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Managing and Connecting with the Millennials

Generations B, X and Y provide challenges and changing solutions

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Generations X, Y and Boomers

Youth Marketing is Heavily Mobile and Social

Corporations around the globe as well as the military are facing a different kind of workforce.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) took an unprecedented step on May 15, 2007, blocking troop access to MySpace, YouTube, and other popular Web sites. The official reason was to conserve bandwidth and safeguard security. But the DOD’s ban also highlighted a gap in understanding between senior military leaders and what demographers call Generation Y (alternatively known as the millennial generation or the baby-boom echo).

Few members of this generation, born after 1978, can recall a time when the Internet was not at their disposal.

A wide range of organizations, including most global corporations, will soon face a large, new cohort of young employees.

Generation Y Characteristics

  • An affinity for the interconnected world
  • Widespread, matter-of-fact adoption of hip-hop culture (baggy clothing, piercings, and tattoos)
  • Casual indifference to distinctions of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (a phrase that itself first came into widespread usage around the time this generation was born).
  • A January 2007 Pew Research Center study shows millennials to be the most tolerant generation on record.
  • A preference for a better work–life balance vs. older managers' “careerism” and dogged loyalty

Size of the Generation Y Community

Demographers generally agree that prevailing generational characteristics shift roughly every 20 years.

Just how does this generation differ from its parents, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), and its immediate predecessor, Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1978)? The oldest members of Generation Y were born in 1979 and 1980.

With more than 75 million members, Generation Y is nearly as large as the baby boom and at least 50 percent larger than Generation X.

Re­search already points to clear differences separating all three generations now present in the military and in the civilian workforce.

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers began life in the optimistic aftermath of World War II and were reared with Dr. Spock. In adolescence, many members of this generation turned cynical and anti-authoritarian; and they started careers and families later in life than their parents had.

Generation X

Generation X grew up in a time of dual-career couples and soaring corporate layoffs. Its members married even later than their baby-boom predecessors — the median age at marriage has risen to 26 for women and 28 for men (from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960) — and they have tended to steer away from large employers in favor of entrepreneurialism.

Generation Y Millennials

Gen Y has grown up in an era when childbearing and child-rearing seem once again to be social priorities, with “Baby on Board” signs displayed in the rear windows of their parents’ minivans. "Millennials Rising" (book published in 2000) suggests that Gen Y may be a throwback to their grandparents’ generation — that grew up in the Depression, fought in World War II, and came home to build a powerful national economy along with strong, effective community institutions. Most of Gen Y lives on the Internet.

In contrast to earlier TV-watching generations, however, millennials do not use the Internet merely to absorb information passively. They also insist on communicating — through text messages, handhelds, homemade videos, audio mixes, Weblogs, and personal pages. They are adept at gathering information and sharing it with peers.

To Gen Y, knowledge belongs to everyone and creates a basis for building new relationships and fostering dialogue. Baby boomers and Gen Xers have learned to use the Internet to share information with people whom they already know, but members of Gen Y use blogs, instant-messaging, e-mails, and wikis to share information with those whom they may never meet — and also with people across the hall or down the corridor. Their spirit of openness is accompanied by a casual attitude toward privacy and secrecy; they have grown up seeing the thoughts, reactions, and even indiscretions of their friends and peers posted on a permanent, universally accessible global record.

Multitasking is Key Communications Design Feature

A related characteristic is this generation’s well-known ability to multitask. Parents marvel at their almost superhuman ability to do homework, instant-message, play a video game, and track the latest episode of a tv show all at once. Some worry that this uncanny facility for doing several things at one time is accompanied by a superficial approach to analysis and problem solving and an inability to think deeply about complex matters.

Millenials may be more civic- and family-oriented

Like their grandparents, millennials appear deeply committed to family, community, and teamwork, which they have made priorities. Among middle-class high school and college students, volunteering for nonprofit work has become almost the norm. (In many states, it is now a school requirement.) Research by Strauss and Howe (2007) suggests that this generation may be more civic- and family-oriented than any since World War II, reversing long-term trends toward in­creased rates of criminal activity, drug use, and teen pregnancy.

Networking vs. Command and Control

A recent bestseller, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom (Portfolio, 2006), argues that networked organizations — including al Qaeda, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Wikipedia Foundation, and open source consortia like those forming around Linux — have certain built-in advantages over more traditional command-and-control hierarchies like the U.S. military.

Most networked organizations have a way of morphing into bureaucracies to consolidate, protect, and administer gains. It is important for any organization — civilian or military — to build its capabilities to make the best of both worlds: to combine the best aspects of networks with the best aspects of command-and-control operations.

Authority and decision rights will have to be more broadly distributed, so that those action on the information front can act in real time.

Good organizational redesign flattens the organization and brings people throughout the enterprise closer to the problems they are being asked to solve, giving them the authority to act in pursuit of organizational goals.

This generation’s natural talents could help us cope with the global world on closely connected environmental, social, business and political webs that are growing stronger by the year.


green business sustainability
PROBLEM: Generational change creates challenges.

SOLUTION: Generational change solves challenges.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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