“They come in here thinking they know everything.”
“Somebody needs to put them in their place.”
“Put the phone down and listen.”
If you are a baby boomer – or even an older Gen-X worker, you’ve likely either said or heard others make at least one of the above statements. There is no doubt that the millennial generation has been disruptive.
Disruptions are often seen in a negative light, like a commercial during our favorite television show. But the disruption the millennial generation presents to us might just be a good thing.
Millennials’ Impact on Technology
Most members of the millennial generation barely remember a world without the internet and smart phones. I’ve heard them reminisce about the “old days” when they had to get off the internet so dad could use the phone. Growing up with these technologies, they have played with them, investigated them, and know them intimately.
As a result, they have a comfort level with virtually any new application. Unlike their older counterparts, technology is not viewed as unique to them. We grew up expecting every house to have running water and electricity. They have the same expectations for the application of technology.
The millennial generation has been criticized because, growing up, everyone on every team got a trophy. I might remind the baby boomers who purchased and distributed those trophies. Many argue that because of undue praise like the “trophy syndrome,” millennials think the world revolves around them.
An alternative view is that they may just work together better. Instead of being intensely competitive, they are collaborative. They know how to work together.
This might explain the popularity of things like wikis, crowd sourcing, and the open source phenomenon. All of these types of applications encourage people to collaborate and work in teams rather than claw against each other climbing their way to the corner office.
Why we want millennials and their attitudes
As soon as our baby boomer generation gets over our “what’s the matter with kids these days” attitude, we can open our minds to the benefits that the millennial generation brings to the modern workplace. As new members of the work world, millennials bring a fresh and unbiased insight. They have a perspective that lacks cynicism. Their use of technology is not limited to texting and tweeting their friends. Most of them interact with businesses online. They understand the good and bad aspects of commercial apps. Their experience can provide great insights to an organization that is trying to figure out how to move forward in the application economy.
Leadership. Listening to millennials gives them credibility. Instead of expecting them not to speak until spoken to, allow them to speak their mind. They may make mistakes, but that is a good way to learn and further develop their leadership skills. This will result in greater leadership throughout the entire organization. Experienced workers will further develop their own leadership skills by accepting that they are not always right or have all the answers. They will learn to become less authoritarian and more collaborative with diverse teams.
Better intergenerational relationships. Working with more experienced workers as peers in a more collaborative environment develops stronger bonds at all levels, fostering greater tolerance of diversity and perhaps more enhanced innovation.
Better retention. Millennials want to make an impact immediately. Allowing them a voice with their more-experienced peers on topics with which they have knowledge and experience provides higher job satisfaction and increases the likelihood of retention. They will also develop stronger bonds with their coworkers. This will help develop workplace friendships, making interactions more enjoyable and allowing them to feel more like peers and colleagues than a junior employee.
Better knowledge of technology across the organization. The experience and knowledge millennials provide can greatly enhance the organization’s collective knowledge of technology. Allowing the younger generation to share their knowledge of the newest technology with their coworkers allows the entire organization access to and benefit from the latest trends.
Narrow the generation gap. As baby boomers, gen-Xers and millennials begin working collaboratively, they will begin to forget that they are all from different age groups. They will begin to celebrate their differences and use them in positive ways. The collaborative environment will promote an attitude of teamwork.
Identify high-potential employees sooner. In the traditional business beauracracy, leadership development can take many years. Individuals move incrementally from one step to the other.
Having higher-level decision makers interacting with new employees provides upper management with earlier contact to and exposure to rising stars, allowing them to take earlier actions to ensure development and retention.
Can Millennials Mentor Baby Boomers?
The tradition is for older, more experienced workers to mentor and share their knowledge with the young guys. Many baby boomers and gen-Xers would be insulted if someone told them that they were going to be mentored by one of these young guns.
Instead of using the traditional, hierarchical, top-down approach, how about making it an interaction? Instead of me telling you “how it’s done,” we could just get together and share our respective expertise with each other.
Multi-generational mentoring. Mentoring doesn’t have to be one-directional. We each can have something to share. The baby boomer can share her years of experience in her industry. She can explain to the younger worker how the company is organized, how they make their money, and why they do some of the things they do.
The millennial can question some of the company’s practices. He can provide a new perspective as a consumer. He can also explain how new technologies can be applied to make an existing practice more efficient or more profitable.
Don’t use the M-word. Our perception of mentoring is so ingrained in the top-down approach, that it may be better to stop using the word. It really is just knowledge exchange. It’s a collaborative approach to share specialized knowledge in which everybody contributes. In fact, it no longer needs to be a one-on-one exchange. Meeting in multi-generational groups of people where everybody has an equal voice can expose everyone to different perspectives. People may become more open-minded and think about trying new things. They’re learning from others rather than being mentored.
How it can be approached
Millennials are a collaborative group. They want to work together with others. Placing them together in cross-generational work groups enables that collaborative environment. Forcing an alliance is more likely to fail than simply enabling it.
Accept that the different generations have different values and goals. Baby boomers were ambitious and career-oriented. They have been much more of the me generation than their younger counterparts. Millennials are more entrepreneurial. They want to solve problems. Most would rather succeed as a group than climb the corporate ladder.
Millennials also don’t have the patience for corporate red tape and hierarchy. They want to contribute immediately rather than wait in line for their turn to be in charge.
They obviously need to learn and grow. They may appear to act like they know everything and they don’t. But they know a lot more than many give them credit for. Allowing them to speak up will help them learn from failures and add value as soon as possible.
The millennial generation is different from every other generation that has proceeded them. They come in with fresh perspectives, an abundance of confidence, and unprecedented technical knowledge and skill levels. They want to contribute immediately. If they are not allowed to contribute, the best ones can and will move on.
The new corporate challenge is to accept the millennials for who they are. Help them to help the organization. They will be better employees and the organization will be more successful as a result.
How has your organization accepted and embraced millennials?
I welcome your questions and comments.
Images courtesy of dream designs and ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net