You’ve read enough about Millennials. You probably don’t need this!
There has been enough said about what changed in the world when Millennials were growing up, and what shaped their world view. And the only thing over which there exists a sort of consensus is that there’s confusion in how we understand them. The character description contains answers to their identity, beliefs, values, psychological drives and yet consistently fails to touch upon motive.
Numerous surveys point to insights like Millennials value flexibility in a work place, and that they want to switch in the next two years, but they also want fast growth and meaningful work. Add to that the academicians and thought leaders who talk about terrible parenting, reducing attention spans, poor social skills, etc.
Businesses struggling to barely survive are left in a muddle of unactionable insights beautifully crafted into storyboarded slides or infographics. What do they do with an entire generation subjected to bad parenting? Give them mentors! For flexibility? Go work from home! Want growth? Take this leadership program!
In the age of systems thinking and design thinking, we barely have a consensus over the problem statement. We want to enhance workplace engagement, and that is linked to business results. Fine! But why is it hard to engage millennials. Bad parenting, unrealistic expectations, flexibility, addiction to IT and much more. But, so what? How does all of this impact how they view a career?
I want to talk about the end result - what have we got as a result; so we can start doing something with it.
No matter how absurd or unrealistic their ambitions are, we need to come to terms with the fact that these aspirations exist; they cannot be dismissed. Like everyone else, their individual and collective realities are rooted in perception. We cannot possibly attempt to dismiss or resolve this perception into another. It is what it is. We need to take what we have and do what we can with it.
Once we acknowledge the character as a part of the story, the missing critical element from the story – what is he after (and where does the conflict lie)? Then we can maybe answer how he interacts with the environment to try and resolve that conflict.
A baseline narrative that has been emerging in all my structured and unstructured research is the following dichotomy.
While organizations look at employees as resources to meet business objectives, the employees, increasingly so, are beginning to look at organizations as resources to meet their life goals.
This is what the story boils down to. And herein lies the conflict.
This demands for a new definition of engagement, if we’re trying to better engage millennials. We can no longer only talk about what an engaged employee looks like or what an engaging workplace looks like. The blanket definition for engagement needs to be about the employee-employer relationship.
We need to define engagement as a state of mutual commitment where the employee’s career goals and the opportunities offered by the organization are aligned. And this needs to remain fluid since everyone has varied needs. And with a single person, needs change over time.
An employee who wants to get international exposure will not be engaged working from home 4 days a week.
This is the antecedent we need to work with. This is why repeatedly in conversations with colleagues I say that HR professionals need to study marketing and consumer behavior, not because they are the primary drivers of engagement but because they can be the influencers of the drivers. Marketers wouldn’t discount most of an entire generation as unfit for business.
John Gardner (if you don’t know who he is, watch Jim Collins’ Keynote here) once said: “Beware of the tendency to answer the questions of increasing irrelevance with increasing precision.” For me personally, this one sentence remains the bedrock of critical thinking on management.