Millennials are about to take charge of the world’s biggest companies -- here’s what to expect

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Splendour in the Grass 2017 at Byron Bay, NSW. Merilyn Smith/WireImage

Some of the millennial generation – now hitting their mid 30s – will soon take over senior roles, or even the CEO or CFO’s seat, at major companies.

This generation will make a stand when it comes to issues such as climate change, poverty and social justice.

They also want to know where what they eat comes from and that the shoes they wear are not made by slave labour.

So expect millennial leaders to talk about making a difference, and to create organisations with a meaningful place in society.

Millennials seek less bureaucracy and formality, according to Anthony Mitchell, the co-founder and Chief Potential Officer of Australian consultancy Bendelta, which designs organisations and leaders for the cyber-physical age.

He works with organisations with different median ages. The youngest is online fashion retailer The Iconic, where half the staff are less than 27 years old.

“It’s a very different culture and one which provides strong insights into the preferences of millennials,” he says.

Such organisations are a great indication of where workplaces will move.

Free range

Millennials tend to steer away from dress codes and fixed working hours.

“Find ways to provide more freedom, such as the ability for them to pick their own projects,” says Mitchell. “Provide learning opportunities everywhere you can.”

Millennials like a village atmosphere where they can connect with their colleagues and feel unified around a purpose.

“Let them express their whole self at work,” says Mitchell. “Accept that they might do more non-work activity while at work, but that they will probably also do more work in their non-work hours.”

If there’s one thing millennials hate, it’s the HIPPO principle (highest paid person’s opinion counts most).

“Millennials have an amazing contribution to make,” says Mitchell. “Treat them as human beings, not what the 20th century taught us to regard employees as factors of production.”

Chris Brycki, the founder and CEO of a robo-adviser fund manager Stockspot, and himself a millennial, says he encourages his team to speak their mind openly rather than whinging by the water cooler.

“I need everyone to be honest about what they’re seeing, what they like, don’t like and what I’m doing wrong,” he says.

“That’s the only way our business will spot icebergs and succeed. These days young people are more likely to leave a job where they’re not feeling heard.”

He cautions that this doesn’t mean everyone will get their own way.

“Pointless rigidity”

But he says millennials are already having a huge impact.

“Call it the deformalisation of the workplace if you like, millennials are reducing pointless rigidity,” says Brycki.

“These days young people also want to feel their work is having an impact and want to work somewhere where they have personal alignment with the vision. To work somewhere like that they’re often prepared to take a sidestep in responsibly or income so they can feel they’re making a difference.

“That certainly influenced my decision to leave the corporate world. Working at a startup there isn’t the glamorous lunches or corporate events we had in the banking world. But on the flipside, I can now have much more impact on the business direction and see out my own vision for the industry.”

Workplaces are undergoing massive shifts in the way they work, says Matt Tindale, managing director of LinkedIn in Australia.

“With the influx of millennials joining the workforce, they are looking for organisations that align with their values and allows them to contribute while maintaining their identity,” he says.

“The onus is on business leaders to create a working environment where employees feel they belong and are encouraged to bring their whole self to work.”

LinkedIn has a large proportion of staff who are millennials.

“We do have a range of ages but it’s just a fact of business now that a lot of millennials are coming through,” he says.

Millennials are a generation of change makers and they are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in.

What unrealistic expectations?

“This boldness is reflected in all aspects of their lives and particularly in the way that they operate at work,” says Tindale.

“They have a go-get attitude, and naturally, they do not want to be stuck doing the same slog for a long time.

“Sometimes, there is a misconception that millennials have unrealistic expectations. I think this generation have the potential to be enablers of change. Businesses should be open to the new ideas, ways of working, and dynamics that this generation brings to the workforce.”

David Hickey, a millennial and now Director for Australia and New Zealand at media monitoring service Meltwater, says there’s a misconception that millennials aren’t loyal.

“There’s a common belief millennials jump ship every couple of years but that hasn’t been my experience,” he says.

