The #Millennial Mind

This week's blog comes to you from Jay Shetty. Jay is a consultant in one of the leading technology, outsourcing and consulting firms. He is also CEO of Urban-Monk.com, and a millennial. Jay and I became friends online through twitter. We have met in person a few times since, and I am always impressed by his contribution and dialogue. He has taught me a lot. 

I invited Jay to address this 'millennial fever' - gripping many a conversation - as I think it is more compelling to understand the millennial mind through the thoughts and perspective of a millennial. I am Gen X - The 'Baby Busters' - and my lot are a rather cynical generation. We created grunge music to express our frustration at the idealism of the Boomers. Did anyone care to thank us for that?

The following is Jay's own words, unedited by me. Feel free to continue the discussion with him on twitter @Jshetty1 

Enjoy!

The popularization of millennials

In May of 2013, the Time magazine cover read “The Me Me Me Generation. Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents. Why they’ll save us all.” No generation has been as publicly insulted, admired, misunderstood, and examined as the millennials. This comes as no surprise considering by 2025, millennials will make up as much as 75% of the global workforce. Born between 1980-1999, the millennial generation has been popularized by the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and companies like Facebook, the first major internet start-up whose core group of founders are millennials.

If each generation has a personality, you may say that the baby boomer (1946-1964) is the idealist, shaped by JFK and MLK. Generation X (1965-1979) is the skeptical independent shaped by the PC. Generation Y, or millennial, is the connected, diverse collaborator shaped by 9/11, social networking and the recession.

As an icebreaker at a recent event I attended, I was asked to name a weakness I had compared to the rest of my peer population. My answer was taking selfies. It has become the defining trademark of my generation, the ability to manoeuvre your arm (or selfie stick) almost robotically to get a perfect shot. And it is this perception of a millennial that shapes today’s discussions on how to understand their mind. What are the first thoughts that come to your mind when you hear the term “millennial”? Whether it is progressive, collaborative and innovative, or sheltered, entitled and underemployed, trends suggest it is a paradoxical generation.

The great divide

Millennials are famous for being inseparable from their phones, but 51% surveyed said they prefer to talk with their co-workers face to face. They’re also more loyal than given credit for. An unexpected 16% anticipate staying with their current job the rest of their career and 80% believe they will stay with four or fewer companies.

Beyond.com carried out research that highlighted the great divide between how millennials describe themselves and how HR professionals describe millennials. 65% of millennials described themselves as people-savvy but only 14% of HR professionals view them to be. 86% of millennials claim to be hardworking whereas only 11% of HR professionals believe they are. These are workplace perceptions that millennials need to rise above. It also shows how far we are from understanding the millennial mind. The most surprising statistic is that 35% of millennials believe they are tech-savvy as opposed to 86% of HR professionals who believe they are.

The millennial as an individual 

It is quite ironic that the majority of commentators on millennial leadership are not millennials. Several speakers and writers talk about millennials as if they’re a group of people who think and act exactly the same as each other. The label assumes they have no individual needs, preferences or traits.

To engage millennials effectively two changes are critical. The first is treating them as an individual like everyone else in the organization, observing their particular strengths and giving them projects accordingly. The second is giving millennials leadership roles. In my opinion a company that is serious about investing in its young workforce will select outstanding millennials and give them the opportunity to make decisions about employee engagement. Several companies say they are tailoring their practices towards millennials but hesitate to give them a position.

The millennial worker  

This is an area that I feel organisations are struggling with. It stems from the earlier point about not understanding millennials as individuals. A millennial branding report [DS1] found 45% of millennials would choose workplace flexibility over pay. This may be true but it cannot assume that all millennials a) prefer freedom in their work, or b) will perform better with freedom in their work.

Having worked alongside several millennials I have noticed some are structured performers and others are smart creatives. Some millennials still prefer a structured day with clearly outlined tasks and deliverables. Others prefer spontaneity, collaboration and inventing new processes. Does this mean that the latter is more of a millennial? I believe it suggests there are particular types of millennials who have more entrepreneurial flair but this is true of specific groups in every generation.  

The millennial consumer

Surprisingly, I believe companies know more about the millennial as a consumer than as a worker. This is probably because the customer is more directly linked to sales targets. Brands have become very effective in selling to millennials and building relationships with them.

Millennials claim that they aren’t influenced at all by advertising, with only 1% surveyed stating that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more. Their trust belongs in their online networks. 33% of millennials rely mostly on blogs before they make a purchase, compared to fewer than 3% for TV news, magazines and books. A couple of weeks ago I wanted to go to the cinema but didn’t know what to see. I asked the question on Facebook and within 24 hours I had 70 comments’ worth of recommendations from my friends. Needless to say the movies were great.

A good example of how a brand used social media was John Lewis for Christmas 2014. For the first time ever their Christmas advert was released on YouTube before television. I viewed the advert just after 48 hours of it being online. The star of the advert was Monty the penguin and he was being sold in 3 sizes. The large size around 3ft tall was £90, medium size was £35 and small size was £12. Being a fantastic boyfriend I chose to try to purchase the smallest cuddly toy and saw it was out of stock. I then checked the medium and large sizes and they were sold out too! Not only had Monty the penguin sold out but his partner Mable was all gone too. All after just 48 hours! I heard from source that John Lewis had drummed up so much demand that some people were selling Monty for up to £1000 on Amazon.  

Are you a millennial?

Being a millennial is about a mindset – less defined by age and social background. I know several baby boomer and Gen X individuals with the so-called traits of millennials. These are the people who are avid consumers of Netflix and sometimes embarrassingly Snapchat as well. Several executives that I coach are extremely tech savvy and have even taught me a thing or two. The Pew Research Center has developed a 14-question quiz from which they tell you how “millennial” you are on a scale from 0 to 100. I am not convinced it is entirely accurate, but 57% of millennials play more for the competition, so at least those will enjoy it.