– Joan Snyder Kuhl
The lack of understanding between the generations and within the organization is real. Today, organizations are dealing with a translation issue. Business has a common language that is somehow being misinterpreted amongst the diverse generations in the workforce. In an effort to find the best solution for bridging this gap in communication, it’s helpful to learn more about the motivators and influences of our youngest generation who will soon dominate the US and global workforce. Millennials (those born in 1980-2000) desire authenticity and respect, opportunities to share ideas, and the opportunity to bring their whole self to work and serve in broader ways. While Baby Boomers share these ideals, Millennials have a higher risk tolerance and, therefore, their loyalty to your organization hinges on the satisfaction and fulfillment of their values.
Imagine Sam is in a product management role. While working with her manager, Sam shares her career goals which include professional pursuits outside her current role: a Master’s degree, new skills, exposure to a different department, and her desire to be more active in the community working with a nonprofit in designing campaigns.
Oftentimes, management will zero in on the tasks and goals isolated to the individual’s role on their own team and push aside the rest. This is a dismissive attitude that at best politely acknowledges or even minimally praises these interests. Without a true investment of time to help Millennials pursue and achieve these outlier goals, the negative impact is quite pervasive. Sam’s approach to sharing dynamic stretch goals is a common attribute of Millennials looking to live their whole self at work. They want to make their personal and professional interests known, not just for the sake of sharing, despite being labeled as the “selfie over-sharing generation.” But they truly believe that achieving a well-rounded approach to life and work equals success and a greater contribution to the world. Millennials express all of their different ideas and passions with the expectation that this will attract respect and understanding from their leadership. For them, the idea is often, “If I can expose you to this information about me, then you can help me figure out what is unique about my skills and strengths, what is so diverse and valuable about my skill set, and then identify opportunities where I could interact and contribute to this team and organization to achieve greater results for all.”
Millennials’ desire to share beyond their job description is done with an altruistic goal of growing the success for the organization and the team members. They want to understand the company’s mission, values, and how their own work can help make a broader impact. This approach is mutually beneficial for management and Millennials themselves. Investing in holistic training and support for younger employees can assist and complement their desire for skill development while helping the organization achieve the outcomes and culture required to keep all employees engaged and productive. With this understanding of the motivators and values of our youngest employees, the next step is to help connect tenured leaders with them for more productive relations and communication.
A new edition of The Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders, by Peter Drucker, Frances Hesselbein and me, serves as a resource and conversational tool to support more effective business planning amongst multiple generations. Peter Drucker wrote the first edition of this book as a tool for organizational assessment and to build a common language for strategic business discussions. It has been, and should be, used to get input, clarify mission, establish targeted results, future planning, and identify our customers’ values.
Peter Drucker was known as “the father of modern management” and an executive business guru. The framework of this simple book ignites discussion throughout an organization. Nonprofit organizations can use this for leaders of all ages. This new edition has a specific focus around young, Millennial-generation leaders to expose them to a broader framework in areas where they may not have been educated, in order to see the full strategy within the organization. In addition to contributions from Jim Collins, Marshall Goldsmith, and Judith Rodin, the book features new insights from some of today’s most influential leaders in business (GE and Salesforce.com), academia (Harvard Business School and Northwestern University), social enterprise (Levo League, Pencils of Promise, and Why Millennials Matter) and the military (United States Military Academy), who have been directly influenced by Drucker’s theory of management. The five simple questions elicit profound responses, which can generate dynamic discussions amongst team members. It remains a timeless resource that is tangible and easy to use for experienced leaders to bring multigenerational teams together, and also those who have diversity of role in nonprofits (staff, board members, volunteers, etc.).
My company, Why Millennials Matter, partnered with Barnes & Noble College on a nationwide study to uncover what motivates, influences and matters to students as it relates to their career, garnering student respondents from two- and four-year colleges and universities across 44 states. Over 17,000 open-ended responses were submitted, citing personal stories about their motivation and the greatest influences on their career goals.
92 percent of the more than 3,000 students who responded identified “personal fulfillment” as the top indicator of career success, far above financial rewards and public recognition. “Making a difference” trumped money, status and power, showing that they want to see a real connection between their work and their values.
If we are going to bring our generations together in such a way that all feel that their contributions are valued, then we need to recognize both the similarities and the differences. There are absolute commonalities:
- All generations want authenticity and respect.
- All generations want the opportunity to contribute ideas and see the impact they are having on the company or community in which they are serving.
But Millennials have been the loudest and most vocal in expressing this because they have had a larger global platform to do that via social media and the internet, in general. The differences come down to the expectation of Millennials who will demand that this be a priority for their employers in every sector. They see no other way on the path to innovation but being part of an organization that is inclusive, diverse, and puts its people first. It’s not just words on a plaque in the company lobby. For them, you must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If your day-to-day operations do not match your recruiting message, then they will have one eye on the door from the second they walk through it.
Engaging employees of all generations is important, but investing time with Millennials through mentoring, training and leadership development will unleash a new wave of innovation and creativity. The future of your business is dependent on how you approach this next generation of leaders.
Joan Snyder Kuhl (@joankuhl) is an international speaker, author of First Globals: Understanding, Managing, and Unleashing Our Millennial Generation, and a lead author and editor for a new edition of Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders, focusing on the Millennial generation. After a decade of mentoring and coaching thousands of Millennials from around the world to help them achieve their potential, Joan launched Why Millennials Matter, a Gen-Y speaking and consulting company that focuses on raising awareness to employers about the value of investing in their future workforce and the Millennial customer segment.
This article is reprinted from Vol. 2, No. 1, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!
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