Notes from the Next Generation of Leaders

by Patricia Wheeler, Ph.D.

All leaders who participate in hiring decisions, pay attention! 
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2010, there will be more members of the Millennial Generation than Baby Boomers in the American workforce. 

The workforce is changing dramatically, says management professor Deborah Butler, an expert on cross-generational issues.  We live and work in environments which require increased global savvy, virtual skill and technological knowledge.  Rapid change is the order of the day, with global mergers, acquisitions and organizational shifts.  We are moving toward more gender parity and cultural/ethnic diversity.  Millennials currently make up over 20% of our workforce, and are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. 

With the retirement of Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and  the pre-Boomer generation and the relative paucity of Generation X workers, by 2010 Millennials (born between 1976 and 1994) will occupy the majority of the workforce. 
As contrasted to Boomers, who as a group tend to be company-centric and driven, Millennials tend to insist on more instant gratification than their predecessors, and are often described as confident, assertive and entitled.  Some refer to them as the “all about me” generation.While Boomers would silently tolerate boring entry-level jobs as a necessary stepping stone to upward mobility, Millennials are less likely to do so, and readily change companies rather than tolerate boredom or stagnation.  Butler posits that the resulting talent challenge is expected to be one of the obstacles to an organization’s success between now and 2020.

I had the marvelous opportunity of spending a few hours with several talented Millennials and took the opportunity to ask them what key issues most concern them as they consider potential opportunities to advance their careers. 
Here are the top five issues on Millennials’ minds as they weigh employment options.  Be warned:  they will not ask these questions directly, but the answers will likely determine whether they will deploy their talents in your company…or with your competition. 

  1. To what degree can I trust you to develop my talents and skills?   One talented manager related her experience of asking for technical training, and was told that there was no corporate budget for training.  Despite her company’s message of valuing the development of their employees, if training isn’t in the budget, it isn’t believable.  When it comes to development, do your actions match your words?  Will you use skilled coaches and mentors to help talented Millennials leverage their strengths as well as identify and overcome blind spots? 
  2. To what extent will this job challenge me?  The most satisfying occupations combine leveraging individual strengths with a strong enough learning curve….neither so flat as to lead to boredom, nor so steep to lead to anxiety.  One Millennial fast-tracker remarked, “Please help me anticipate routine and tediousness, not make me discover it as an unpleasant surprise.”   More than Boomers, this generation is impatient with boredom, especially when they do not understand how it will benefit them. 
  3. How do you honor requests for “next steps” in my career progression?  With flatter organizations, the path upward requires lateral moves.  Millennials want to know how a lateral move will round out their skills and prepare them for taking larger roles.  Help them see the big picture. 
  4. What opportunities will this job really lead to?  As individuals entering the job market post-2000 can expect to have several different careers (not just jobs), they want to know how skills they develop in this position will translate into other positions. And to other careers.  As Millennials are more likely to organization-hop, companies must address this issue or expect that the best and brightest will eventually leave them.
  5. How much will you support my living a balanced life?  Millennials, more than their predecessors, are interested in work/life integration issues.  What accommodations do you make for unforeseen family issues?  What can they anticipate as far as transfers or global assignments?  When is it OK to turn the BlackBerry off without repercussions? 

I asked my Millennial companions what the bottom line for them was.  They quickly replied, almost in unison, “If we’re not happy, we’ll leave.”

Is your company competing for top talent?  If so, pay attention to the above questions. Your company’s future depends on it. 


Patricia Wheeler is the Managing Partner of The Levin Group LLC, a consulting and advisory firm with over 20 years of experience in improving senior team effectiveness, organizational performance, and leadership solutions for CEOs, top executives, and Senior Teams. She spends most of her time working with senior leaders. You can contact Patricia by telephone at 404.377-9408 or by e-mail here.

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