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Millennials (most definitions say this generation is born in the early 1980s) are a frequently misunderstood generation. A recent Entrepreneur article titled 7 Truths About Success Millennial Entrepreneurs Just Don't Get says millennials can come across as “entitled to something” but goes on to give this particular generation of visionaries advice on what it takes to succeed in the business environment.


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On the other hand, the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 reveals that recent geo-political events such as Brexit, terrorist attacks in Europe, and the United States’ elections have shaken millennials’ confidence – they aren’t as volatile and restless as some may think. That said, their basic principles of being remain the same. They are concerned about the global environment and want to see multinational businesses do more to address society’s biggest challenges.

Whatever you think of millennials, the fact is that they are different to the generations that precede them. This means that small business owners – whether they are millennials or not – who want to attract and retain their talent and skills must consider their hiring and retention processes.

Leading and motivating millennials

Deloitte’s research indicates that millennials prefer their leaders to talk plainly, and have an inclusive approach to leadership. They are open to other people’s opinions, and are impressed by passionately expressed viewpoints. In my view, direct and passionate communication is authentic and empowering communication which the millennials in my workplace respond to well (as does everyone else, for that matter).

Job description versus broader impact

You’ll read this everywhere – millennials are driven to make a difference in the world, they want purpose rather than a job or even a career. Sharing conversations with my younger colleagues means that I am privileged to see this desire manifested in thought, word and deed. We encourage their loyalty by having a clear sense of how our work can have a positive impact on broader society and how we can do business in a manner that is environmentally-conscious, socially-responsible and ethical. Then, we put that into action daily in the office, at clients, and in off-site activities.

Remuneration, recognition and instant gratification

I have mentored participants of the Dimension Data graduate programme for four years, and one of the biggest areas of inter-generational disconnect I have observed relates to colleagues’ sense of self and how that is connected to their perception of remuneration and recognition.

Recognition and other ‘soft’ rewards are increasing in priority over pay checks. Loyalty to the employer is linked to progression and growth within an organisation. Locally, millennial workers are often the first graduates in their families, with their families expecting ongoing support once they’re in the workplace.

The problem is the differing expectations of how quickly progression happens, and what ‘growth’ means. Perhaps we can point to modern communication methods and our increasing need for instant gratification as the cause, or overly-protective parenting, or ‘privilege’ or ‘entitlement’. Whatever the cause, I believe the solution is a conscious investment in millennial colleagues and mentorship to pass on the valuable lesson that it takes time to develop business experience, reputation and gravitas. Should management at small and medium enterprises invest time thinking about global workplace trends and the needs of future generations? Isn’t that time better spent keeping a business afloat?

The short answer is YES; business owners definitely need to read, think and talk about the needs and drivers of this generation. Millennials are in our offices, they want flexibility, they want to be inspired, and they want to feel like they’re adding value. It’s to the benefit of our businesses for us to respond to that in creative ways.

By: Tony Koutakis, Executive Head: Ignite.

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