“I started at Meltwater, only thinking six months ahead, and here I am 10 years later at the same company. Millennials play a big role in shaping businesses. Our company is a perfect example of this. We have about 100 employees here locally and the average age is 26.”

He thinks millennials want to achieve something that really matters.

“When it comes to retention, I’ve found that it’s not about the fancy offices, with ping pong tables and free beer, but about making employees feel connected to the work they’re doing and that your business is helping them achieve their own goals,” he says.

“That means really listening to the team and making sure they’re enjoying what they’re doing. If they have the drive and determination and you’re offering them opportunities to grow and learn, the potential is limitless.”

Who wants to be safe and respectable?

Hugh Stephens, a millennial and a co-founder at Galileo Ventures, a VC fund focusing on under 30 and university entrepreneurs, says the corporate career path isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

“More young people want to work in startups or create them and fewer want the ‘safe and respectable’ job pushing pencils at a bank,” he says

As millennials move up in the business ecosystem (either as managers in a larger business, or founders of a business that quickly becomes large), Stephens believes we’re likely to see more thinking that isn’t shaped by 30 years at a corporate job.

“That means fewer business plans that never get read and more of a focus on execution to deliver what customers need,” he says.

“The breadth of experience and diverse background that millennials will bring to their senior roles will help them connect the dots between traditionally disconnected ideas, but may also hinder their ability to ‘go deep’ within a particular area of expertise.

“The best organisations to succeed will ensure that the right people with complementary skills are in the executive team, and create support and mentorship frameworks to help individuals succeed.”

Mick Spencer, aged 26 and the founder of OnTheGo, a global custom sports clothing e-commerce company, says millennials are more globally aware than previous generations.

“We are born into a world where we can access anything at any time of day,” he says.

Get it done now

“This has led us to become impatient with products and services, which means we’re reconsidering how we consume. We want things done fast and without waiting.”

“This approach isn’t always advantageous, however, and we need to respect the deep relationships required with those older than us.

“This is crucial, as previous generations have a wealth of knowledge that is vital in managing relationships and businesses. It can’t always be fast-paced and energetic, so sometimes the advice of ‘wiser heads’ needs to prevail.”

At OnTheGo, Spencer encourages a fresh approach to any issues with a flat structure, allowing the incorporation of new ideas quickly.

“We win together or we lose together, but more often than not, our team allows us to overcome any issues we encounter,” he says.

“Teamwork and the welfare of everyone involved is key for us, and many of our team are very involved in each others’ lives, which again reinforces the notion that we win together.

“These values should allow millennials to be better CEOs and have a positive effect not only on their organisations but on the wider community.

“The changes we’ve seen in recent times will only become more prevalent as millennials begin to assume CEO responsibilities at some of the world’s biggest companies, with greater flexibility around work patterns, more efficient workforces and most importantly, the rise and rise of the internet of things.”

The stars and the plodders

John Winning, a millennial who founded Appliancesonline and now runs the Winning Group, said millennials are used to relying on the comfort of technology and, because of this, they expect a lot.

“Sometimes when they don’t have this cushion of comfort backing them, they tend to speak out,” he says. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing though, because it inspires them to work harder, paving the way for a better future.”

Winning says millennials are already influencing the workplace.

“Although, some millennials can fall into the trap of becoming complacent and tend to slack off, there are incredible millennials that are making a massive impact on the workplace,” he says.

“With the right direction and motivation, these millennials can be extremely valuable, whether it’s by offering a fresh perspective on ideas or influencing the workplace culture.”

They want to make an impact on the future.

“For all generations, there are stars and there are plodders, but the ones that want to make an impact are extremely valuable and should be given opportunities to develop their skills faster than some organisations are willing to give them,” he says.

“Before I was CEO, I drove forklifts in the warehouse, drove trucks for deliveries and I worked in the showrooms of Winning Appliances.

“If I wasn’t given the opportunity to develop my skills, I wouldn’t be the leader that I am today. We need prepare the one’s that have the desire to make a difference for the trades of tomorrow by giving them the opportunity to excel.”

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