How to Leverage Millennials To Transform Your Company Culture

  • April 20, 2018

Millennials have already been credited with transforming the country’s economic and political landscapes since 2008. With millennials on pace to account for 75 percent of the U.S. labor market by 2025, it’s time to think about how they’ll transform our company cultures next. Amid the swirling tides of change, the solution isn’t to train or recruit millennials to fit your longstanding organizational mold. Rather, the solution is to leverage millennials’ unique priorities, perspectives, and purposes to transform your company‘s culture. In other words, your company’s culture should evolve to fit the influx of incoming workers. In the process, you’ll spur innovation, drive engagement, and cultivate the next generation of leaders.

Reflecting Millennials’ Desire to Be Challenged
in Company Culture

For millennials, career progression is paramount. Seventy-one percent of millennials say they’re likely to leave their company within two years. The main problem? They feel their leadership skills aren’t being developed by management. And about a quarter of millennials say that senior managers are the greatest barrier to innovation. Taken together, many millennials feel traditional command-and-control leadership structures are holding them—and the organizations they work for—back. Challenging millennials isn’t about burying them in work or establishing unrealistic expectations. It’s about developing their leadership skills and empowering them to innovate “business as usual” by prioritizing collaboration, purpose, and other key values. These are elements of the New Leadership Paradigm that can help you build a culture that challenges millennials in the right way.

1. Create an On-Demand Learning Culture Using Micro-Learning Platforms

Gone are the days of employee training being reserved for new hires. Today, team members yearn for constant opportunities to learn and develop new skills. That has led to a rise in micro-learning platforms that create an on-demand learning environment. What does that mean? Third-party micro-learning providers like 21Mill allow companies to offer short online training sessions on various topics at any time. When a need arises for a specific skill, your team members will know exactly where to get it. Creating an on-demand learning culture can benefit individual employees—and your organization as a whole.

2. Build Leadership Development into Your Culture

Tapping only a few promising employees for leadership development leaves a lot of unmined potential in your organization, while empowering all employees to maximize their “human potential” allows you to attract and retain more talent, notes expert on building high-performance workplaces, Michael C. Bush. And at the same time, you’ll enjoy better business results. “In an economy requiring decentralized agility, constant innovation, and authentic encounters with customers, organizations need a workforce of employees bringing their best,” Bush writes in A Great Place to Work For All. That means eliminating gaps in the workplace experience for different team members. It also means using respect and fairness toward all to build a sustainable foundation of trust and credibility.

3. Welcome Diverse Viewpoints

How receptive is your organization to out-of-the-box ideas? Welcoming diverse perspectives that challenge our own allows us to break free from a dominant worldview, authors Jeff DeGraff and Staney DeGraff write in The Innovation Code. The authors, who both specialize in fostering cultures of innovation, write, “The best innovation teams are like bands of superheroes: each member acknowledges and makes use of his or her gifts and talents, but they don’t let those superpowers limit them. They use them at the appropriate moments and then stand back and let their partners take over at other moments.” By creating cultures in which all team members are empowered to use their individual “superpowers,” we challenge ourselves to think differently and open the door for innovation.

Millennials want to be challenged—and they want personal and professional growth to result from that challenge. Transform your company’s culture to foster on-demand learning, leadership development, and opportunities for all to be “superheroes” in order to leverage that desire.

Allow Values to Drive Your Company’s Culture to Promote Purpose

Millennials want to have a positive impact on the world through their work. Some chalk that up as youthful idealism, but from 2013 to 2015, the number of millennials who said they believe businesses should prioritize strategy and impact over profits increased by 12 percent. And two out of three millennials now identify organizational purpose as a main consideration in choosing an employer. To be clear, employees of all ages seek purpose and meaning in their work. However, millennials’ prioritization of purpose over profits has grown stronger over time—and that should be reflected in your company culture.

Why is purpose such an important motivator? Most people want to serve something greater than profits, according to John Izzo, an expert on building purpose-driven workplaces, and Jeff Vanderwielen, a leadership coach and expert in major organizational change strategies. In their book, The Purpose Revolution, Izzo and Vanderwielen write, “Most of us want our work to have purpose—to serve something greater than profits—and we want our legacy to leave a better world for those who come after us, let alone those of us already here.” If a job doesn’t provide purpose, team members are apt to look for a job that does. But there’s good news: Building your organization’s mission and purpose can boost engagement and productivity by up to 13 percent, according to a Babson College study. You shouldn’t have to search far for that purpose, either. Odds are, it already exists in your organization. “Rather than having to ignite your company around purpose, the main goal is to harness what is already there,” Izzo and Vanderwielen write. Talk to leaders and team members about instances in which work doesn’t align with the purpose in their own lives.

