Entitled. Greedy. Disloyal. The perceptions surrounding today’s millennial generation aren’t always flattering.
But we don’t get why this group so often gets a bad rap.
In fact, we think the crop of twenty somethings breaking into the business world right now is about as energized and exciting a group of “kids” as we’ve ever seen. And we’ve seen them a lot over the past several years, visiting dozens of campuses, launching our own MBA program and teaching in two more, consulting for companies that employ thousands of millennials, and raising four of our own.
Overwhelmingly, we’ve found millennials to be hardworking, startlingly authentic, refreshingly candid, and wonderfully upbeat. Basically, not to get all mushy or anything, we love them — and we see them transforming business for the better.
One of the best things about millennials is that, because of the world that they’ve come up in, they have very entrepreneurial mindsets. They’re excited about starting their own thing or working for smaller companies. They don’t have corporate lockstep in their brains. They seem to really care about how their work affects the world. On virtually every campus visit, millennials have asked us about corporate ethics and social responsibility. Many have shown a thoughtful concern about how to strike a meaningful balance between work and life. Some of them have challenged us about the whole notion of winning, asking: “Does success only have to be about money?” When we’ve answered no—that success is about setting personal goals and achieving them—the reaction has been invariably positive. It’s important to millennials to really feel that their work means something.
Now, by that same token, millennials today are also much more ready to pick up and leave, wherever they are, if they’re not getting the opportunities they seek or the challenges, the excitement and the inspiration behind the work. While the market is tough, they’re certainly not chained to a job, waiting for a pension, like workers of years gone by. In fact, perhaps millennials’ reputation for entitlement derives from one quality that they seem to possess in spades: impatience.
With all the under-forty entrepreneurs out in Silicon Valley, millennials have witnessed so many examples of people who are incredibly young yet having a big impact. They may think, “Well, I don’t want to wait to make a difference.” Additionally, they’ve grown up in an environment where social media has given everyone voice. If they have an opinion, they can go out on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram, and their thoughts will be heard in a way that young people were not previously heard. So when they come to work and no one hears them or takes them seriously, it can be maddening.
This puts the heat on company leaders to do two things like never before.
One, create an environment of excitement for their employees. The pressure is on managers every day to start asking, “Am I exciting my people? Do they want to be here? How am I keeping them happy? Am I creating growth? Am I creating opportunities? Are they having fun here? Does this job have purpose? Are we connecting people? Are we giving voice?” As a leader of millennials, and really people of any age, you want a workforce that’s turned on, all the time. You want create an atmosphere where you love being there, and your people love being there, but they’re ready to leave if you don’t provide them with the right stuff.
And secondly, this younger crowd is challenging organizations to be transparent, more than any group we’ve seen. Years ago, transparency was unknown. Corporate layers blocked out everything. These days, everybody wants to see as much as they can about how promotions occur, what the opportunities are, what the future looks like. We can’t tell you how great we think that is. When everybody knows what’s going on, when knowledge isn’t locked into layers, and everybody is in the game, you’ve got a better company. You’ve got a more exciting company and you’ve got a faster growing company. You get more productivity. Millennials, in large part, are helping drive that.
So, yes, we don’t doubt that there are still a number of know-it-all young people, and they can come across as annoying. They’re certainly out there, as they always have been. After all, ever since the beginning of, well, higher education, every crop of graduates has contained its share of swaggering big-heads convinced that the old-timers should stand aside.
But in our experience, most millennials are anything but. They’re real—driven, open-minded, and thoughtful in a way that will be great for their careers and the entire economy to boot, as they demand organizations strive for new levels of engagement, opportunity and a higher meaning in the work. The companies that are managing millennials best today are the ones tapping into those desires.
And managers everywhere need to adapt to that.