The Generation Gap. It has existed since people have existed. With the advent of technology, however, the gap has widened considerably between the “Baby Boomers” (the established leaders in today’s business world) and the “Millennials” (the next generation of business leaders).
Technology has changed not only how we work, but how we communicate, how we live, and how we define our purpose in the world in which we live.
One of the greatest challenges in the workplace today is for these two groups to understand each other and work together. And one of the frustrations I hear often stems from when an established Baby Boomer hires a Millennial with the expectation that they will easily adapt to the company culture. It does not happen easily, and here is why.
Clear Lines of Authority
Millennials are typically those born in the 1980’s through the millennium. Unlike previous generations, they grew up in more single parent homes and homes where both parents worked. Whereas Baby Boomers grew up with established lines of authority, Millennials grew up with more autonomy than authority. Then they graduate from college (more in this generation than any previous generation), and we suddenly put them into a business setting that is all about hierarchy and levels of authority and accountability. The structure totally disrupts their accustomed autonomy.
Connections and Communication
The Millennials are a more connected generation than ever before, and yet the irony is, they are also a more disconnected generation. Communication beyond the level of social media can be dauntingly uncomfortable. Face to face interaction in a business environment can be challenging.
Conformity and Commitment
Whereas Baby Boomers tend to define themselves by political affiliations, religious affiliations, relationships, or other common values; Millennials are non-conformists. They are more individualized. Conformity and commitment are foreign ideas to them. When you put them into a corporate environment with a dress code, policies, and procedures, it can be an unfamiliar concept. And expecting them to stay in that same environment for ten, twenty, or thirty years as previous generations may have done is a level of commitment that feels like strangulation.
These are the big “C’s” of traditional business. It is clear why Millennials would be experiencing culture shock.
So what does it take to work with Millennials?
Realize the big “C’s” of traditional business are foreign ideas to them.
Does this mean you throw out all policies and procedures and allow for complete autonomy within the company? Does it mean you make all positions equal in expectations and pay? The answer is, “No”. Some have tried that approach and are finding it has its own set of challenges. The answer lies is “bridging the gap” – in understanding the Millennials’ need for some autonomy but allowing that within accepted standards that are set for the company. It may mean creating a flexible work schedule and location differential, within defined parameters. It means helping them learn real life communication skills – and it also means asking them to teach you about the online world of communication. Both are necessary.
Respect the “Millennial C’s”.
Cause – There is an undeserved stereotype regarding Millennials – that they are not good workers. I know many Millennials (my daughter is one, in fact), and they are some of the most dedicated workers I know. The key is to let them work on a cause. My daughter recently was awarded the “Living the Mission” award from her company. If you employ Millennials, share the company mission with them. Let it be their cause, and you will be amazed at what they do to make it happen.
Creativity – Millennials are highly creative, and they know how to use technology to create amazing things. Provide a working environment that allows for creativity. Big corporations are known for sterile cubicles. They talk about “thinking outside the box” but do not actually accept new ideas. Be a leader who not only talks about thinking outside the box, but one who also listens to those new ideas. Think about the most profitable companies in the world today. Many were started by Millennials who were allowed to express their creativity. Millennials like entertainment, fun, and adventure. Boring work is…well…boring. If it is boring to Baby Boomers, it is intolerably boring to Millennials. Establish an environment of serious work that is also enjoyable, and you will have a win-win situation.
Collaboration – Millennials have grown up in a very sports-oriented society. In school, they learned to work as teams. And even in the home, the parent-child relationship has become more collaborative as each shares responsibilities. Rather than give orders, give direction…and let your team collaborate to get things done. You may be amazed at the results.
Connections – The Millennial generation is all about connections. Engage their ability in this realm when seeking connections for certain areas of expertise or information. Finding resources and information quickly is innate to this generation.
Convenience – Millennials have grown up with a great deal of “convenience” – everything from food to internet access is delivered fast. There is nothing convenient about the old corporate model at all. Quarterly Board meetings and Board books that no one reads anyway are old school. Baby Boomers would do well to collaborate with Millennials for ideas on how to make the corporate ship more nimble in its processes and structure. Making informed decisions is critical…but making informed decisions quickly is profitable.
So who is right in the business world today: Baby Boomers or Millennials? The answer is, “Neither.” The answer is also, “Both.” The answer lies in working together, each group learning from the other, to develop the best of both worlds.
Deb Ingino is an expert in the realm of team development training. Her proven record of expertise with companies in America and abroad prove you can get results with a collaborative team – and, in fact, you can achieve major success by relying on those collaborative strengths. For more information on how she can help you and your team achieve this kind of success, contact Deb today.