Leadership. Millennials. You will be hard pressed to find more popular topics in HR these days.

As a millennial myself, I must admit that I have grown a bit tired of all the hub bub around my generation and our impact or differences. Perhaps I am the exception, but I never viewed myself as different from my non-millennial peers. As for the differences I have found, I usually chalk it up to being at a different point in my life than non-millennials. For example, many regard millennials as job jumpers or less committed, but of course we will move around early in our career until we find the best long-term path. Again, we are in a different stage in our lives but are not necessarily less committed. Needless to say, I WAS a bit skeptical to write about millennials and leadership; was (past tense) being the key word.

The truth is we are different and the impact on leadership is real. Organizations are exploring how millennials will influence leadership and how to best manage the change. But how are we different and what is the impact on leadership? And what should organizations be doing manage to the change? The remainder of this blog will explore each of these topics further.

Let’s begin with data (thank you digital economy) to ensure we all have a common understanding of the population we are targeting:

  • Millennials make up 1/3 of the current workforce and will make up over 50 percent of the workforce by 2020.
  • Millennials want to be leaders! 91 percent of millennials aspire to be leaders, according to The Millennial Leadership Study, a new survey conducted by WorkplaceTrends.com. Interestingly, of the 91 percent seeking leadership opportunities, more than half are women.
  • Millennials know they are not ready for leadership, but they want it anyway. A poll recently conducted by Deloitte found only 36 percent of current millennial leaders felt ready when entering the role.
  • Millennials want more from their leaders and are impatient for change. According to a study conducted by Oxford Economics in partnership SAP, Leaders 2020, millennials leaders are half as likely to acknowledge manager proficiency in a range of areas including facilitating collaboration inside the organization, inspiring and motivating employees, managing employee retention, and using technology to achieve competitive advantage. They are also less likely to say that leadership gives them ample feedback, organizational culture values employee satisfaction, and complexity and bureaucracy is discouraged.

So millennials are the most represented generation in the workforce. They want to lead and are diving in, but the majority don’t feel ready. Also, they are impatient for change and demand more from their leaders. Yikes! The question is what can we do to better prepare our millennial leaders and build an environment in which they can thrive? Hold that thought!

Before we move forward, let’s explore more about our millennial leaders, their values, and how they will continue to shape leadership. What do we know about millennial leaders?

  • They embrace digital technologies to create a competitive advantage and facilitate innovation and collaboration. No surprise here as millennials are the smartphone generation. They want to be connected and they want information yesterday.
  • They believe in empowering others. Nearly 50 percent of the millennials surveyed by WorkplaceTrends.com define leadership as “empowering others to succeed.”
  • They want to make an impact and work for companies that give back. More than 60 percent of aspiring millennial leaders also surveyed by WorkplaceTrends.com “want to challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement.” Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, says, “They want to do meaningful work that enables them to make an impact at their company and in the world.”
  • They demand career growth and lots of it. Not only do millennials want to lead but they expect to grow rapidly in their career. They want global assignments, they are willing to embark on short term assignments, and they want development.
  • They value an open, transparent, and inclusive leadership style. They look for openness, inclusion, and diversity.
  • They view diversity as an investment and believe companies that cultivate a diverse workforce are better poised to succeed and keep employees happy, according to the Leaders 2020 study.
  • They value flexibility. It is widely known that millennials value flexible work schedules and telecommuting. Interestingly, some studies have found that millennials are concerned that being a leader may disrupt their treasured work-life balance. Something to be mindful of.
  • They are challenging traditional human capital strategies. According to the Leaders 2020 study, “millennial executives question the relevance and impact of traditional human capital strategies deployed in organizations such as the annual performance cycle.” In short, they are very critical of HR practices in their organizations so HR better be focused on value and impact.

The message is clear. These findings should be viewed as a valuable alarm to the business community that they need to change the way they engage Millennial talent or risk being left behind.

HR professionals need to define a strategy to attract, develop, and retain the best millennial leaders. What can your organization do to best manage the change? While I don’t believe there is a one size fits all approach, I do believe there are strategies organizations should take to ensure they are not left behind.

  1. Identify a higher purpose that is bigger than you. Life is not all about profit and balance sheets. Millennials want to make an impact and organizations needs to connect what their people do each day and the impact they make within and outside the organization.
  2. Get Digital…Fast! There is so much focus on digital transformation and although the term can refer to many different and complex processes, the actual meaning is to use technology to increase the value or efficiency of any aspect of your business model. Millennials embrace digital technology and they want the same easy-to-consume, real-time experience at work as they do at home. According to the Leaders 2020 study, organizations that embrace the digital movement see better financial results and have happier, more engaged employees. Bottom line – get digi with it!
  3. Forget the corporate ladder. Create a corporate lattice. Aforementioned above, millennial leaders want lots of development and are on the move. The corporate ladder is gone. The corporate lattice is here. The lattice career creates career paths that move laterally, diagonally, and down, as well as up. Young people want to move around. They don’t want the five year vertical career plan to become a leader. Global rotation programs, international assignments, and special projects are a starting point but continue to think bigger.
  4. Fill the gaps. There will be holes and gaps to fill as new leaders take the helm. Mentoring is one way for new, less experienced leaders to learn the ropes. Some companies have formal mentoring programs in place. However, in my humble opinion, many fall short of expectations due to a lack of governance or unrealistic demand/lack of supply.
  5. Create forums for collaboration and listen. Millennial leaders can see what needs to be improved. Are you listening or taking them seriously? Leaders 2020 found that senior leadership is still reluctant to listen to new ideas and hand over the keys to the next generation of leadership. Don’t let this bias hold you back. Seek out feedback from all levels/leaders in your organization, LISTEN, and include millennials in generating and implementing solutions.
  6. Embrace diversity. Rob Enslin, member of the SAP Board, stated in a recent article, “The power of diversity on your business, and more importantly, your employees, is very real. So when you reimagine your business model, or you look at new markets to enter, remember to look at new skill sets and people too. You need to be prepared to recruit and hire – and continuously develop – the people needed to support your ambitions. Look for the differences they bring to the table.” I could not say it any better. Thanks for the lifeline Rob.
  7. Eliminate complexity/layers. Leaders 2020 found that a flat organization is more important to employees that executives realize. By reducing layers, you are driving faster decision making, creating more transparency across the organization on how and why decisions are made, and can driver stronger communication on how decisions and work align to the company’s overall strategy. Flatter is better.

Bottom Line: Millennial Leaders Will Change Our Organizations and Leadership.

To take us full circle, although I believed there were not many differences between millennials and non-millennials, I was wrong (don’t tell my wife I said that).

Millennial leaders will soon rule the world and their view on the world is different. But as Stephen Covey said, “Strength lies in differences, not similarities.” With that, I am incredibly excited to watch millennials lead our global economy.

Our job as HR professionals is to now make sure our organizations and millennial leaders are ready to lead in their own special way.

Every change brings opportunity.

The question is, “Are you ready?”

Carpe Diem.

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