Millennials. It’s almost a derogatory word when you say it out loud. I’m sure you’ve heard phrases like “millennials are so damn lazy” or “they just don’t care, are selfish, and only just want to get their work done”.
I was onsite with some customers last week where we talked about this topic in great detail. It was an older company that has a new age brand, creating an environment where their workforce spans 3 different generations. We were meeting with more senior management where, as you’d expect, they were older. Most of their employees ranged from 21 to 35 in age and they shared the same complaints as everyone else we’ve ever talked to.
It seems like each generation loves to hate and shit on each other around their work ethics with very little empathy towards the other. I’ll be honest, I’ve done the same around my own generation (I’m a millennial) when I get frustrated with their lack of commitment or work ethics. It’s true, we were spoon fed a lot and everything we want has largely been given to us “on demand”. We grew up in the age where if you wanted to get an answer to a question, you didn’t need to go to a library or ask a bunch of wiser people – you just go to Google.
This creates an interesting dynamic where if you know how to search for what you’re looking for and can quickly comprehend information, you can punch well above your weight quickly. I see this creating discourse between them and the older generations where their mentality is largely around getting years of experience before you can say certain things. It’s also why our generation wants to constantly know the “why” around our work. We question because we think we have better answers than the older generation who says “because I’m the boss, you’re going to do what we need you to do”.
Now, I’m making some big generalizations here but I’ve talked with enough senior members of organizations across many industries to feel that there is credence in what I’m saying. What now gives me pause is a conversation I had with my colleague in design where he said an amazing quote. I’m paraphrasing a little but the gist goes like this:
New generations coming into the workforce are hyper energy conservationists. Since they grew up in a world where they have 100’s of services vying for their attention, they treat their attention as a privilege. When this enters the workforce, they question the validity of everything they do because if they don’t understand the “why”, they correspond that with wasting their attention and, thus, a loss of energy.
Interesting, right? Energy conservationists. I believe it too. I find myself in this situation all the time where I have senior leaders pushing me to do something that I think is ridiculous – so I fight them. I gather the data and present the case as to why this is “dumb” to do. When they over rule me, I give that particular work effort as little attention as I possible can, creating a lack of quality. Funny enough, my employees and engineering teams do this as well.
Why? Because we want to spend our energy on what we deem to believe the highest return on our energy spend. I fundamentally believe this is why the OKR framework is starting to take off. Because OKRs can shed light on what is the most important work efforts, it allows the newer generations to focus and perceive that their energy truly is going towards a single effort.
Going back to a point I made earlier, there is a lot of consternation in the workforce between older and younger generations because of the perceived ability to acquire knowledge at a rapid rate. The speed in which we can access critical data, crowd source an opinion, and create an reasonably well thought out opinion on a particular topic that we have no training on is astounding. The younger generations are so effective at this that it makes them not trust their leaders when they think they smell bullshit. It’s also the reason why they are quick to challenge opinions, creating the perception that they are “lazy and don’t want to do the work” or “self entitled”.
The reality is that it’s probably a mixture. Their opinions probably have some credence but in lieu of the older generation clearly communicating nuances and experience with data sets to back it, the younger generation perceives the older generations attempt to override their opinion as disingenuous, creating a large lack of trust between the two. It’s largely why only 9% of the workforce believe that their work matters and that they care about it. I believe it’s also a large reason why younger generations switch jobs more frequently than their older ones. They just don’t put up with what they think is bullshit. 60% of workers leaving or looking to leave cite that it is because of their boss. I’d be willing to bet that the sub-reason is that they believe their boss is incompetent, a poor communicator, or doesn’t know how to lead.
The exceptional leaders who are able to retain their employees are the ones who can tell stories, have the data to back their opinions, and have the soft skills to bring along folks throughout the journey. It’s not longer good enough to have a title because, the reality is, everyones opinion is up for debate. Even the CEO. The most effective leaders will provide focus, mappings of work efforts to outcomes, and provide education through story telling to their employees. They will build trust and relationships with their employees, creating a sense of kinship instead of something that is transactional and inhuman. Bosses who come off as robotic and “all business” will lose the trust of their employees.
It’s been an interesting journey and privilege to be able to interview and research with many of these top leaders in the Fortune 500s. While every industry is different on the surface, the process and people are insanely similar. No one organization has a snowflake operation and every one of them share the same problem sets. Interestingly enough, the problem sets are getting distilled down more and more to being problems with the people; largely the problem with everything I stated above. I’ll continue to write about these transformations and problem sets as I interview these folks. Hopefully, some of the learnings and key insights will be of use to folks who are trying to figure out how they transform their business. Distilling down the problems are simple. The answers are actually pretty simple. The action to get there is much harder. Perhaps I’ll write some thoughts about that next.