"Millennials may not be the first generation to be frustrated with bureaucracy and hierarchy, but they are the first generation to have been given the tools, on a huge scale, to get around them."
We are hearing more and more about the increase of millennials in the workplace today. This generation, born between 1982 and 2004, is often derided for being too highly influenced by their parents, too demanding and needing to learn a thing or two about the way the working world “really” works. But as we read in When Millennials Take Over: Preparing For The Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant, it’s the older generations who have something to learn from millennials. With their natural affinity for rapid pace, and ability to optimize the tools and resources they have grown up with at their fingertips, it’s the millennial generation who will lead the way for truly transforming the way we work.
In their book, the authors outline the disruptive changes impacting organizations today, and describe how millennials are one piece of a three-part “perfect storm” influencing significant changes in our workplace. The authors argue that when the changes to “century-old management styles” combine with the juggernaut of the social side of the internet and the millennial mindset, we have the catalyst that will finally create widespread changes to the way we work.
By adopting the millennial mindset, organizations can greatly accelerate the pace of work, with changes to the way we control, access and share information as a key element influencing our overall pace.
Make Speed A Competitive Advantage
"If you feel in control, then you’re not going fast enough."
Throughout the book, it’s clear that improving pace within organizations is a critical factor in achieving success in today’s rapidly changing world. Fast pace is something that millennials have always had, as they get quick answers from Google or immediate responses from their network via social and digital channels.
The authors identify four key capabilities that, when leveraged, can have a significant influence on an organization’s ability to increase the speed of work, from idea generation to decision-making, to how quickly individuals can respond to customers.
At a high-level, these four capabilities include:
Digital Optimizing the use of digital tools to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
Clear Adding visibility and transparency as information moves through an organization to improve decision-making.
Fluid Extending power from centralized control into all levels of the organization, so that important work can happen at all levels (not just at the top).
Fast Releasing the control, whether of information or activities, without increasing risk, in order to allow work to happen when, where and as quickly as needed.
“Remember that true organizational speed is a deep capacity, not just a momentary focus on moving more quickly,” the authors remind us.
At the core of each of these elements is information; specifically, improving how people access the information they need, and are able to incorporate it into their work.
However, adopting a millennial mindset won’t be easy for everyone. As we learn from the book, there are existing factors that may hold some of us back.
The Myth of Control
"Millennials have always had access to more information than they could possibly handle, and they are confused by organizations that control it tightly, since that approach just didn't produce results in their world."
We need to accept the fact that limiting, controlling or hiding access to information is a significant barrier to increasing speed in organizations. Many leaders have wrongly held on to information, thinking it makes them more powerful, but this outdated way of thinking is holding people back from making fast decisions and quickly implementing solutions to problems they face.
According to the authors, “Fast organizations leap ahead of the competition by releasing control in a way that does not increase risk.”
Millennials have never had to wait to receive information; instead, the skill set they’ve learned is how to process information effectively, given the abundance of information they have always had available to them. Limiting the access to information, or delaying when they receive it, is frustrating and unnecessary.
In the book, the authors give the example of General McChrystal, retired general of the United States Army, who declassified a significant amount of military information so that army personnel at all levels could use it. If the army can let go of control, undoubtedly we can too.
Don’t Wait For Permission
"Millennials have blurred some of the traditional boundaries between themselves and authority figures."
As a customer, when you send a tweet to the CEO of a company about an issue with their product, and they reply, you’ll expect a similar response from the CEO when you raise an issue as an employee. Our old notions of limited access to leaders are rapidly disappearing, and we need to be prepared to offer the same degree of access internally as you do externally.
I loved the rallying cry from the authors towards the end of the book. They encourage us to stop waiting for permission, and understand that we have the ability to influence organizational change ourselves. Yes, the CEO needs to “actively choose their culture, or it will be chosen for them”, but we can’t sit back and wait for change. Let’s do our own analysis, and figure out how to improve the flow of information needed to accelerate change within our work, and begin to influence widespread change from there.
This book is a wake up call for organizations to recognize that the workplace changes we’re desperate to create in this age of disruption are also what come very naturally to the millennial generation. Let’s start by learning from them and acknowledge that guidance and influence can happen at any level of an organization.
Too often, we see leaders today who are dismissive of the millennial generation, or worse, that some of their preferences are simply fads. Instead, we need to look at this group of new leaders as innovators, and leverage their ideas to improve the way we work. Organizations that learn from millennials in order to embrace disruption, release control, and focus on improving the flow of information are the ones who will truly be successful in this next wave of change.
Whether you are a millennial or working closely with them, what are your thoughts on how millennials are influencing changes to the way we work?