One of my recent work-related research topics is the recruitment and management of millennials. If you’ve been on the Internet in the past few years, you know there is no shortage of articles and blog posts dedicated to this subject. New ones are churned out hourly. Millennials are a big deal for marketers, recruiters, and managers. They offer so many opportunities for growth and innovation but they are like strange little beings fallen to Earth whose behaviors we must study, so that we can learn to harness their awesome powers of adaptability, social connectivity skills, and knack for figuring out techy things like the iPods and the Tumblr. Or so some of the articles say. Really, millennials aren’t that strange and, in many ways, they aren’t that different from their predecessors—but they do have different expectations for job engagement and job satisfaction that hiring managers should be aware of.
Millennials are often discussed in relation to baby boomers and Generation X. The start and end dates of these categories are a bit fuzzy at times. By some accounts, I’m a millennial, but by most of the others I’ve read, I’m an Xer. I tend to think of myself as an Xer and will, for the sake of this blog, keep myself in that category.
You may wonder, as I often have, why we need these categories. Aren’t we living in a post-category society yet? On the great space-time continuum, aren’t we all just a cluster of specks seeking employment, food, shelter, the usual, in much the same way? However, after spending some time researching this topic, I began to see that there are valid reasons for the amount of time spent analyzing millennial needs and behaviors: Organizations have finally realized that the future is a thing you have to plan for.
The current near-obsessive interest in millennials has everything to do with succession planning. What is succession planning exactly?
Succession planning is a process whereby an organization ensures that employees are recruited and developed to fill each key role within the company. Through your succession planning process, you recruit superior employees, develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities, and prepare them for advancement or promotion into ever more challenging roles.
Actively pursuing succession planning ensures that employees are constantly developed to fill each needed role. As your organization expands, loses key employees, provides promotional opportunities, and increases sales, your succession planning guarantees that you have employees on hand ready and waiting to fill new roles.
It’s sad to think that we will move on, retire, be cryogenically frozen, move to off-world colonies or whatever in the future but it’s inevitable. If we care about the future success of our organizations, we have to instill our mission and values in our future leaders: millennials. (Don’t panic).
Millennials are already well-established in all the fields. Also, there’s A LOT OF THEM. They are working with people who are their parents’ age, or older in some cases. One study I read claimed that 12% of employed personnel are over 60. This number shocked me, or would have, if I hadn’t noticed this happening within my own field years ago.
My field, information science (or library science, depending on which side of that debate you fall on) is full of millennials now. But it’s also full of Xers. And baby boomers. The rash of retirements that was predicted when I first entered the field? Well, those didn’t happen so much. The good news is, we have such a wide variety and wealth of experience spread across the generations in our profession. The bad news is, there is sometimes tension between the older “conservators” and the younger “innovators” and a sometimes daunting technology gap. We need the knowledge the experienced conservators have and the creativity of the young, fresh innovators—and all of us need to be tech savvy. What I mean by tech savvy isn’t a near-genius level understanding of computer science and Jedi-like coding skills but a willingness to learn and adapt to new technologies. Millennials are extremely adaptable and willing to learn new things. Xers and boomers take note: millennials may be able to teach us how to be better at this.
Studies indicate (as does personal experience) that Boomers and Xers are slower, and more reluctant, to change because change can be threatening and learning new ways of doing a thing can be difficult; there can also be a perception that change doesn’t always lead to something better. Millennials are less cautious about embracing change. They are also better than my generation at working in teams, value the collaboration process, and see a career as a learning environment for self-fulfillment. (see the CPS Report, “HR Survey Series: Multi-Generational Training in the Public Sector”). They want to work in organizations that will provide opportunities for them to utilize these skills.
As Heather mentioned in her blog yesterday, we look for certain characteristics in a good boss: “An ideal boss is pleasant, approachable, understanding, caring, serves as an adviser and supporter, is flexible and open-minded, respects, values and appreciates employees, and has good management skills.” Millennials value these characteristics but also seek out opportunities in their jobs to make a difference in the world (as Daniel Pink has told us, this is one of the keys to engagement) and want to work in a diverse environment—their ideal manager will share these values.
An awareness of these differences and expectations is necessary for successful succession planning. In order to achieve a smooth transition to new leadership, it is important to consider not only the new wonderful things millennials bring to the table but also consider possible skill gaps, gaps in communication between generations, and how we can bridge those gaps. These are things we will look at next week.