Don’t Forget The Strange Creatures In Your Board Meeting

Posted: June 14, 2016

Business leadership should be evolving in this mutable landscape because, if not navigated correctly, it will leave you in a talent lurch.

Business leadership should be evolving in this mutable landscape because, if not navigated correctly, it will leave you in a talent lurch. Investing time in the up-and-coming might make your feel uncomfortable, but they will be your biggest assets. Let’s talk about the how and why.

Identify the new consumer

I work for a communications agency that is obsessed with the growth of our clients. One of the critical factors for our clients’ growth is being able to understand that most of our brands have a new kind of consumer; a consumer that has a different set of values, tastes and responds to a certain kind of dialogue. Therefore, we need to deliver work that connects this ‘new’ consumer, the Millennials, through insights that are based on truth.

Depending on the source, this target group is born between 1982 and 2000. They are also called Generation Y.

Millennials have been widely studied, with numerous surveys highlighting ways in which they differ from older generations. It is argued that Millennials are the worst, most entitled and spoilt generation in the history of humankind.

Time Magazine has even titled them the ‘Me Me Me Generation, who is narcissistic, materialistic and addicted to technology in their ghetto-fabulous lives’.

Even the Urban Dictionary has not been very kind, defining the term Millennial as ‘special little snowflake’ – qualified as ‘a below average kid who is coddled and rewarded for mediocrity, usually by an overprotective mother’.

One can choose to see the glass as either half empty or half full.

The other side of the coin

Howe and Strauss, in their book Millennials Rising: The Next Generation, reveal that this generation demonstrates much more of a positive attitude toward parents and adult authority figures than their earlier cohorts did.

Ivey Business Journal acknowledges that Millennials are well educated, skilled in technology, very self-confident, able to multi-task, and have plenty of energy. They have high expectations for themselves, and prefer to work in teams, rather than as individuals.

It is also recorded by notable companies like Goldman Sachs that Millennials are poised to reshape the economy; their affinity for technology is reshaping the retail space and their unique experiences will change the way we buy and sell, forcing companies to re-examine how they do business for decades to come.

So, if the target audience for your brand is Millennials, ask yourself, “who knows how to appeal to and reach Millennials better than a Millennial?”

Young talent is your greatest asset. They can help you understand the Millennial viewpoint. Involve them in the strategic and creative process and use them as a sounding board for your ideas.

Innovation in leadership

It should start with simply understanding the values that drive them – passion, diversity, sharing and discovery.

The companies that are ranked ‘100 Best Workplaces for Millennials’ by Fortune stand out for their ability to engage this generation, recognise their talents and offer them opportunity to make a significant difference.

As business leaders, perhaps there is something to be learnt here. Instead of investing time on teaching the Millennials ‘our ways’ I challenge us all to open up our minds and make an effort to understand this generation.

This may call for some cultural shifts in organisations. Leaders would be required to evolve their management styles. Instead of getting frustrated by this young generation because ‘they just don’t get it’, leaders would need to see themselves as the ones ‘who just don’t get it’.

If the numerous studies conducted to date about Millennials being ‘the next driving force of the economy’ are to be believed, then we need to acknowledge that as businesses, we have a new set of challenges that call for innovation in how we do things.

And, more positively, we need to leverage the new opportunities presented to us by this generation.

In his Harvard Business Review article, Dan Schawbel highlights that contrary to popular belief, Millennials are workhorses and have a persistent hunger to discover new experiences, take advantage of opportunities and push the boundaries. His view is supported by Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss, where he wrote ‘Some of the negative stereotypes about this generation can be turned into positive attributes when properly understood and leveraged’.

It first needs to start with the senior partners and leaders coming to terms with the widening generational gap between themselves (Baby Boomers/Gen X) and the Millennials.

We need to think of ways to integrate Millennials into the running of our operations and empower ourselves as leaders, for the good of both our clients and our businesses.

There are many creative solutions that can be applied to bridging the generational gap. For example, there are very important traditional management structures like MANCOs and EXCOs that exist, so why could we not introduce a similar committee that is championed by Millennials?

Picture the scenario: a young EXCO is introduced in an organisation. The old and the young generations would start to engage in a kind of dialogue that empowers both sides. The conversation would become an ongoing one involving monthly reporting/feedback sessions with the senior committee

Management would start to become conscious of, and have access to, on-the-ground insights, concerns and opportunities.

Regular feedback sessions to the rest of the employees, hosted by the young committee, would close the loop on old agenda items and open the door to new ones which would be presented to the senior committee at the following session.

Everyone would be empowered.

It should be obvious that companies simply cannot afford to take Millennial talent for granted because in the next ten years, they will become the majority of the global workforce.

So, when there are lengthy boardroom talks and strategies about transformation, remember to embrace the ‘strange’ and dynamic creatures that are working for you. It is for our own good.