Just last week I was asked to speak to a group of IBM Millennials from 13 different countries around the world who will be gathered in Singapore to talk about future trends and opportunities for IBM. We call this group the Millennial Corps. I’d previously spoken to this group over a year ago after the opening of Munich IoT Centre, and found them to be both insightful and inspiring.
The exercise of planning what I might say got me thinking… when it comes to Millennials, executives are very quick to hand out advice. What if, just for once, we turned the tables and talked about what we’ve learned from them instead.
So, this is my attempt to share the things that I’ve learned from Millennials, whether they be my two Millennial children, the IBM Millennial Corps members, or a large number of Millennial employees that I come in contact with every day.
The first lesson is around providing regular feedback. Millennials crave constant feedback. The instant gratification provided by social media has created an expectation of continual feedback, versus the once or twice a year approach taken by most companies.
And you can see this in one of two ways. One is that Millennials need constant reassurance that they are doing a good job. Of course, we all love to hear that we’re doing well, but I think this interpretation is too simplistic.
I think the need for regular feedback feeds Millennials’ desire to continually learn and develop their skills. And when you think that people entering the workforce today will have several ‘careers’ over the span of their working lives, this continual feedback/learning loop is actually a very healthy mechanism to ensure continual growth.
The second lesson is around the value of collaboration. Within IBM, creating a highly collaborative work environment is essential in delivering the full value proposition of IBM to our clients. But as someone born on the cusp of the Boomer/Generation X eras, I’ve grown up valuing independence, self-reliance and entrepreneurialism.
Of course, both approaches have their merits. But seeing how our Millennial teams come together in an agile fashion to advance ideas, solve problems and deliver better outcomes has made me more determined than ever to ensure that all of my colleagues, irrespective of which generation they belong, should adopt this approach to working.
The third lesson is around embracing creativity. I’ve always thought of myself as a creative person. But my approach to creative thinking is always going to constrained by my life and work experiences.
So I have deliberately sought out Millennials to provoke and experiment with new ideas. Many of these ideas challenge some of the preconceptions I have about how people engage with information, or are influenced by different mediums, or make decisions, or choose to advocate on behalf of company or a cause.
Each time I try something different – something I would not have chosen to do myself – I learn something new. And I grow as a person, and a professional.
Recently, a friend of mind, Eric McNulty, who is a Harvard-affiliated author and educator, sent me a white paper he’d co-written on Millennials. In it, he said, “With as many as five generations in the current workforce, age diversity is the new reality.” And he added, “Smart organizations will be open to the insights to be derived across generations, encouraging each to both teach and learn from the others.”
This has certainly been my experience. And I look forward to continuing to see what I can learn from the Millennials that I engage with in my personal and professional lives.
Take a look at McNulty’s white paper – it’s a fascinating read.