Talking ’bout our next generation

This week CEDA will profile Malcolm Turnbull talking about the FOW.  There are several angles to take on the topic.  In this blog we focus on one – millennials and generational dynamics in shaping our future.

Generation gaps are not a new topic. For a while now we’ve been pondering whether generations differ so much or whether life stages drive behaviour and attitude. You could be forgiven for thinking that a 25 year old tends to display similar traits across generations.

Things have changed though.  Because humans are remarkably adaptable and resilient creatures, we’ve responded to our changing environments. As Karl Marx’ asserted – technology drives the shape of social interaction.

Accelerating technological growth has been remarkable and with it, we’ve seen significant social change. We know that change is no longer a constant. Here, we’re interested in the generational impacts on our world of work because it’s important to recalibrate from time to time, especially as things shift rapidly.  Here’s an opportunity for us all to consider and reconsider how we engage with our newest workplace colleagues.

Two thirds of a generation in.[1] Two thirds of a generation out.

This year, millennials were the largest cohort in the workplace at 35%, followed by Gen Y and baby boomers at an equal 31%.

Baby boomers are leaving the workforce. One third have already gone.

And one third of millennials that will enter the work force are already here.

We’ve been courting the notion that by 2020, 50% of the workforce will be born after 1985 – relatively comforting and a way off. The idea of crossing that bridge when you get to it is false relief. You are on the bridge, right now!

Mobile technology changes everything.  And it’s pervasive.  In the US, across generations, individuals spend an average of 5.6 hours each day on the internet – 52% of the time, on smart phones, 41% on desktops, and the remaining 7%, on other devices. We could argue Jobs let the genie out of the bottle when he delivered the iPhone to the world in 2007.

Yes, that’s right, it was 2007. The product featured a big touch screen and unmodified full featured internet websites. [2]

What does all this tell us about a generation or the generations to come?

Following in millennials’ footsteps, we have the first generation, the ‘Z’s who have never experienced the pre-internet world. And yes, while we’re at it, the Generation α – born after 2010, already digitally exposed and literate.

Don’t laugh – 12-24 year olds are internet trendsetters! In this cohort, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are a way of life, with other mobile platforms gaining more and more traction.

Yet, it could be argued that a time line does not define generational divides.

Take this perspective for a moment. There are, according to Ray Wang at Insider Associates, five digital generations in the workplace[3].

This could be of more practical significance to collaboration, capability, engagement and productivity than dates of birth.

What and who are the digital generations?

  • Digital natives – grown up with the internet
  • Digital immigrants – crossed the chasm, forced into digital engagement
  • Digital voyeurs – those who watch and see the value but don’t participate
  • Digital hold outs – those who resist or ignore the impact
  • Digital disengaged – people who give up, dismissed

I’ve heard leaders boast that they are mastering ‘cc’ with their emails. Really? Is that meant to be amusing or terrifying?

Take the observation of an acquaintance that recently attended a conference on the role of social media in public health. At 25 she was distressed at the amount of time dedicated to describing the elements, features and benefits of social media over the hard line debate of policy and real issues.

To her mind, it was a waste of time and a flagrant incompetence on the part of the great digital unwashed who found it necessary to do their learning on her watch. It was an opportunity lost.

She has a point. There comes a time when digital competence is a hygiene factor. That time is now.

How can we take our lead from adept and technologically adroit millennials?

Some progressive individuals and organizations are adopting millennial mentors to coach digital immigrants and others through the disorienting technology landscape. The goal – to create new behaviours that work seamlessly with new tools.

As far as behaviours go, this next set of data may seem curious or even confounding. Millennials agreement on these statements as follows[4].

  • My smartphone never leaves my side – 87%
  • When I wake, the first thing I do is check my phone – 80%
  • I spend more than 2 hours everyday on my phone – 70%
  • In the next five years, I believe everything will be done on mobile devices – 60%

Millennials are consumers – at work and at play.

The workplace is now a talent marketplace where consumers shop around for variety, flexibility and reward. As leaders and business owners, we need to keep up.

It’s not just people who’ve changed. The world of work has too. Since we are now an urbanised planet, jobs have changed too.

Work structures are flatter as enterprise responds to economic imperatives and the squeeze of social and technological change. Flatter organization structures, and the removal of the middle management ‘permafrost’ mean career paths are less predictable or certain. The psychological contract for work has changed and as a result there’s less trust, more cynicism.

Millennials are wary of command and control environments where in the past, we’ve slave-ishly followed direction. They are better educated, have more resources and more options.

‘The war for talent is over and talent won’

This mantra affords more choice to individuals than ever before. The shift to consumer, from a technology perspective sits in parallel with the social change that we’ll call the rise of the individual.

We, the consumer/individual/employee will stay in roles only as long as it suits us. No longer.  Leaders, keep up!

To quote a colleague, ‘The world of work now is more about ‘serial monogamy’ than a life long commitment’.

This translates into just here for a good time, not a long time, put more soberly – it will work for us both as long as it’s good, beyond that, we are each on notice.

