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Millennial Myths

16 Apr

Last month, I recommended that organizations seeking growth from innovation should “Overdose on Youth” to give them a performance enhancing boost. The response to the charge to load up on smart, talented, energetic young people was met with skepticism and anecdotes about the needy and narcissistic Millennial Generation that want everything and are not truly committed to the organization.

Then along comes an article in the latest issue of Strategy + Business by Jennifer Deal of the Center for Creative Leadership titled “Five Millennial Myths”. It lends my position some weight using empirical research into the behaviors and beliefs of those in the millennial generation. Ms. Deal found that the stereotypes are “inconsistent at best and destructive at worst.” At 2 ½ pages, you should read the entire article, but here are the five myths she identifies:

#1 Millennials don’t want to be told what to do. This proved to be flat out wrong, the young people of this generation turn out to be much more willing to defer to authority than Boomers or Gen Xers (try telling me what to do). The research says that they want to know what the expectations are at work.

#2 Millennials lack organizational loyalty. The fact is that each generation has historically changed jobs more frequently when they were in their 20s than they do later in life. Young people are looking for jobs that help them learn. When they switch it is not due to a lack of loyalty, but a yearning to grow through challenging experiences.

#3 Millennials aren’t interested in their work. No one of any generation is motivated to do the boring work that gets pushed down to lower levels. Don’t assume that younger people are not able to take on meaningful tasks. Find the superstars that are capable of doing more and whip the fast horses. If some portion of their job doesn’t captivate their imagination, you deserve to lose them.

#4 Millennials are motivated by perks and high pay. The extensive research showed no difference between generations. Yes, when you are younger and making less money, you are likely to be slightly more motivated by extrinsic rewards, but pay and perks are not going to engender loyalty.

#5 Millennials want more work-life balance. This is somewhat accurate, but is likely the result of a societal shift and related to life-stage than generation. Millennials want the flexibility to make their contributions and enjoy life at the same time. Work is more integrated into life than ever before.

This research gives me the opportunity to reiterate my recommendation to pack your organization with talented people under the age of 30. Make sure that they have interesting work to do and the opportunity to learn, develop, and advance. You will reap tremendous rewards from their contributions. Youth is like an innovation performance enhancing drug that will make the pulse of your organization beat a lot faster if taken in large quantities. I am sticking by my advice to overdose.

Overdose on Youth

8 Mar

A couple of decades ago I started my very first consulting assignment at a large manufacturing company. The firm’s innovation-driven glory years in the 70s were distant memory by the time I arrived. The business advantages the company had previously enjoyed were gone, but the people were not. The memorable visual impression of a sea of gray hair (all male) in the employee cafeteria was a symptom of the problem. The company had simply grown old and sclerotic. It was eventually sold off from its parent, declared bankruptcy, reneged on retiree benefits, and is currently being run for cash by a vulture.

As a consultant I have the privilege of working within dozens of client organizations in industries ranging from high tech to telecom to life sciences to consumer products. Each of these companies has a vibe and a personality that creates an atmosphere that runs on a continuum from vibrant and dynamic to dead and dying. While I am certain that a good organizational behaviorist would be able to construct an academically sound comparative analysis of company cultures, there is one correlating factor that is easy to identify and easy to get right. It is the proportion of the workforce that is under the age of 30.

If growth from innovation is your company’s stated strategy then you should be overdosing on youth. If you want ideas to flow and concepts to flourish, you need to hire people with energy, enthusiasm and passion to push them through. I am obviously not suggesting that you institute mandatory retirement at thirty. We need the valuable guidance and wisdom that comes from experienced professionals (like you and me), but we should balance that with people that have a broader sense of the possible and the motivation to achieve what may seem impossible. Load up on smart, talented, energetic youngsters and provide them with some freedom to give your organization an innovation boost.

The popular press is filled with articles on the challenges of multi-generational management. Many of these articles point the finger at younger people as spoiled and unmanageable. This has not been my experience. Youth is like an innovation performance enhancing drug that will make the pulse of your organization beat a lot faster if taken in large quantities. My advice is to overdose.

Predictions for R&D

5 Feb

Predicting the future in an ambiguous world is inherently risky. My track record in 2011 was mixed. The primary prediction was that companies would loosen up spending in R&D while constraining growth in headcount and other fixed costs. That was spot on with what actually happened in most industries. What I got wrong was the response to that squeeze. My assumption was that progressive executives would explore alternative product development models and new approaches to utilizing external expertise. While I am often too optimistic about how fast these things will happen, I also believe that people were finally expecting things to get back to normal, so they were not as motivated to explore new and radical solutions.

As the economic environment continues in an extended period of uncertainty, I believe that we will see accelerated adoption of innovative R&D models. In 2012, I expect to see even greater spending in R&D and product development in those industries where the underlying business is growing moderately (seems like just about everywhere outside of housing and construction). If hiring and headcount growth continue to be constrained, then I predict that we will see more:

  • Corporate Venture Investing – Working and investing outside the company to identify new ideas rather than remaining exclusively focused inside the four walls.
  • Private Expert Networks – Expanding available brainpower in product development by accessing external expertise with low fixed costs that are discretionary in nature.
  • Reverse Innovation– Developing new products in and for emerging markets at value price points that are also attractive in the developed world.
  • Social Product Innovation – Taking advantage of the power of social computing platforms to transform the way products are developed by increasing collaboration both inside and outside of company R&D departments.

If these tactics are broadly adopted, my predictions for 2011 will finally have come true a little later than I originally anticipated.

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