Managing millennials: an action plan

By November 10, 2015Guests, Power of the Profession
Managing millennials: an action plan

How do you solve a problem like Maria?”, sing the nuns in musical drama The Sound of Music. For those unfamiliar with the story, Maria’s youthful enthusiasm, imagination and apparent lack of discipline cause concern amongst senior figures at the nunnery. Deemed out of sync with the abbey’s status quo, she is sent away to care for a widowed naval officer’s family.

Maria’s experience got me thinking about one of today’s talent challenges. Like Maria, millennials (those born since the early 1980s up until the turn of the century) are stirring strong perceptions across the preceding generations. Also like Maria, not all the opinions are positive.

Lazy, distracted and unrealistic…

Earlier this year, SCM World published a report, Developing Supply Chain Capability, part of which sought to understand differences in generational attitudes and how any arising challenges might be addressed. What was clear from the data was a perception that millennials have unrealistic expectations around the rate of career progression, while they also become easily bored or distracted and, perhaps subsequently, lack long-term commitment. No doubt the speed with which this emerging generation has been able to access technology and information to make decisions has impacted expectations in the workplace.

Table listing the perceived negative traits of millenials.

But there is good news…

Nonetheless, millennials’ expertise with technology from an early age means they can deliver results rapidly. They are also considered innovative thinkers for whom collaboration comes naturally, either in teams or across functional boundaries.

Table listing the perceived positive traits of millenials.

An action plan for millennials

By 2020, millennials will comprise 50% of the global workforce , so they clearly matter. However, traditional approaches to talent engagement will not suffice for this new generation – nor for the subsequent generation, the digital natives – meaning a change in approach is required to tap into the benefits that a millennial mindset can bring. So consider this five-point plan as you look to integrate millennials into your organisation:

    • Embrace flexible working patterns. Despite negative generalisations around laziness, organisations are turning such stereotypes around to focus on the efficiency of millennials. They may not (wish to) stay in the office for the same duration as preceding generations, but this doesn’t mean that millennials don’t complete tasks effectively. Our study revealed that millennials feel like they’re moving at a more rapid pace than previous generations. Therefore, think about adopting different working patterns that allow them to deliver results at an accelerated pace, while simultaneously offering a platform for a much-desired work-life balance. Ultimately, you’ll create an environment in which millennials WANT to work.


  • Leverage technological expertise and interest. Technology is in the DNA of millennials. But companies have yet to fully exploit this capability, especially at a time when disruptive technologies such as big data analytics and the internet of things are redefining supply chain execution. Organisations should leverage millennials’ aptitude with technology to unbundle the complexities they face on a daily basis.



  • Create team-based assignments. A recent SCM World webinar with WW Grainger reiterated that diverse, team-based approaches to problem-solving are key to motivating millennials. Therefore, consider breaking down large organisations into smaller teams; this will not only create an opportunity for the collaborative approach to issue resolution that millennials desire, but will also play a significant role in making them feel like they’re actively contributing to business outcomes.



  • Feed hunger for learning and development. SCM World survey data confirms that millennials have a creative and innovative approach to problem-solving. Feeding this attitude is a desire to lean, arguably to the point where they are unhappy if not learning. Leveraging this opportunity will depend on whether organisations can establish a culture where guidance and structure align with creative freedom. In turn, talent programmes need to offer open dialogue, recurring feedback and opportunities to learn in a fast-paced setting.



  • Establish a higher purpose. Concerns over loyalty and commitment are clear. However, leading organisations are recognising that dimensions around loyalty have shifted from commitment to a company per se, towards a higher cause. Intel is a good example here, having effectively connected with millennials via its much-admired commitment to conflict-free minerals. Such purpose will prove crucial to attracting and motivating this new generation and, subsequently, driving retention rates.


In The Sound of Music, Maria ultimately wins over the hearts and minds of those initially resistant to her different ways – but not without a change in attitude amongst the story’s more ‘authoritative’ figures. A similarly renewed approach in the workplace will doubtless enable millennials to not only connect with our organisations, but actually thrive and deliver tangible results for the business.


Author Guest

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