Highlights of March 16, 2017 Executive Dinner Forum
By Mark Stevenson, Founder/CEO of Smart HR, and Jack McGuinness, Managing Partner of Relationship Impact
A few weeks ago, we hosted an executive dinner forum where 15 DC Metro C-Suite executives discussed the challenges and advantages of managing Millennials. We chose this important topic because our clients are becoming increasingly concerned with how their organizations are addressing this new generation. The discussions were lively and once we moved through the venting – “When I was their age, I just did as I was told” – they became quite productive.
Before we summarize the forum discussion, let’s set the stage with some important facts about this somewhat unique generation. Millennials, born in the early 80s through the early 2000s, will comprise 50% of the global workforce by 2020. The Millennial generation is generally characterized by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies. They are the most educated and most diverse generation to date. Millennials are largely associated with a more liberal approach to politics and economics. Growing up during the Great Recession of 2008 has likely impacted Millennials due to historically high levels of youth unemployment and speculation about potential long-term economic and social damage.
A number of important details characterize Millennials in the workforce: they change jobs three times more frequently then other generations; they are far less willing to sacrifice their lives for work and want to be judged on results rather than time spent; and while compensation must be fair, their focus is on work with a purpose.
All generations possess unique characteristics and, as illustrated above, Millennials are clearly no different in this regard. Much like the Great Generation that had to learn to work with Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, these older generations now have to learn how to manage and work with Millennials. It’s not a surprise that there is a bit of conflict among these generations when you consider that Boomers and Xers grew up using the index card file to conduct research while Millennials can do this on their smartphones while simultaneously searching for movies or music. Along with many anthropologists, we believe that this acceleration of technology and immediate access to information has made the task of getting the generations to coexist a bit more challenging.
The executives participating in our dinner forum clearly recognize the unique benefits of the Millennial generation and are proactively working to address the challenges. Below is a summary of their perspectives:
|Benefits of working with Millennials…||Challenges of working with Millennials…|
|They are creative and not afraid to voice an alternative position.
They are passionate about work that they believe has meaning.
They challenge the status quo and push others to think about new approaches.
They are resourceful and don’t view any one individual as a content expert because they know where to find multiple sources of useful content.
|They constantly crave affirmation and access to their superiors.
They are impatient and have unrealistic expectations about advancement.
They don’t seem to respect traditional hierarchy or patterns of work.
They are too tied to their devices and seem to lack focus.
During the discussion, a number of interesting solutions emerged, not only on how to “manage Millennials,” but also on how to get the older generations to adapt. Below are some of the highlights:
Deploy multiple mechanisms for obtaining Millennial input. One CEO formed a “young leaders forum” designed to gather input on everything from office space to alternative work arrangements to career development. Another CEO holds a monthly ‘Coffee with Jeff’ as an open forum for listening to concerns and hearing ideas.
Mentor older generations to be better coaches. Most CEOs recognize the importance of the generations listening and hearing each other’s perspectives. It’s not good enough to say, “This is how we did it” or “They have to pay their dues.” Rather, Boomer and Xer managers don’t have to acquiesce but they do have to seek to understand and adapt so that they can tap into the full potential of their Millennial colleagues.
Create and communicate paths for advancement and career development. An important part of this task is accepting that it’s okay to develop employees who might move on. It’s also important for organizations to get more creative about development, including offering cross-training opportunities, identifying short term project and leadership assignments, and providing outside training and education options.
Set context and over-communicate. For Millennials to be most productive, they need context – Where is the firm going? How are we getting there? How do I fit in? – so it’s important to take every opportunity to communicate direction and progress. Some CEOs hold monthly or quarterly all-hands meetings, others use a weekly video blog, and some set up periodic happy hours all with the intent of taking a pulse and communicating.
A Baby Boomer CEO who deployed what we will characterize as a ‘hold your nose’ strategy presented one of the most interesting solutions. Specifically, while he doesn’t always embrace the behaviors of his Millennial employees, he always listens and whenever possible, he adapts to their styles and approaches. Most importantly, he holds them accountable for the results they are producing by asking the right questions. Are our clients happy? Are we meeting our deadlines? Are we producing a quality product?
We look forward to sharing the highlights of our next dinner forum, which will focus on the same topic (Managing Millennials) but will include Millennial managers and staff from the companies that participated in the March 2017 dinner.