a good – and very necessary – thing.
Good luck to all who wish to transform your businesses, both your technology and your business need to be transparent, collaborative and agile.