Millennials. They’re Kind of A Big Deal.

Millennials.

Why is it that when they are discussed, conversations tend to swing negative? I just don’t get it.

Joseph Folkman’s article in the June 8, 2016, Forbes article entitled Are You Still Maligning Millennials? Stop. proves my point. He writes:

I attended a conference where a presentation speaker was talking about how millennials are so different. The speaker was going through the typical list of characteristics we’ve heard hundreds of times when a millennial raised his hand, stood up and said, “I am so tired of hearing this garbage about millennials and none of it is true!” He received an ovation of support from the audience.

Here’s what I know.

Millennials are here to stay. They are ready to work. They are ready to contribute. And they are ready to do all of that on their own terms. As the mother of a Millennial, I can tell you that they’re not only ready to do those things – they’re doing them.

According to Pew Research Center, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation (based on population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau).

Millennials, whom we define as those ages 18-34 in 2015 now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). And Generation X (ages 35-50 in 2015), by the way, is projected to pass the Boomers in population by 2028 (according to PRC).

Here’s what we know:

It’s critical for the business world to understand Millennials, to embrace them and to engage them. If the business world wants to win, that is. In a world where exponential change has become a reality, leaders must find ways to harness the engagement of every employee. Including Millennials. And they must understand the way we work and the kind of work that we all do is changing.

This is happening not just because Millennials are now the dominant group in the workplace but also because technology has empowered the employee and the consumer. Today, every company must think of itself as a technology company. And who knows technology better than any group in the workplace?

You guessed it – Millennials.

But why is it that Millennials have gotten a bad reputation? Baby Boomers, in particular, see them as impatient, wanting to get promoted tomorrow, always wanting time off and more. But the second they have a technology problem, smart Boomers run to Millennials.

Millennials are driving the digital platform – this seismic shift. No one gets to opt-out of it. And everyone must think about retooling to adjust to it. We all must be willing to learn (and maybe even unlearn some things) and let go of behaviors that are holding us back. And Millennials are masters of doing just this.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and chief executive officer, recently shared in an interview for The New York Times at his company’s Dallas headquarters, “There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop…” This in response to AT&T’s plan to retrain his 280,000 employees to compete in today’s market. More on that plan is explained in this article:

Today, Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and chief executive, is trying to reinvent the company so it can compete more deftly. Not that long ago it had to fight for business with other phone companies and cellular carriers. Then the Internet and cloud computing came along, and AT&T found itself in a tussle with a whole bunch of companies.

AT&T’s competitors are not just Verizon and Sprint, but also tech giants like Amazon and Google. For the company to survive in this environment, Mr. Stephenson needs to retrain its 280,000 employees so they can improve their coding skills, or learn them, and make quick business decisions based on a fire hose of data coming into the company.

Funny thing is, AT&T’s Millennial employees won’t have a problem with their plan. They’re open to change. In fact, they thrive on it. For them it’s all about innovation and disruption. Precisely what AT&T is doing. I hope Randall Stephenson and other CEOs like him have realized this. Because, to win today, organizations must recognize that Millennial talent can and do choose to work where the culture invites a different way of working.

As an example, some people have labeled Millennials as wanting to leave the organization after 2-3 years on to the job. It doesn’t mean that they have to leave the organization, it means we need to rethink career development patterns and afford this cohort the opportunity to make lateral moves to gain new experiences. The business world needs this type of entrepreneurial mindset to remain agile and relevant.

And so what if Millennials recognize the importance of having a life and want to leave the office at 5 pm on Friday? Good for them! Baby Boomers are secretly wishing they could muster up the courage to walk out of the door at 5 pm right along with them.

We must focus on the intense value they bring, not on how they are different from how we think “work should look.”

Here are some things that leaders must think about in order to optimize the internal Millennial employee to better serve the external Millennial customer:

1. Career customization is a must.

What Millennials think: Make it easy for me to stay with your organization by rethinking traditional succession planning patterns to afford new learning and experiences.

2. Products must be customized.

What Millennials think: Give me what I want, when I want it. Meeting this need is critical to build a meaning relationship with a Millennial customer.

3. Involve them in the innovation.

What Millennials think: Talk to me. Help me understand why decisions and choices are made. Ask me questions, and I will give you input that promises to make the product stay. Then I will promote it using social media.

4. It’s all about belonging to a community.

What Millennials think: Everything must be connected and seamless. Internally this means the culture must be inclusive. We don’t get why cultures aren’t inclusive. If you give me a product that I like, and believe in it I will personally tell all my friends by liking you on Facebook. This enables me to become a marketer of your products. Oh, and by the way, the traditional marketing methods…well, they just don’t work for me anymore. Catch up.

5. The competition for talented digitally skilled labor is fierce.

What Millennials think: It’s not about the paycheck. It’s about doing meaningful work that contributes to sustainability in real ways.

6. Everyone wants to have fun.

What Millennials think: We see organizations as stiff. Our message to you is “lighten up.”

7. Partnership – not patriarchy.

What Millennials think: This is the kind of relationship we want with our managers – a partnership.

For further research and proof of these points, check out these resources:

· Retail Research: Insights into millennial shopping behavior patterns
Accenture research sheds light on millennial shopping behavior and retails trends that are impacting this savvy audience

· Retail Talent Disrupted: A Deloitte Special Report

I recently read a quote by the futurist/commentator, Mal Fletcher, that helped me clearly understand and describe Millennials. He said, “Millennials aspire to marry the blue skies thinking of the Boomers with the grass-roots mindset of GenX.”

I sure like the sound of that. How about you, fellow Boomers and you Gen Xers?

It’s time to change our mindset and move on with Millennials. Together.

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