As originally seen on NDInsights in March 2012
To the millennials: You were designed to win. The cells of your body, the synapses of your brain, the muscles in your arms and legs, the consciousness of your soul, the interactions you have with others – all of these were specifically manufactured for you to win. They were put together like blueprints on a paper, carefully engineered, meticulously combed over, tweaked for maximum output. You were constructed to succeed in life, at your job, in your relationships, and in your community.
Of course this could be said for most humans as well. Millennials are no different. They are not manufactured, created or produced in any special way (although Marvel Comics could probably come up with something). No, like most ordinary humans, millennials have the same hair follicles, DNA and genes as the rest of mankind.
Millennials, however, are an interesting group to study. They walk a fine line between having it all (and knowing it) and having nothing. Their confidence is only matched by a need for inter-dependence and instant feedback. They are as optimistic about the future as they are cynical and sarcastic about the present. They can be fiercely selfish and self-absorbed, as well as committed to the plight of others. They are a very raw depiction of a dichotomy that is usually hidden by other generations. Millennials however, seem to wear many of these parallelisms on their sleeve. In a recent article in CRM Magazine, the millennials were described as, “Empowered, disappointed, savvy, optimistic, unemployed – for anyone trying to decipher Generation Y, it means starting with a fistful of contradictions.” It can also be hard to see where generational traits are defining this generation versus maturing factors that might help evolve some of the more sophomoric tendencies of millennials. As we began this series on Designed To Win, it became apparent that much of their bravado and confidence is perhaps a superficial attempt at being brave. They put on a good face, but many of them are scared and scrambling to find an identity. We hope this series provides some insight, tough questions, and alternative ways of thinking and if nothing else encourages this group of young professionals to become the winners they were designed to be.
With those prefacing insights in mind, it has been argued that the millennial generation might be the best designed and most prepared generation to win since the Greatest Generation. This group of young professionals is designed to win in the workforce and, on a broader scale, in this new economy and social culture that is emerging. Let’s begin to explore why this high-octane generation may be our last, best hope for a bright future.
Millennials, also known as Generation Y, make up about 72 million of Americans and will become half of our workforce within the next 10 years. They were born between 1980 – 2000, however they have been more characterized by what life events have occurred during that era: Columbine school shooting, September 11, 2001, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crisis of 2008, and the Tech Age. Millennials are the most educated, diverse, tech-proficient, and soon to be largest generation ever. Forged in an era of prosperity, the millennial is not shy on excess, asking for things, and expecting things. However, life has a way of knocking everyone down and this generation is no exception. Through terror, fear, and war this post 9/11 generation has been built with a strong backbone. 9/11 made it extremely real in this generation’s mind that life is to be cherished (work/life balance) and fought for. The Iraq and Afghan wars, now the longest in our history, have designed a Millennial-based military that rivals the ethos and resolve of the Greatest Generation. The economic collapse of 2008 has made this generation nimble, quick, and sophisticated as they hop from job to job. When they’re not filling their backpacks full of skills, they’re creating a new business model that will spur an age of hyper-entrepreneurialism fueling the next awakening of our economy. Watching as their parents or others lose jobs, financial security, or retirement funds has made this generation shrewd businessmen and women who ask a lot of questions, look for multiple options and answers, and always have a plan B and C.
The talents of millennials are vast, but a few of the game-changing attributes of the Millennial are:
Teamwork and Collaboration: This generation will usher in a new era of team-based business because they simply do not know how to perform without it. Ask a millennial to sit in a cubicle all day, off of social networks, seldom seeking feedback and it will produce a millennial employee working at a half of his/her potential output. From group projects with classmates in grade school, to study sessions in college, this generation inherently seeks advice, input, and collaboration with their peers without hesitation or embarrassment. Libraries on college campuses now have more rooms that encourage cross-collaboration and group think sessions than large rooms that hold books and single cubicle desks. This generation is not about hiding or selfishly hogging data, but continually seeks belonging and affection by working across platforms for better services, products and organizations.
