6 Things I’m Learning from Millennials

StrategyDriven Diversity and Inclusion ArticleMost of us have first-hand experience with just how ridiculous stereotypes can be.

I, for example, proudly break the stereotype of the reserved British person by being blunt and speaking my mind; seldom will you find me acquiescing about things I’m passionate about for the sake of English decorum.

While politeness is a stereotype that doesn’t personally cause me much grief, it’s important to remember that many stereotypes are actually quite dangerous—even the ones that seem harmless.

Take millennials, for instance. There’s no doubt that millennial talent represents a valuable asset for the continued success of many companies. However, much of the furor around unlocking the mysteries of millennials in order to win their talent does a unique disservice to an entire generation (and, for that matter, the generations of Boomers and Gen Xers as well) by forcing individuals into predefined silos of what broad groups of professionals are supposed to say and do:

  • Millennials are entitled.
  • Millennials can’t thrive in a traditional corporate structure.
  • Millennials can’t make decisions without everyone’s input.
  • Add your favorite millennial stereotype here.

I’m guilty of falling into this trap myself, but daily interactions with colleagues, friends, customers, and job candidates are constantly shaking loose many of the preconceived notions I have about working with millennials. Here are six things I’m learning.

1. Authenticity Beats Formality
I recently interviewed someone for a key role based in Dublin, one critical to the success of a new product. Eventually, the role will grow to cover the whole of Europe. In contrast to many candidates before her, this woman chose to forego a formal conference call or in-office meeting. Instead, the interview was held on Zoom (which the candidate had just downloaded onto her phone) from a cafe in Dublin. I was impressed with her drive, openness, expertise, and energy—the fact that she was in a cafe on her phone was irrelevant to her obvious competence. Her authentic self and desire to win beat any formality that other candidates may have felt were relevant. She got the job.

2. Matrix Beats Hierarchy
Driven millennials are great at getting the right things done through the matrix—no matter what. A colleague in our Atlanta business center recently took the initiative to enable a product feature that will drive more sales. Pulling this off required matrix management across IS, marketing, customer service, product management, and product development. Despite what might otherwise be a complicated juggling act, there was no hesitation or time wasted in waiting for senior personnel to weigh in or offer approval. Instead, the feature’s execution was handled quickly and efficiently, and when it appeared, everyone loved it.

3. Humility and Raw Ambition Go Hand in Hand
I am lucky enough to know a couple of hyper-successful millennials, one in sport and one in media. Both are internationally renowned; both have had almost overnight success; and yet both show extreme humility despite their stardom. Supportive messages from these people on WhatsApp or Twitter are a frequent sight (How can I help you? Is there anything you need? Really appreciate your feedback!). That’s not to say that these guys aren’t ambitious—they want more, they want to win, and they definitely want to earn big and be well known. They just do so in a way that takes people with them, and shows humility and appreciation every day.

4. Winning at Digital is Not a Millennial Thing
I have learned not to assume that all millennials are social media gurus. In fact, working with small businesses (a major facet of my day job) has shown me that plenty of millennial business owners don’t understand how to use social to market their businesses. Additionally, they often ignore digital business tools (like online accounting) that might help them to accomplish more. The truth is that anyone can adopt a “millennial mindset,” and doing so is essential for success in an increasingly digital world. For example, Richard Branson (who is decidedly NOT a millennial) has always been a fantastic example of someone who knows what it takes to build a brand—which today means taking full advantage to technology to transform your business and connect with customers; ignoring this instantly ages people, regardless of how old they actually are.

5. Diversity-mindedness Connects Us All
No-one knows it all. Human hunger for knowledge keeps us sharing, reading, learning, and connecting. Do millennials want to learn from older people more than those in the generations before them? Hard to say. However, an acceptance of people of all kinds—of diversity—is definitely a key component to the millennial mindset. And this open and inclusive perspective is one that can effectively bridge the generation gap between millennials and their older colleagues—provided that a respect for authenticity over formality, the matrix, and engagement versus top-down communication are shared priorities.

6. Transformation Matters, Logistics are Trivia
Job interviews often end with questions to the candidate and closing statements from the candidate to the interviewer. Here are some real examples of things I’ve heard. Guess who said what:

  • The commute is long—how flexible are you to working from home?
  • What is your take on corporate philanthropy?
  • What is your view on the USP that would enable this product line to leapfrog the competition?
  • What books are you reading at the moment and why?

That’s right – millennials!

For all business leaders looking to discover the secret to the millennial mind, here’s my advice: Millennials are just people—there is no special key to winning their talent or unleashing their abilities. The most important thing I’ve learned is that every person—millennial or otherwise—is nuanced, complex, and undeniably individual. Drive, pluck, and determination are ageless qualities, and those that have them are the ones that naturally rise to the top. That is no secret. If you want to learn what makes millennials tick, talk to them; ask questions; be genuinely curious without prejudice. Who knows what great potential you might discover once stereotypes are out of the picture?


About the Author

Nick Goode is the Vice President Product Management — Cloud & Sage One, Sage’s cloud accounting and payroll solution for start-ups and small businesses. Goode is accountable for the commercial, channel, product and marketing strategy for Sage One worldwide. Goode is previously Head of Sage One for Sage UK, and prior to that, Head of Marketing for the Accountants Division at Sage. His LinkedIn can be viewed at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nickgoodeuk and his Twitter handle is @nickgoode.

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