“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good/Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.” –Eric Burdon and The Animals
It was the soundtrack for a generation. And for today’s millennials, these words still ring true. Millennials are woefully misunderstood.
The “Me Generation” was branded as selfish. Generation X was viewed as disaffected and directionless. Millennials have been pegged as arrogant and entitled, sheltered and narcissistic. The general perception is they don’t want to own things. From apartments to bikes, cars, and even handbags, they want to rent or share. When it comes to work, free food, onsite yoga classes, nap rooms, and unlimited vacation time are all that matters.
But perception doesn’t always meet reality. Perhaps more than any other generation, millennials are concerned with the greater good. And what they really want is to make a difference. They don’t want jobs—they want missions, and the accountability and ownership that comes with them. They don’t want to code software that automates tasks and puts people out of jobs and create a new digital divide. They want to develop applications that analyze data to detect and eradicate slavery in supply chains or cancer in gene sequences and improve people’s lives.
They don’t want to work in silos. They want to collaborate and be part of diverse teams. They don’t want to be passive participants in the business—they want to actively engage and shape its direction.
The face of the workforce has clearly changed, and millennials are the future. In three years, they are expected to account for more than half of the global workforce. And they will lead companies—and entire countries—in delivering game-changing innovations that not only create economic opportunity, but serve a higher purpose.
But in order for this to happen, business leaders—from the top down—must work to create a culture in which millennials can thrive. And there are three keys to doing this:
- No matter how big your company is, think and act like a startup. Millennials want the freedom to take risks and move fast. Give it to them.
- Paint a clear picture of your mission and objectives in the marketplace. And shield millennials from bureaucracy and anything that doesn’t help them achieve their goals.
- Put them at the front line. From the back office to the front office, millennials—along with everyone else in the company—should spend time with customers so that they can understand their needs and see first-hand whether the things they are working on actually make a difference. If they don’t, give them the power to do something about it.
Every generation has characteristics that bind them together and make them unique. Are millennials different from the rest of us? In many ways, yes. But differences are good. They allow us to see things in a new light. To think and act in new ways. And this is ultimately what drives innovation and positive change. So embrace them. Encourage them. Celebrate them.
For more insight on the changing face of business leadership, see The Next Generation Of Leaders.