At Vantage, one third of our firm are members of the Millennial Generation (arguably, those born between 1984 and 2000).  This is a good thing since we are dependent upon them to become the leaders of our firm’s future; this is something that we undeniably have in common with organizations across the globe.

As a Generation Xer, I must confess that I am sometimes surprised by what my Millennial colleagues do.  For instance, they might communicate important things (i.e., requests for a raise) via emails that are addressed to several people.

This example is striking to me because it seems so different compared to how I (or my contemporaries) acted when we were towards the beginning of our careers; I would have approached my boss, in person, to discuss. These types of apparent differences are especially disconcerting to my Baby Boomer colleagues.  One of these Boomers, feeling a bit cheeky perhaps, recently quipped, “No one under 35 ever says thank you”.

Is it true that no one under 35 ever says thank you? No. Can it feel true? Apparently. Is this so much grumbling? Probably.

Does it underscore a valid perception of differences in perspective and communication across generations? Certainly.

Yesterday, one of my clients, my age (48), shared that he was struggling to understand how to get the most out of a “Millennial” colleague (a label that he used as shorthand to key me into other assumptions and set the context).  He said that her need for “instant gratification” was making it difficult for him to set reasonable expectations about how her contributions would make her a candidate for advancement at their company.

Generally, I find that this sort of exchange is a legitimate one if the discussants are older than 40 years old; otherwise, such comments tend to be received skeptically and with rolled eyes.  All of this is understandable to me: some of us are confused about what to do, and few people want to be stereotyped (i.e., as lazy and entitled); same as it ever was.

Are Millennials lazy and entitled?

As a generation? No. Some are, but so are some Xers and Boomers.  You won’t hear us use a word or phrase to describe an entire generation of people. Further, such stereotyping is dubious; as much as there are commonalities, everyone is unique.  More importantly, will anyone be asking this question about Millennials in ten years? Unlikely, although Millennials may be asking it about Post-Millennials because each generation tends to struggle to understand their younger counterparts! In reality, this is not a very productive question.

Are Millennials’ motives and needs different from other generations?

Perhaps. Management Research Group has conducted and will soon present research that suggests Millennials have higher needs for affiliation and teamwork, are more informal and outgoing and operate with a higher level of intrinsic motivation.  If these findings continue to be verified, then such differences matter, especially in the context of leadership development.

Most importantly, the world that the next generation of leaders (first, Xers, and then very quickly, Millennials) will operate in is likely to differ remarkably from what we’ve experienced over the past 10 years. For example, how many Fortune 1000 companies will experience the same changes in ownership, strategy and structure as Burger King? What will the future require of such leaders, and what generational differences do we need to pay attention to now in order to help them be ready when they are tapped on the shoulder and asked to shape the future?

As Peter Drucker has written, it is most important that Executives focus on opportunities, not problems. We are best served by embracing the transition to the next generation in a way that accelerates the development of managerial skill, the capacity to lead, and creating organizational and societal value and, increasingly, meaning and purpose.

In 2017, we will commit considerable effort and attention to better understanding what the expectations of the workforce are moving towards, why they matter, and what time and effort is best expended to develop, engage and enable the next generation of leaders to thrive. Here is a sample of topics we’ll tackle:

  • What tactics will best help Millenials, Xers and Boomers communicate, collaborate, prepare for succession and execute transitions to ensure leadership continuity and organizational effectiveness over the next 5 years?
  • How do we discuss generational differences in a way that is inclusive and productive, and not divisive? After all, harping on “what’s wrong with these kids today” won’t do much good when “these kids” are increasingly operating in the C suite.
  • How do we get better at anticipating the environment that next generation of leaders will be leading in and creating the conditions for their success?
  • How will organizations win the war for talent?

Stay tuned!