When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business

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By Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

A lot has been written about the Millennial generation in the last ten years or so, and to be frank, a lot of it is really not helpful, especially in a business context. So, why is the focus of our new book squarely on the Millennials and the way they might be changing just about every aspect of how we learn, lead and grow in organizations? They just happen to be at the right place at the right time. The Millennials are entering young adulthood at a unique point in our history, where society is poised for a tectonic shift, particularly around business, leadership, and management. There is a “perfect storm” of trends converging in a way that will generate an actual revolution in business – affecting organizations of all shapes and sizes.

Yes, a revolution. Our approach to management has been stuck in a rut—not just for the last few years, but for the last several decades. We have been running our organizations like machines, and today’s lack of engagement and lack of agility to meet the shifting needs of customers, members and employees are indications of how our machine approach to management is crumbling. Add to this the shake-up that the social internet has brought to business and society (that we wrote about in Humanize), and you’d think the revolution would have happened by now.

But it hasn’t. We needed another element, a catalyst that could connect the dots in a way that would bring a much needed management revolution to fruition. That catalyst is the third front in our perfect storm: the Millennial generation.

As the Millennials ascend into management positions over the next several years, they will simultaneously become the largest generation in the workforce. While the Millennials won’t formally “take over” (no single generation ever runs things on its own), they will serve as a kind of “secret decoder ring” for all of us, helping clarify what the future of business will look like, post revolution. Change is coming, and smart organizations will start making the necessary adjustments today to stay ahead.

Our newest book, When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business, provides exactly that kind of guidance. We studied organizations with remarkably strong cultures and conducted interviews Millennials who had been in the workforce for some time. What emerged from our research and feedback from our clients were four organizational capacities that we think will prepare organizations to be successful, both today and into the future:

Digital
Clear
Fluid
Fast.

The companies we found with ridiculously strong cultures had built these capacities into the heart of their operations and philosophies, and the Millennials we spoke to could not understand why these capacities were not woven into every organization to begin with.

Digital

Digital is about perpetual and exponential improvement of all facets of organizational life using both the tools and the mindsets of the digital world. Digital in the Millennial era has an unrelenting and disciplined focus on the customer or end user—including the employee. Millennials are the first generation to have only known a digital workplace, and they are used to being able to leverage that power on an individual basis. Digital organizations break through the assumed constraints of the previous approach to managing organizations, unlocking new value continuously in areas like internal collaboration and even human resource management.

Clear

Clear is about an increased and more intelligent flow of information and knowledge that supports innovation and problem solving inside organizations. Millennials have always had access to more information than they could possibly handle, and they are confused by organizations that control it tightly. Clear organizations make smarter decisions that generate better results. They will successfully build a transparency architecture that makes more information visible to more people to enable better decisions.

Fluid

Fluid is about expanding and distributing power in a dynamic and flexible way. Fluid in the Millennial era is about systems that enable an integrated process of thinking, acting, and learning at all levels of the organization. Since the social internet started distributing power across traditional lines, the Millennial generation now does not expect organizations to task the higher levels with the thinking and deciding, and the lower levels with the implementation. Fluid organizations serve customers more effectively and are more nimble in both strategy and execution. They may still have hierarchies, but they are created and maintained in a different way.

Fast

Fast is about taking action at the precise moment when action is needed. Fast in the Millennial era is about systems that can learn and adapt while still maintaining the efficiency and productivity of the previous era. Beta testing has become normal and expanded outside of the realm of software. We may call the Millennials “entitled” for wanting things right away or expecting more authority, but remember: That’s all they’ve ever known. Fast organizations leap ahead of the competition by releasing control in a way that does not increase risk. They go beyond efficiency and productivity to find the key variables that unlock true speed.

What This Means For You

This is not speculative, theoretical content—this is happening in the world today. One of the case studies in the book is the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, an association in Chicago that has embraced the digital mindset fully, not only investing more in technology than some for-profit companies its size but also redesigning its workspace around the needs of the employees. ASSH and the other companies that we profile are all tremendously successful by traditional measures, and their cultures are so strong that nearly all of the employees we spoke with could not even imagine working somewhere else. These are the positive deviants. They are role models that are showing us that the management revolution is indeed possible.

It is up to you now to continue leading this revolution in business. If you want to become more digital, clear, fluid, and/or fast, then take a hard look at your organization, particularly your culture. You’ll need to make a solid connection between what drives the success of your organization and what is truly valued internally—not the fluffy values statements, but what gets the attention, what gets the resources, what gets people rewards. When you can align what’s valued at that level to what drives your success, you have a better chance of creating a culture that makes sense in this new, Millennial era.