It’s an adult conversation. To be fair to the consumer side of this equation, enterprise has laid itself open by what is often perceived as ruthless and somewhat relentless organization ‘right sizing’.

So, what do millennials value?

At pole position, it’s development and in second place, flexibility[5]. No surprises here.

It behooves us as leaders, to hold important conversations regularly at an individual level to discover motivators and drivers, setting aside the generational stereotypes.

On development. Find ways to move from learning interventions to learning integration. The Return on Investment could just as easily be the Return on Integration. As we equip individuals to transfer formal skills development and knowledge to what they do everyday we also want to give them a frame for daily growth and career progress.

On flexibility. Find what floats their boat. Millennials want choice and balance. Forget the notion of work life balance – it’s life balance and work is a subset. More of us want to avail ourselves of opportunities to work from home, to ‘freelance’. 20% of millennials identify as ‘night owls’, many are ‘Night Founders’, working in paid jobs by day and slipping over the fence into start up founder mode, developing their other business interests on the side or working on other supplementary work projects that are completely distinct from their day jobs. More and more Australians are engaged in ‘side bar’ business interests, often involving app development and on line products and services.

On technology. 34% of millennials prefer to collaborate on line and 45% use personal smartphones for work purposes – it’s a BYOA/BYOD world! (think Skype, Linked In, Evernote, Drop Box). A revealing 41% are prepared to invest their own money in tools they can use at work that will increase their productivity, effectiveness and competitive edge. Give or take, this represents roughly twice the appetite of their older colleagues are prepared to invest to the same end.

Just when you thought you knew! What really matters to millennials, compared with their managers? It ranks like this –

  • Meaningful work (30%) – is almost three times more important to millennials than to their managers
  • Higher pay matters to managers almost twice as much as their millennial team members
  • A sense of accomplishment is more than twice as important at 24% to millennials
  • Managers and millennials are alike when it comes to challenging work, which ranks at 10%
  • High levels of self expression matter more to managers, at a ratio of 9:6% and lastly
  • High levels of responsibility are 4 times more important to managers – rated at 12%

Perceived differences seem to land with a millennial cohort being described by their managers as more narcissistic, open to change, creative, money driven, adaptable, entrepreneurial than their Gen X counterparts. Optimism rates equally.

The Survey conducted by Updesk, concluded that millennials were perceived as less confident, and less team oriented than Gen X. [6]

So practically, how do we play to the new and emerging workforce?

  1. Tap into discretionary effort. Listen out for what motivates your people. Start a dialogue to find out more. Have conversations.
  2. Find common purpose and meaning. Align your effort, your goals and contribution.
  3. Provide tools and resources. This means investing in time and technology that your people will enjoy using.
  4. Build trust.   This means giving your people permission to explore, make mistakes and grow their skills and experience, everyday. Development opportunities will create real traction.
  5. Get out of their way. The role of a contemporary leader is to provide the resources and environment necessary for success. This means you clear the deck for take off. Remove any resistance and obstacles to success including systems and processes that don’t work well.
  6. Watch your language. A final note on the resonance of our words. Millennials don’t want to be ‘managed’ so reserve your management for projects, not people. Lead, instead. In the new agile world of work, leadership is a mindset and you want everyone to have it. Moreover, you don’t have ‘staff’. Unless you’re in the military, you have employees. You want to collaborate for success, not direct, because your world is moving too fast to entertain any other options. Do this adult to adult. For better engagement, drop the hierarchies and silo-ed structures.
  7. Empower your people, whatever generation, to be self sufficient and self directed, remembering that autonomy is correlated to intention to stay.[7] Not only will your millennials be more engaged and more productive but business will thrive too.
  8. Remember your commitment to diversity. That includes age diversity. Sometimes, millennials get a bad wrap. Those droll stereotypes we hear about millennials lacking commitment or exaggerated ambition warrant a serious rethink. Here’s a perspective – consider that we, Gen Y’s and baby boomers have successfully mentored and supported a new generation who’s keen to make their mark and step up to the responsibility of leadership.  They want to be proactive in shaping our new world. That’s very exciting. It can only be a good thing.  Give them space to explore, spread their wings and learn to soar.
  9. Revisit and refresh your own personal goals.  If millennials are encroaching on your own goals and leadership floorspace, make some room and set some new goals for yourself.  In other words, pass the baton to keep playing and stay in the race.

If you like this blog, share it with your friends, colleagues and network.

Anne Moore is Founder and CEO at PlanDo, a DIY career management platform that helps you achieve, grow and contribute, everyday.

For more information or questions contact us and we’ll be in touch.

[1] KPCB #InternetTrends, May 2015

[2] Becoming Steve Jobs, Schlender & Tetzeli, 2015

[3] Ray R Wang, Insider Associates

[4] KPCB, #InternetTrends, May 2015

[5] KPCB, #InternetTrends, 2015

[6] KPCB, #InternetTrends, 2015 sourced from ‘The 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce Report’, Upwork, formerly O-Desk, Elance Hiring Managers Survey Question.

[7] CEB Global Workforce Insights, Q1, 2015


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *