“Every 20 years or so, a new generation enters the workforce, and the rest of us, quite frankly, freak out about it.”
I recently had the opportunity to read a review copy of When Millennials Take Over, a new book by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant of Culture That Works designed to help us get past the freak out and to a “ridiculously optimistic” view of the future of work.
Their basic thesis is that the environment in which our organizations operate has changed – we have to move faster, with less hierarchy and more sharing of information, and learn how to be digital native institutions.
Sounds hard, right?
Fortunately, the Millennials, the generation born between 1982 and 2004, can help us. Although GenX is currently the largest segment of the workforce, within the next three years, the Millennials will be taking over. And that’s a good thing. As Notter put it during a recent book release event sponsored by ASAE: “The goal is not to ‘deal with’ Millennials but to learn from them. It’s not that Millennials are extra special or have all the answers, but they’re a ‘secret decoder ring’ to help us understand and adapt to these changes.”
Notter and Grant have identified four key capacities that they believe will drive the future of business:
Digital expects widespread customization and personalization, which includes staff as well as customers and members, and continuous improvement. Going digital is not just about how much you spend on technology (although most of us ARE underinvesting); it’s also about developing a digital mindset, in which you design around the needs and convenience of your audiences (both internal and external), even if that makes things harder for the organization.
tl;dr: In the era of Amazon and apps, your old excuses for 20 years outdated tech and processes won’t fly.
Clear demands information at everyone’s fingertips. Millennials have always had the “why” explained to them – that’s how they were raised. The great thing about this is, when our organizations share more information in a more transparent way, we dramatically increase both the speed and the quality of the decisions we make.
Fluid requires us to break out of our silos, not to the point that there’s no hierarchy at all (Google tried that and found it didn’t work), but to the point that teams are flexible and ad hoc, and different people get opportunities to lead based on their skills match with the project and task at hand. That means that EVERY person needs to know what your organization’s key performance indicators, that is, the keys to success, are.
Fast is the end result of all of these. As Notter and Grant point out, not everything needs to be ultra-fast all the time – there is still room for institutional knowledge and deliberation – but speed is important. As Grant observed at that same book release event, think about how quickly you dump a smartphone or tablet app that doesn’t work as expected. We need to move faster on idea generation, creating rudimentary prototypes, gathering information, and improving/scaling, pivoting, or killing those ideas as appropriate.
tl;dr: Don’t do another member survey! And don’t make decisions about what to do based on the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). Create a Minimum Viable Product, and decide what happens after that based on actual data about whether people buy and use it, and what they think about it.
The book makes an excellent companion to Notter and Grant’s earlier Humanize. But where Humanize was a bit heavier on theory, When Millennials Take Over focuses heavily on the practical, sharing detailed case studies of four organizations who exemplify the authors’ four key capacities:
The American Society for Surgery of the Hand, a small membership organization that still manages to invest well in technology, personalize and customize, learn from experiments, and incorporate results-only work environment principles.
Menlo Innovations, a software firm that is so transparent about information that they’ve invented their own resolutely low-tech project management system so that every person knows exactly what every other person’s top priorities are and where they stand on achieving those goals. This lets teams that are ahead of schedule know immediately who needs help and offer it without the intervention of boring project status meetings or project managers or complicated negotiations over email. Menlo even invites clients into the office on a weekly basis so they can see first-hand what’s going on with their projects and make more effective decisions about their own budgets and priorities.
Quality Living, a rehab center for people recovering from brain and spinal cord injuries, that understands the importance of shifting decision-making authority and action to the individuals and groups who are best equipped to be successful in a particular situation, no matter what their official place in the organization’s hierarchy. That might mean that someone very “low level,” who is closest to the patient and her needs, values, hopes, and dreams, directs care for that patient across the entire team of more “senior” people.
Happy State Bank, a community bank operating in Texas, that is able to make good decisions almost absurdly fast thanks to their laser focus on caring and relationships (not exactly traditional for financial institutions). As Notter is fond of pointing out, trust enables speed, and that’s exactly the environment Happy State has created, not just among staff but between staff and customers.
Ultimately, this is about all of us – Boomers, Xers, and Millennials – working together for the good of ourselves, our organizations, and our customers/members. We take turns leading the change:
For every Luke Skywalker (Millennial), there is always a need for an Obi-Wan Kenobi (Baby Boomer), and even an occasional cynical and independent Han Solo (Generation Xer). We know it is cliché, but we’re all in this together.
When Millennials Take Over is available in Kindle and print editions at Amazon.com. For a limited time, the Kindle edition is only $0.99 (that is not a typo), or you can download a chapter as a preview for FREE.