In the interest of full disclosure, this blog was written from the perspective of someone who is absolutely considered a “Millennial.” With that in mind, though, none of what is presented below is intended to be about entitlement, and it is certainly not written with the intention of giving my generation a free pass or saying that we’re somehow better than any generation that has come before us or will come after us. This perspective is simply intended to help bridge the gap and offer some potential methods to best leverage the unique skills Millennials do bring to the table.
Although the term “Millennial” seems to be used frequently to describe young professionals, one of the foundational elements to this discussion is to define who Millennials are. According to widely accepted definitions, the term refers to individuals born between 1982 and 2004, which means the youngest Millennials haven’t yet entered the workforce.
The thing is, many industries are facing a challenge right now: many of those with high levels of competency and experience in their respective industries are nearing retirement, and most industries are not fully prepared for the impact of that attrition. My generation simply does not yet have the industry-specific experience to truly step into the shoes of those retiring without extensive training. The question professionals looking to tackle this problem are faced with is best addressed in two parts:
- How can we best leverage Millennials today, taking advantage of their unique skills and the perspective they bring to the table?
- How should we train the newest professional generation so they can effectively take over when their mentors begin to retire?
Leveraging Millennials Now
One of the first things most people think of when they hear the phrase “Millennials” is technology. Most Millennials have grown up with exponentially increasing technology right at their fingertips. My generation remembers the first time we were introduced to computers in our classrooms and homes, we remember playing games on cell phones for the first time and waiting for dial-up internet to connect. In an industry that is increasingly focused on technology and the impacts of a disruption to key applications, Millennials often bring a critical perspective and foundational knowledge to the table because it was integral to our upbringing. Most Millennials have grown up thinking about how to quickly troubleshoot an application or implement a workaround. We’ve watched computers, cell phones, applications, and software packages become increasingly integral to daily life – both personal and professional. As a result, many of us have given thought to where the critical technology dependencies are and how we might be able to troubleshoot if one was lost. In the same vein, however, a disruption to technology may hit Millennials hardest because we have thoroughly incorporated those technologies into our lives and have often not had to operate without them.
Along the way, Millennials have also gained a reputation of job hopping every few years. In most cases, that means we may never truly have the deep level of industry-specific knowledge that those with decades of experience have. However, the strength that Millennials will bring is a broad, diverse perspective and a foundational knowledge of many different areas. Figuring out a way to leverage those experiences and ideas will be the key to succeeding in the future—both for businesses and individuals. One of the most critical things professional mentors can encourage is that Millennials speak up about their “outside” experiences. More and more, I hear my peers jokingly comment that they are not currently employed in a profession that directly relates to their formal education. Believe it or not, that’s actually one of the biggest advantages Millennials offer, particularly in our industry. Millennials want to be given a goal or a desired result—and then left to figure out how to accomplish that goal, pulling in our ideas and experiences in other industries. The more diverse our experience and the broader our perspective, the better we will be at considering problems from all angles and identifying unique solutions to complex problems.
Millennials also bring a new perspective to the traditional 9-5 office culture. As the workplace evolves, my generation seems much more likely to throw the standard workweek out the window entirely. Obviously, the ability to upend the traditional workweek is directly related to advances in technology and the tendency for Millennials to have constant access to phones and email. The Millennial generation will drive business culture to more time away from the office, to working smarter, and to aligning both professional and personal needs. We are much more likely to put the time in to drive a project to completion than to start and stop multiple times. We are also more likely to work in smaller increments, rather than putting in eight contiguous hours; Millennials are more likely to work two four-hour increments, ensuring that they are entirely focused for the entire time they spend working. Most important, however, Millennials have a desire to streamline and simplify our approach to traditional processes, and to focus on achieving a high-quality result.
