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December 28, 2012

Living Up to those Millennial Expectations

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:48 AM


Sometimes a literary or musical movement can define a generation. Bobbysoxers danced to Big Band music. The Beatniks wrote about people who came of age in the early 1950s. Then came rock and roll. By the 1990s, the author Douglas Copeland captured the concerns of the generation born in the late 1960s and '70s in a terrific book called "Generation X." Remember how corporations were suddenly referring to "Xers" in their marketing initiatives?

Now we're dealing with the generation after X. They're commonly referred to as Millennials - those people born after 1980. And they make up half the world's population. We've known about their tastes and purchasing patterns for quite some time, especially if you're in the marketing field. But we're truly dealing with them because they're well out of college and graduate school and their first jobs. Companies around the world are recruiting them to take on leadership positions. They're a discerning bunch. And they're much different from previous generations largely because of one factor: they embrace technology as a part of their work and personal lives because they've never not known it. I once referred to the cultural divide between Millennials and the rest of us like this: Think about the early 20th century, when there was a generation that grew up amidst the automobile. They were too young to remember anything but the horseless carriage.

Organizations are facing that same kind of fundamental technological divide today. Many of us grew up without email, the Internet and instant messaging. Some of us still enjoy writing letters and going to the library to find actual books made of paper. (Never mind that Kindle ebooks outsold paper books last Christmas) Of course,  the Millennials, wouldn't be caught dead without a small stash of digital communication devices at all times. In fact, 96% of all Millennials are hooked on digitally one way or the other. That's why companies need to make sure they're not perceived of as quaint by this large and influential generation that's already come of age. And that's why it's time to ask if our own companies have come of age as well. We can do a lot to make sure our corporate procedures and structures meet the expectations of Millennials. Their expectations might seem a bit picky to those of us born well before 1980. But just think about the gang who thought the horseless carriage was a new-fangled technology. Their younger colleagues probably winced at their reticence to embrace the bold new century ahead of them.

What's important for our businesses is to think about how we relate to emerging innovations like the Cloud. If you don't have a comfortable, working relationship with all things Cloud, Millennials will detect it from a mile away. A company that doesn't embrace the Cloud tells the world - and especially the Millennial talent thinking about working there or doing business with it - that it hasn't thought about a cogent strategy for its future. Also think about that social networking and digital strategy. I have a friend who's a financier at a prominent Wall Street bank who used to love reading a certain business publication. He cancelled his subscription when that publication would only send him print copies. And it would correspond to him through snail mail. My friend shook his head and said that the 1980s were long over. Young, nimble executives from the Millennial generation want to consume information digitally. If that magazine - which was once a very reputable one - didn't have a clue as to who its readers were or that they wanted to receive the monthly issue on their personal digital devices, then how good could their coverage of the financial world be?

How does your company engage with it employees? Is an Intranet set up to enable them to correspond, plan meeting, and come up with new ideas in a virtual space? Employees from all around the world innovate on Cloud-based systems wherever they are on the planet. True, a manufacturer of trains and jet engines might not have needed an interactive Web site 20 years ago. But today, as business leaders, we need to make sure that our Millennial employees understand us and that we understand them.

The pool table and pinball machine that came to  characterize a "hip" company during the late 1990s just don't cut it anymore. There, I've said it!

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