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Adapting for the Future: 5 Strategies for Successfully Incorporating Millennials

Originally printed: November 21, 2019.


Millennials are like a kaleidoscope — vibrant and fluid, colorful yet eccentric, engaging but sometimes opaque.

Solving the mystery of this unique generation requires norm-challenging and divergent management strategies. In organizations large and small, the arrival of a new generation of employees and managers should accelerate a new generation of thinking about organizational culture.

Some organizations have started making disruptive changes on accelerated timelines and massive scales, but careful study of generational differences — and intentional employee development — is often equally if not more effective.

When making generational change in the workplace, both new and existing generations of workers must understand what came before them, then create a new era of success by combining the best of the present with the best of the future.

To help with that dialogue, here are five strategies to successfully incorporate millennials into an established and well-functioning culture.

1.    Work must have meaning.

Few things are more compelling to millennials than making the world better, closer and more cooperative.

After all, we are the generational understudies of two great philosophers: Barney and Big Bird — both taught the high-minded gospels of caring and sharing. There is a deep and abiding obligation in our generation to think beyond self and align with purpose-driven organizations. UPS is a purpose-driven company that strives to connect the global community. Our mission is to shrink distances between people, enabling closer collaboration between communities and facilitating economic development in markets around the world.

Nothing is more gratifying than creating solutions for small businesses in Africa, Latin America and the developing world — and helping them gain access to a global customer base . Few missions are more meaningful than recognizing the inherent entrepreneurial spirit in underserved populations and problem solving for their inclusion in the global economy.

Millennials understand this critical mission to advance the world-changing logistics solutions of tomorrow in environmentally friendly and sustainable ways.

2. We hate silos. 

An event horizon is a boundary around a black hole where nothing can escape. In other words, it’s a point of no return. A company’s culture can cross an event horizon — and become irretrievably broken — when silos inhibit disruptive change.  Eliminating silos is imperative to retain the best millennial managers and employees. 

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again was once a great maxim, but a new generational ethos exists today, namely: If at first you don’t succeed, try something different.  

Silos are roadblocks to trying something different, and the soul-crushing effects of silos develop during long periods of unhealthy cultural behavior. 

Meaningful change requires cultural transformation, new and dynamic reporting structures, constant development rotations, realignment and sharing of responsibilities — and setting collaborative, cross-functional expectations. 

Like therapy, making these changes fundamental to doing business can help prevent the negative impact of silos.


3. The conversation must be inclusive. 

Good corporate hygiene involves shared input. Like washing hands before meals, soliciting diverse views and providing equal dignity to the opinions of the newest team members is healthy for everyone

Each person should participate in the corporate conversation, and the organization is more valuable when we aggregate the sum of all contributions. 

Doing the opposite calcifies exclusionary habits and creates divisions. We all know that execution without buy-in is not a path for organizational success. Accordingly, millennials need to feel heard and then included in execution. 

Managers should encourage their teams to broaden their circle of go-to employees, making it larger, more diverse and multi-generational. And since a small number of us play golf — and even fewer of us own golf clubs (thanks grad school) — it’s imperative that golf course conversations get a second pass with the team back at the office. 


4. A title does not define us. 

For many millennials, life begins when they leave the office. There is an enormous generational divergence of attitudes on  

this point. 


Understanding work in the proper context of millennial life will reshape corporate training programs, special assignments and other opportunities. While it’s nice to obtain a loftier title, the scope of responsibility and volume of meaningful work are far more rewarding for millennials. 

Many millennials are avid gamers, and gamers invest hundreds of hours in “leveling up,” earning advancement by conquering increasingly complex challenges and reaping greater rewards. A similar approach to career management can inspire equal dedication by millennial employees. 

Recognizing and rewarding good work — rather than focusing on titles and corner offices — right sizes corporate priorities with generational expectations. 


5. We need space. 


Space has physical and metaphysical dimensions.  Millennials need the best physical tools to enable work in the growing spectrum of “offices,” including a mall coffee shop, a friend’s basement, the park,  a train — really any place you  can imagine. 

Work is occurring exponentially on a digital scale, and old notions about “face time” are falling by the wayside — 5G will only further redefine physical office space. 

I once encouraged my experienced team members to work from home on a snow day. They all showed up at the office. 

There is a generational association between physical presence in an office and productivity. The disconnect comes from a historical notion linking trust and investment in the business with the first- arriving, last-departing employee in the office. 

Some equate time in the office with productivity, but there’s ample research that shows remote work enhances productivity. Face time isn’t how millennials look to build trust. 

A more motivating strategy for millennial managers and employees is to empower work in a variety of places and focus on the quality of deliverables as a key metric. 

Trust and proper tools are foundational to unlocking high-performing millennial talent in a multi-generational environment. Take a leap of faith and watch productivity and engagement soar.

Embrace the future. 

Millennials remain an enigma and a delight. The hundreds of articles written to demystify our generation coalesce around at least one truth: We are distinct. 

As corporate teams produce the next iteration of the office, millennial employees and managers will play a key role in defining their success. We’ll rewrite traditional playbooks, make new discoveries, and reshape markets. 

Here’s the question: Are senior leaders ready to let the millennial manager become a change maker? In organizations around the world, we’ll soon find out.




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