A gap between personal and professional purpose gave rise to Berrett-Koehler. Founder Steve Piersanti was working for a successful, California-based book publisher when corporate headquarters told him to lay off 10 percent of his staff. Believing there was no rhyme or reason for the layoffs, Steve refused the order, and he was fired instead. Immediately, he saw an outpouring of support from the publishing community, which he leveraged along with his sense of purpose to “create a world that works for all” in order to launch Berrett-Koehler. Today, our values—stewardship, quality, partnership, inclusion, and sustainability—reflect that initial spark of purpose. And connecting people and ideas to create a world that works for all is our core mission, guiding what we publish and how we operate. This is just one example of how purpose can permeate your company’s culture.

Millennials Blur Personal, Professional Lives—Leverage This to Boost Engagement

In a report by Deloitte, millennials ranked a good work/life balance as the most important factor when choosing a job, but researchers have coined a phrase that might better describe what millennials want: work-life fusion. Technology allows millennials to work when, where, and how they choose. What’s the point of being physically present in an office from nine to five? That might explain why 80 percent of millennials believe that their working lives become more fulfilling as technology develops. And that might also help explain a common misconception that millennials are lazy. In reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The misconception stems from differences in how millennials define productivity—and how and when they prefer to work.

1. Allow Employees to Work Remotely

Being able to work remotely some or all of the time is a big piece of millennials’ desire for work-life fusion. However, just 43 percent of millennials said they’re currently allowed to work remotely. Seventy-five percent said they would like to work remotely more often, and 51 percent said being able to work remotely would allow them to be more productive. As Millennial Mindset Founder Adam Henderson writes, “If you can’t trust your employees to work flexibly, why hire them in the first place? A flexible approach to work helps businesses retain their best talent as they are giving their employees an option to do great work, but in a way that fits their lifestyles, providing a win-win scenario for all.”

2. Invest in the Digital Workplace to Boost Productivity, Cohesiveness

For millennials, technology isn’t an afterthought—but many organizations continue to treat it as such. Given that 80 percent of millennials believe technology makes their working lives better, it’s critical to make investments in the digital workplace. Deloitte describes the concept as “all the technologies people use to get work done in today’s workplace—both the ones in operation and the ones yet implemented.” Investments in the digital workplace can pay big dividends. Deloitte has found that employee productivity increases by 7 percent and employee satisfaction increases by 20 percent in businesses that invest in strong online social networks. Investing in the digital workplace can help transform your company culture.

3. Transition Away from the 9 to 5 Workday

In contrast to the popular assertions that millennials are simply lazy or suffer from an inflated sense of entitlement, Crystal Kadakia, expert on multi-generational workforces, explains that they have actually redefined workplace productivity. She writes in The Millennial Myth that the idea of the nine to five workday is based on the manufacturing era of yesteryear, in which productivity was measured by time. However, Kadakia writes, “In the highly cognitive, complex skills world that we are moving into, I’d like to posit that 9-5 is not likely to be the most productive work structure.” Many millennials actually find sitting in an office from nine to five to be unproductive. “Instead, digitally enabled millennials, who have succeeded through school and work experiences in this information-overloaded world, see taking breaks as part of productivity. They see minimizing stress and distractions as a part of productivity.” Offering non-traditional working hours can not only transform your company culture—it can help boost productivity, too.

The Final Word on Millennials Transforming Your Company’s Culture

As millennials account for a larger and larger share of the labor market in the coming years, they’ll transform our workforces. And change can be a positive thing for your organization. By reflecting millennial needs to be challenged in your company’s culture, you’ll spur innovation and create a pipeline for the next generation of leaders. By prioritizing purpose along with profits, your organization can help boost productivity, while having a positive impact on your community. And by promoting flexibility in your company’s culture, you can reflect the changing definition of “productivity” while improving employee satisfaction, engagement, recruitment, and retention. Millennials are already leading a workplace transformation; use that to transform your company culture. 

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