Inclusive and Diverse: Having grown up in schools and universities that worked to put them with people of all faiths, colors, and sexual orientations, millennials come equipped to handle issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This is due in large part to the hard foundational work of Boomers and Xers to educate millennials at a young age to see past color and diversity. Issues regarding opportunity and fair chances touch millennials deeply, and they work hard to see that everyone has a fair shot. Nothing better highlighted this than when this generation showed up in record numbers to elect the first black President of the United States. With this new melting pot of culture comes diverse perspectives and compassion for many different walks of life. This generation will bring new innovation, ideas and tools to the table because it is a diverse and international group.
Information Gathers: This generation does not like to be behind the eight ball. They do not like looking inept or ignorant. It is a social faux pas not to know the next thing, or to be cutting edge, or to be uneducated. This is a mixture of 9/11 post trauma (being caught off guard) and the continual seeking of feedback (this generation doesn’t like mistakes). For these reasons, this generation’s ability and speed at which they gather data, sort and filter information and make cross references to information is breathtaking. This generation is good at innovating at the verge, where they combine two different things to make a better product or service.
Coaching & Mentoring: They are equally confident at asking for feedback and consultation. Helicopter parents are usually framed in the negative as being suffocating, but this generation uses perspectives from their parents and the older generation to help them think critically about issues such as college, finance, work, and relationships. In a study of 5,000 professionals*, this generation was more likely than boomers and Gen Xers to agree with statements such as, “Employees should do what their manager tells them, even when they can’t see the reason for it.” One explanation for this is the coaching and mentoring they’ve received their whole lives – they’ve learned at a young age that doing what an authority figure tells them is more likely to result in success. And that’s a trait that courses through their veins – success. It’s about getting ahead, it’s about creating something better tomorrow than yesterday; the Millennial does not care about looking inept for a short time if it can produce gains in the long run.
* Center for Creative Leadership’s World Leadership Survey
Communicators: Non-communication is foreign to the millennials. They rarely go a day without some form of communication with a peer, parent or worker. The best Millennials are not just good about communication on multiple platforms (text, social media, face-to-face) — they are great at having those communications serve a function (Obama’s 2008 campaign, mobile giving, and the Arab Spring). Even in organizations, this group will move daily, monthly and yearly meetings to become leaner and focused on problem solving, rather than information sharing. This is how they were raised in our universities – quick bursts of group meetings with result-oriented outcomes. The millennial, interestingly enough as the youngest generation, feels that he/she is running out time. That’s why many employers see this overwhelming idealism to become VP by 30 and attaining world peace by 40. Yes, they are confident in their skill set, but they are also extremely aware of the vulnerability of the economy, terrorism and global crisis they are not quite sure which clock will run out first. The best managers will help educate and prepare this millennial generation to create the meetings, memos, and marketing plans that capture what the millennial is looking for: decisive, nimble, innovative, and collaborative movement forward.
Tech-Savvy: The creators of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Zappos and employed at Google, Amazon and Microsoft, this generation is feeding off of what Gen-X started. It’s interesting to watch the bickering that goes back and forth between which generation really started the tech boom. Instead, see it as a continuation. The Boomers and Gen-X group (Gates, Jobs, and Jeff Bezos) paved much of the way for the Zuckerbergs and the others to create these amazing platform extensions. The millennial generation is native to technology and demands its presence in every aspect of their life — 58% of millennials age 23 to 31 own a Smartphone. The best prepared organizations will use current technology and will use it correctly. It’s not about just about having the best technology; it’s about who best uses the technology to move the game forward. “With this generation, everything has to be visual and contextual. Gen Y [Millennials] process information on an intuitive level. They form impressions about a product based on how it looks and what it does,” says Kit Yarrow, author of Gen BuY. This generation understands that technology is just a tool that makes easier what is already inherent – the ability to communicate, the ability to entertain, the ability to socialize.
Millennials, as much as I have stroked your egos in this blog, I have also deliberately stacked the deck against you. I have taken a different route in this series of posts to showcase some of our talents and vision for the future because I think it is a story that isn’t always highlighted correctly. However, now the secret is out; the world knows the potential we bring to the table. Now is our time to show up. Now is our time to perform. We were designed to win because past generations provided the tools and the systems to prepare us to win. And now, like any good Marvel movie: the world is in peril; time is running out, economies across the globe are looking for innovative leaders and new team players — they need the millennials to win.