In Part 1 of this series, we highlighted the influence and attributes of today’s Millennial workforce. Through an illustrative dialogue between Frank (a Baby Boomer) and Melissa (a Millennial), we also highlighted the complexity that can accompany different generational working styles. Perhaps you’ve overheard (or even had yourself!) a similar conversation with a colleague. Both generations have valuable inputs and perspectives. So then why aren’t more companies taking advantage of their respective strengths.
Some companies take what is known as the “organic” approach, and others the “proactive” approach. In the “organic” approach, companies utilize a laissez-faire mentality and let the employees develop solutions on their own. The “proactive” approach is a more deliberate method which involves setting up formal constructs to solve problems.
Unfortunately, while most companies may acknowledge the differences in working style among their workers, they don’t undertake any deliberate steps to bridge the gap. They allow those gaps to be closed organically. On the other hand, some companies are taking a proactive role in helping Millennials and other generations learn from one another; these companies are more likely to experience success in the long-term.
Option #1: “organic” vs. Option #2: “proactive”
The organic approach allows team members within the environment to work out the differences for themselves without organizational interference. In this approach, Baby Boomers and Millennials work together organically to see if they are able to learn from each other without additional training or guidelines.
However, there are many potential cons for the organic approach. It lacks fail-safes to address potential inter-personal challenges, and team members may find it difficult to work together. Left to their own, Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers or Millennials may not learn from each other in the absence of guidelines to assist in developing the necessary skills.
A more effective approach is to develop a proactive series of organizational interventions, focused on team building, common understanding, mentoring, and training. For example, one technique is to establish an inter-generational council including both Baby Boomers and Millennials to create an open dialog around personal values, goals and ideas. This type of group can also help establish a plan and metrics to create a more effective intergenerational culture.
That’s not to say that the proactive approach is without its own risks. This approach will involve greater organizational buy-in, time away from employees’ day jobs to help manage the change (e.g. to send out communications, develop new materials, execute trainings and so on), and potentially a need for external resources depending on the magnitude of the project(s).
Which option should YOU choose?
In our example, Frank and Melissa’s company defaulted to the “organic” option. The below exchange between the two employees illustrates the unproductive result.Frank: “Now, don’t get me wrong, Melissa – I appreciate the extra work you’re putting into this project. But we already have a list of go-to suppliers who are very capable of handling our request. Let me just give you a few names and we can call it a day.” Melissa: “Frank, I’ve already looked at those “go-to” suppliers. Take your suggestion, Démodé Design Studio, for example. Their website is outdated and contains very little information – it’s not even responsive. And every time I want to look at a case study, I have to download a PDF.” Frank: “Look, they’ve worked with us for years and they will speed up our process simply because they have so much experience and all our brand assets on file. We’ll go out to lunch with them and I know you’ll be convinced.” Melissa: “That doesn’t seem to be the exhaustive approach. But more importantly, we need new suppliers who can offer different, more forward-thinking capabilities. In my book, Démodé Design Studio and others like it simply are not viable partners for our business anymore.”
The big change
Now let’s turn to a real life example of a company that epitomizes the proactive approach: General Electric (GE). The company has had challenges attracting Millennial engineers to its software division while competing with the Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Facebook, and Apple. In order to better engage this subset of employees, GE decided to eschew the traditional annual performance reviews for more frequent touch points and feedback.
’The world isn’t really on an annual cycle anymore for anything,’ Susan Peters (GE’s head of human resources) told Quartz. ‘I think some of it, to be really honest, is Millennial-based. It’s the way Millennials are used to working and getting feedback, which is more frequent, faster, mobile-enabled, so there are multiple drivers that said it’s time to make this big change.”
The GE case study clearly illustrates a successful ‘what’ and ‘how’ problem solving approach. As it relates to fostering a more dynamic and inclusive workplace, the ‘what’ is the specific subject area to be addressed. Is it hiring and recruiting that needs to be rethought? Is it conflict management that causes the tension? For GE, their ‘what’ was performance management and feedback. Whatever the ‘what’ is, make sure there is actually a causal relationship between the ‘what’ and generational dynamics.
The ‘how’ is the channel or medium through which the ‘what’ is accomplished. In this example, GE solved the ‘how’ problem through developing a mobile app. What other ways could GE have addressed their perceived problems with performance reviews? Maybe they could have increased the frequency of the annual review or maybe they could have entertained the idea of peer-to-peer and 360-degree feedback reviews.
The point is that for every ‘what,’ there are multiple ‘hows’. It’s up to you and your organization to determine which ones fit best.
It’s not just for show, either. Millennial talent is drawn to companies who acknowledge and go the extra mile to demonstrate their dedication to a welcoming workplace. An article written in Inc. agrees that “Millennials are just as driven by the why as they are by the what. They need more than a bottom line to motivate their work; they must feel holistically motivated, inspired, and engaged, and must know that their work contributes to a greater purpose.”
These “Millennial-friendly” companies are more likely to encounter success, for example, when conducting campus recruiting. Moreover, Millennial- friendly companies experience less attrition. An article published by LinkedIn states that “...millennials decide to quit because of limited advancement opportunities, unmet needs, low team morale, and unhealthy work environments.”
The consequences of not preventing/treating these issues are staggering: “Turnover costs can easily range from 50 to 150 percent of an employee’s salary.”
How do you maximize the potential of Millennials in your organization? In the third and final installment of this series, we’ll deconstruct the steps and activities that can inform your strategy. Now that we’ve addressed the respective risks and benefits of each option, we’ll share our case for taking the proactive approach.
This blog was co-authored by:
Sean is a Senior Consultant in the Digital Strategy practice and is based in San Francisco, California. He has experience across a spectrum of industries, including telecommunications, life sciences, and ecommerce and is most passionate about (digital) customer experience.
Tristan is a Senior Consultant based out of San Francisco. He has experience in financial services, high-tech, and life sciences. He is interested in innovative strategies through the use of digital.