“Every 20 years or so, a new generation enters the workforce, and the rest of us, quite frankly, freak out about it,” read the words on page 2 of Jamie Notter & Maddie Grant’s book When Millennials Take Over. If we aren’t willing to call the last two years of incessant focus about millennials a freak out, we can at least agree that this new generation is having a profound impact on the way business is done and run. In his presentation at the Blackhawk Summit in May, Notter explained four trends that shaped millennials and how we can turn this focus from complaining about millennials to understanding and learning from them.
The first inherent truth about millennials is they have been shaped by the social internet. In most millennials’ lifetimes, power in the form of information has always been at their fingertips. Instead of held in centralized institutions, it has been distributed to the general public via the internet. What this means for millennials in the workplace is they’ve always had the power to find information, thus get things done, at their own pace. As the book notes “Millennials may not be the first generation to be frustrated with bureaucracy and hierarchy, but they are the first generation to have been given tools, on a huge scale, to get around them.”
Secondly, millennials in the U.S. have always been living in abundance. The standard of living for U.S. millennials is staggering, where more money is spent on trash bags than 90 other countries in the world spend on everything. This abundance of wealth and information together means millennials expect there to be resources to solve problems. They wonder why organizations continue to use tools that don’t work and continue to do things the ways they have always been done.
Visible diversity in society is another consistent aspect in millennial lives. They expect difference and the culture of mashup, said Notter, and not just in the form of different backgrounds. More information and the financial ability to experience a variety of opportunities means millennials are used to differences in music taste, food preferences and livelihood. Millennials are “ready to color outside the lines”, says Notter & Grant in the book, and they are expecting innovation or they’ll go somewhere else.
Finally, the elevated status of children is the fourth truth for millennials Notter & Grant mention in their book. Yes, Notter said, trophies don’t mean the same thing, but it’s time to get over it. The fundamental change was when we lifted the status of children when they were children and talked to them like little human beings. The lines between themselves and authority figures were blurred and this has caused millennials to expect access and influence at all levels of the hierarchy.
Knowing and understanding these truths about how millennials have come of age is imperative to learning how to work with them and how to have them work for organizations. It is also essential in understanding how they continue to make choices in their daily lives. The remainder of Notter & Grant’s book focuses on what this millennial worldview means in the future. To keep up, organizations must embrace four key capacities: Digital, Clear, Fluid & Fast and let the culture of the organization evolve.