How To Avoid Extinction: 3 Ways To “Millennialize” Your Business Strategy And Culture

Sarah Kim

21 Oct 2012 --- Young adult woman presenting to coworkers. --- Image by © Hero Images/CorbisThere has been much debate this year on how companies should evolve and adapt to the growing number of Millennials in the workplace and consumer marketplace.  Although businesses are steadily changing how they appeal to Millennials, I personally believe that they should dig even deeper. To survive – and thrive – in today’s “new” digital economy, they must adopt the Millennial mindset in their corporate strategy and culture.

In a recent Forbes article, SAP CEO Bill McDermott eloquently warned, “The digital economy is disrupting businesses, industries, and entire value chains. The proof is everywhere, from how we use technology and data as consumers, to how cutting-edge businesses are reshaping the consumer marketplace.” Even more sobering was CNBC’s, prediction that “mass extinction” within the S&P 500 will occur by 2025, where 40% of these companies will no longer exist.

What is a company to do?

Thankfully, many companies – including my employer SAP – are making a concerted effort to embrace fresh Millennial talent. I am very fortunate to work with several of these bright, motivated young people on my team. Recently, my Millennial counterparts published a blog series that discussed their view on the digital economy, branding, and disruption – critical topics that executives face every day.

Why should companies listen to their perspectives? As my long-time SAP colleague Fred Isbell recently reminded me when he wrote his opening blog for this series, reverse-mentoring from Millennials is an essential part of digital transformation. It’s not about being “cool” – it’s about building new career skills and ensuring your company will thrive in the digital economy.

So what is a company to do? Here are three Millennial insights that can empower every business to succeed in the digital economy.

1. Keep things in perspective, yet maintain an audacious vision

It’s easy to  overreact to things we do not understand. Remember Y2K? Well, the digital economy is no different. However, I did feel a sense of solace when Julia Caruso, an intern for the Global Service and Support Marketing team at SAP, stated in her blog How The Digital Economy Is Defining An Entire Generation: “To us, [the digital economy is] just the economy. Everything we do happens in the abstract digital economy – we shop digitally, get our news digitally, communicate digitally, and we take pictures digitally. In fact, the things that we don’t do digitally are few and far between.”

Millennials have a way of seeing things for what they are without being distracted by technology buzzwords and hype. This forces companies to maintain a certain perspective while preparing to keep up with digital transformation and positioning themselves to exploit it.  If you’re too enamored with your past, you will not have a future in today’s hypercompetitive (and hyperconnected) market. But if you focus too much on how much you need to change, you will never be able to keep up. The key is to have a vision – preferably, an audacious one. Because the bigger the vision, the bigger the potential impact. If you think small, you risk minimization – or worse, extinction.

I was recently reminded of this new reality while dining with a few friends of mine who happen to be heavy-hitters in the cryptocurrency world. Even though I am not really an expert on Bitcoin, I still found their passion infectious. Now I believe that it’s only a matter of time before the financial industry is turned upside down with this vision of open, global access to finance and the ability to transact with everyone.

Digital transformation alone is not the disruptor – it’s the people and companies with a vision that are changing the world. Technology is merely the enabler and accelerator.

2. Go for immediate gratification, and stay connected

Although technology and the digital economy is changing the way companies approach and conduct business, one thing remains largely the same – people. When I first sat across the table from Rachel Palekar, one of our interns who recently became an SAP full-time employee, I had the sinking feeling that I had pairs of jeans that were older than her. But once I got to know her, I realized that we’re not all that different.

When I read her blog “How Brands Can Get Noticed in this Millennial, Digital World,” I totally related to her point of view and experiences. She describes how the Millennial desire for immediate proof of value is fueling the evolution of business models. But I don’t think this just a Millennial desire – we are all a product of our environment. We all live in a world of instant coffee, quick oats, express checkouts, and next-day shipping. The desire for immediate gratification is ingrained in all of us – not just Millennials.

Companies must focus on how they can provide immediate gratification for their customers – as well as their customer’s customer. It’s about understanding the value you bring to every customer touch point and manically looking for ways to deliver that value faster and better. And now with the emergence of in-memory computing and predictive analytics, it’s possible to predict what customers want and need before they even realize it themselves.

The heart of value is the network effect. The bigger the network and the more participants there are, the more value will increase exponentially. Millennials implicitly get this concept that’s been around since the dawn of the Internet. They proved that this notion still applies today with the rise of Facebook and countless other social media sites that have radically transformed our world. We all should embrace this style of conducting business and communication!

But it’s also important to understand that value creation is not just about the fulfillment of needs. There is a strong emotional component to it. In today’s “Millennial” world, these emotions are captured at the moment on mobile devices and spread widely through social and online channels. Companies must stay connected to their customers and their customer’s customer to understand and tap into the emotion of their value. Because emotion – like vision – is a powerful force that can determine the future of every brand.

I definitely see proof of this when I take a look at my own fitness regime. Everywhere I look in my home, the Nike swoosh symbol is prevalent on my running gear – and I am not just talking about my apparel and footwear. It’s on my wearable and mobile app where I check my performance. I even receive e-mails coaching me on how I can better prepare for my next marathon. By playing the role of lifestyle advisor, Nike is not only encouraging me to get off the couch and run, but it’s also eliciting a sense of investment and loyalty towards the brand.

3. Have a healthy (dis)regard for disruption

Many companies fear disruption and want to avoid it. Others try to embrace it and get ready for it. The word “disruption” implies that it’s something that you didn’t see coming. So how can you possibly avoid it or get ready for it?

One of the most fascinating things about the Millennial mindset is that they have a healthy disregard for disruption. In the blog, From Disruption to Adoption: Adapt or Die, Taylor King, an intern for the Global Service and Support marketing team at SAP, states, “[Millennials] expect technology to make rippling impacts on everything that is familiar to us. For traditional markets, companies and people this can mean game over. Yet, as a Millennial, it’s just another day at the office.”

The best way to handle disruption is to first expect it – and then embrace it and become a disruptor. This is not easy. It takes bravery and will likely come at a cost. You will have to let go of the past. Sacrifice the way you do business. Sacrifice parts of your enterprise. Disrupt yourself.  But disruption is the new normal – it’s not a matter of if but when. It’s all up to you – will you strive to be a leader or fight for survival?

There’s a lot we can learn from our Millennial co-workers. They are the leaders of the future in this “brave new world” that will emerge from digital transformation. And I believe wholeheartedly that it would serve any company well to adopt the Millennial mindset and embrace these three fundamental principles.

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Sarah Wind Kim leads a content marketing team for SAP Service and Support. Connect with her on  LinkedIn


Sarah Kim

About Sarah Kim

Sarah Kim is a Senior Director Marketing at SAP, responsible for leading a content and program marketing team for the Global Service and Support organization to help create awareness and drive demand for key service and support offerings.