Training Millennials for the Future
Millennials need to be challenged to put themselves out there and take on increasing amounts of responsibility while their professional mentors are still available to offer feedback and help sort out larger challenges. Encourage us to take ownership of projects or clients. Challenge us to identify solutions and propose them to a client. Let us facilitate a meeting or deliver a presentation. Offer feedback that is constructive and will help us truly hone our problem-solving and critical thinking skills. The only way we’ll know if we can succeed is if we’re given a chance to try—and, in some cases, a chance to fail and learn from those mistakes.
I want to clear up one thing, though. I want to get away from the idea that Millennials should be expected to fill the shoes of the generations who have come before us. Our professional predecessors have left huge shoes to fill, and I think I can speak for many of my peers when I say we know just how large those metaphorical shoes are. Truly, though, most of us don’t want to fill your shoes. I want to leave my own mark on the industry, on my company, on my clients. At first pass, that sentence sounds incredibly entitled, but it certainly isn’t intended to come across that way. Certainly, my professional generation has a lot to learn before our mark can be seen as valuable. Perhaps the most valuable assets mentor’s offer is the experiences they have had, particularly in the field of business continuity. My mentors have been open to hearing new ideas, and they have challenged assumptions based on their experience in the industry. As a result, we have struck a balance between applying experience and new ideas. As Millennials continue to evolve professionally, we want to be given the opportunity to do things our way (within bounds, which may be values, regulations, or standards), to listen to clients’ needs, and come up with solutions that fit their problems. I don’t mean to imply that those solutions shouldn’t be challenged or vetted. Simply that my generation does not want to be held to the bar someone else has established and cleared. We want to figure out what success looks like today and what it will need to look like in twenty years—and set a new bar for ourselves and our peers. As a whole, Millennials are less focused on accomplishing the things the generations before us have, and more focused on making sure we’ll be ready to succeed as our industry evolves in the future.
Here’s what’s key: none of us can do it without understanding the work that came before we got here. The best thing our professional forerunners can do to help Millennials succeed is to serve as mentors. I’m fortunate to have had several outstanding mentors in my career, and I could go on for hours to tell you about the advice they offered and the ways they shaped my professional development. The bottom line is that, while we don’t necessarily want to step into your shoes, we do want to understand how you look at the world and approach a problem. We want to understand the things you’ve considered and determined to be ineffective or less-than-ideal solutions. The conversations that have had the strongest influence on my development have been those where my mentors have shared specific stories about situations or events they have been through. I have found a great deal of value in hearing how my mentors have responded to various situations; moreover, I have found value in discussing alternate responses and the potential pros and cons of applying a different solution. My mentors have given me the opportunity to challenge and push back on some of their conclusions. As a whole, Millennials are willing to challenge assumptions and question the way things have always been done. We’ll look to simplify solutions and streamline processes. The most important thing we should all do is communicate. Share the things you’ve learned and encourage us to share the things we’ve learned. We’ll all be better off if we start believing we can learn from each other.
Above all else—and this is advice for everyone, regardless of your professional generation—be patient. If you’re mentoring a Millennial, be patient while we ask questions and challenge assumptions. Be patient while we figure out things that you may have been doing for decades. Be patient when we seem hungry for more—remember, we grew up in a time of instant gratification and social media. For many of us, when we see something we want, we can have it with just a few clicks of a mouse. Although we know that’s not the way things work when it comes to professional development, we might need to be reminded occasionally! We might need you to challenge us right back and help us understand that professional growth is not something we should be rushing or trying to automate.
The same advice holds true on the other side of this article: my fellow Millennials, be patient. If there is one thing I’ve learned about this industry, it is that you can’t rush the process. Stay hungry for knowledge, hungry to understand your own industry and the industries of your clients. At the same time, be patient with yourself and patient with the professional development process. Trust me, you don’t want to rush your development, and you certainly don’t want to skip over something that may benefit you down the road simply so that you could check the box and climb the corporate ladder. Business Continuity isn’t designed to be something we rush through, and it’s certainly not something you’ll get good at with a few mouse clicks—and, I promise, once you understand that, you’ll be a lot closer to climbing that corporate ladder!
Avalution Consulting: Business Continuity Consulting