Peter Wilson - May 2017
As employees and Directors of a Bank - mastering different generations of customers and co-workers will become a key competitive advantage, and our planning encompasses just that. Much has been made of inter-generational clashes between younger and older workers. For example it’s hard to imagine two US Presidents more different in attitudes and practices than the Gen X Barack Obama and Baby Boomer Donald Trump, but the available evidence indicates that the greatest conflicts occur between older generations, and Millennials born in the 1990s.
As a consequence, many organisations are investing heavily in training their ‘forty plus something’ leaders to better manage Millennials, who have quite different thinking and approaches.
Millennials have different priorities with communications. They prefer to use digital media over face to face exchanges, and become quite annoyed if their electronic questions don’t get answered quickly. Leaders of millennial teams are being encouraged to blend all available communications forms, and not to get sucked into angry responses to annoying follow ups from Millennials.
Further, younger workers like to learn continuously in a flexible and sometimes random way. They acquire knowledge and skill as they go along, and prefer tapping into sources and advice from peer groups, not higher authorities. They eschew formal planned review points and prefer to ‘figure it out’ as they go along.
In addition, Millennials measure their own success by the critical assignments they get allocated, and not from what formal position they hold. If they deliver on top priority tasks - they expect both reward and advancement to be aligned to that expeditiously. This approach requires their leaders to emphasise progress on tasks, and not time based management, and also to provide continuous informal feedback and not to emphasise formal performance management. Effective leadership comes from spending more time with Millennials as they do their work, and also to have the flexibility to stop, post replies and chat when that’s needed.
Millennials also have a strong preference for open systems. They prefer to tap into digital crowd sourced media that will tell them where any project is up to, and also they seek to engage in group brainstorming discussions at critical junctures, that share all data and viewpoints regardless of how confidential that information is, or needs to be. They understand and will respect proprietary competitive information, but not complicated bureaucratic silos within the corporation.
Many older leaders are being advised to take on mentoring roles with Millennials. Two thirds of these older mentors learn significantly from their mentees. Sometimes that means walking away with half a dozen highly valued new apps on your mobile phone that you never knew existed. More often it means getting closer to millennial attitudes, hopes and fears - which enhances the fiduciary stewardship between the two of them in the workplace.
Millennials will break boundaries to explore and source innovative solutions for their employer, to whom they will be professionally loyal. However they expect instantaneous feedback, development and reward against achievements on assignments allocated. They know that a restructuring announced today can take their job away tomorrow. So the ‘quid pro quos’ expected by Millennials are actually reasonable and unsurprising. It’s better to acknowledge and build on that, than it is to fight it.
Peter Wilson AM is a Director of Victoria Teachers Mutual Bank. This article is edited from one he wrote that was published in the Weekend Australian on 12 April this year.