Why We Must Invest In Millennials To Survive

McDermott discusses millennials at tech celebrationMillennials are the future. They are the next greatest generation.

For some people this conceivably bold statement is terrifying. The idea of a generation of “lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents,” also known as the “Me Me Me generation,” running the world is quite a hard pill to swallow. Others are in awe of the transformative trends that are already being driven by this generation and are excited for the innovations to come.

But the focus of this blog is not to join the fierce Time magazine debate about who these young people are and what they want. As a millennial, I could spend all day talking about why these stereotypes are, for the vast majority of the generation, completely inaccurate. Instead, I want to put the myths aside, and talk about why this next generation is a powerful, disruptive force that business and society must accept, embrace and cultivate.

Why is understanding this generation important? Simple, according to a BPW Foundation’s Gen Y study, millennials will make up roughly 75% of the world’s workforce by 2025. Smart companies recognize this trend and understand the need to build a workplace that attracts young professionals and they’re investing in the workforce of the future. I’m proud to say my employer, SAP, is one of them.

Earlier this week, SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott gave a compelling keynote speech on “the next generation workforce” to hundreds of technology leaders at the Northern Virginia Technology Council TechCelebration banquet. I had the pleasure of attending this event, and I watched the room listen closely and took notes as McDermott spoke about the next greatest generation. Inspiring those listening, he challenged the technology industry to channel millennials’ passion and engage them.

Millennials see the world in a whole new way

No single trend has a greater impact on business, government or the role of technology in the world than the emerging millennial workforce. In fact, millennials are the largest purchasing class in the world. As the next greatest generation, companies must seek to understand them if they want to survive.

Here’s what you need to know about millennials:

  • They are the first generation born into the mobile device. According to a survey, millennials would rather give up driving than their smartphone or laptop.
  • They’re very social, producing millions of posts on social media per minute with 53% of them brand related.
  • They are fueling a massive explosion of data, causing data to double every 12 months.
  • They are driven by purpose, rather than professional recognition. A recent study showed, 84 percent of Millennials say they care more about making a positive difference than workplace recognition.
  • They are more concerned that products are built using sustainable practices than packaging or price.
  • They don’t want a job, they want a meaningful career. They want to work for digitized, sustainable, innovative business, not old school companies.

Millennials are the most digital, mobile and social generation in the world. In his keynote, Bill McDermott said, “Millennials are disruptive and creative, and they demand to be recognized in the digital world in a whole new way.”

This young generation’s diverse expectations of employers, the workplace and the market itself are forcing businesses to completely reconsider traditional business models. “Major trends that are occurring in workplace are centered on this new generation,” McDermott stated during his keynote. They will define the future of work into an environment that is highly digitized, mobile, social and of course, sustainable.

McDermott also explained this generation is “dematerializing and demonetizing at a breathtaking pace,” impacting markets in a disruptive way. Increasingly we see products that used to occupy shelf space and market share that have been consumed by technology. Why? Because millennial consumers don’t buy products, they buy experiences and they want easy access to these experiences.

In addition, these young consumers want transparency into how products and services are made. Those businesses that understand this paradigm shift will find themselves completely reinventing themselves, even in the midst of successful products and services. For this reason, almost every mobile device maker is now trying to capitalize on the next biggest idea – wearable technology.

The game-winning strategy

In the next 10 years, millennials will determine whether businesses win or lose the game. So how do you win?

It all comes down to what McDermott calls “disruptive innovation.” Millennials are pushing businesses to innovate – to do things faster, smarter and more sustainably and ultimately change the world. For example, in 2010, SAP was the premier business applications company. Today, 80% of its incremental revenue comes from businesses that we were not in three years ago. It’s about investing in innovation.

Here are the four key ways that McDermott explained that businesses can create cultures that will win:

1.  Reverse curiosity deficit

Consider the number of questions an average child asks. Who is that? Why? How? But by the time these young explorers have completed years of structured education and entered corporate environments, they ask few questions of substance.

McDermott referred this as  the curiosity deficit and stated that it has lingered for far too long. We must turn this around and reinstall curiosity as a core value of business cultures. It’s imperative that we create cultures where asking questions is encouraged and rewarded, where we embrace the why not, where intellectual curiosity thrives and where failure is acceptable. One of my favorite quotes from McDermott that night was “The biggest risk you take is the one you forgot to take, so go for it.”

2.  Build careers

Second, we need to recognize that millennials don’t want a job, they want a meaningful career. To attract this talent, businesses must start searching for talent at universities and investing in them early.

“At SAP, we have relationships with 1,600 universities and we’re educating these young minds on our software innovation, so when they graduate they’re ready for opportunities with SAP, our partners and our customers,” McDermott explained.

3.  Push them early

Millennials thirst for opportunities to lead and to apply their skills to make a difference in the world. They are disruptive and we need to push them into big challenges early. According to McDermott, “Millennials are the future and we have to wake up and get the younger ones to do great things.”

4.  Use the wisdom of the crowd

Finally, we must use social media to unleash the wisdom of the crowds to source better, bigger ideas. Social media allows you to reach out to the world for the next greatest innovation, “If you’re not in the crowd, you are irrelevant,” Bill McDermott advised.

For example, a start-up called Poptent harnesses the engagement and creativity of a community of over 50,000 video creators to literally source commercials for some of the world’s greatest brands. Instead of seven-figure production budgets and lengthy shoots, executives can source some of the brightest young filmmakers for creative advertisements that speak to young consumers. We need to replicate this process inside companies.

The millennial generation is impatient for purpose and they’re passionate, aggressive and ready. The burden is on businesses to recognize their potential, invest in their development and bring out the best in the young leaders. To McDermott, it is without question that millennials are the next greatest generation.

What do you think?

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What are you or your organization doing to unleash the potential of employees, including the millennial generation? Submit your innovative ideas to the SAP Unlimited Human Potential M-Prize Challenge to win. With you contributions, we can help shape the future of business – and create a better run world, the ultimate prize.