SXSW: Millennials – Y bother?

SXSW Gen YI came to SXSW hoping to find a few bon bons every day. Today there was one session that really stood out, called ‘Y bother ‘ which focussed on how millennials are changing business and how to motivate them and make them want to stay within your company. Something that has often kept me awake at night.

Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable (looking none the worse for wear after the huge Mashable party here last night) and Olivier Fleurot, the baby boomer who heads the MSL group talked to Joanna Coles, Editor of Cosmopolitan. One of the biggest challenges is the speed of their ambition earlier in their careers – most millennials want to be in a management role 2 years after coming out of university, to which one must resist the urge to say ‘seriously?’. Apparently millennials are in a hurry because the technology they have grown up with has changed so fast.

Fleurot talked about the need to accommodate their entrepreneurial tendencies (often fuelled by places like SXSW), creating intrapreneurs, where they can be entrepreneurial within an organisation. I have been interested in the impact this generation are having on the way cultures are being built within organisations in our industry and Cashmore talked about millennials feeling more comfortable in flatter organisations.

How people on the ground need to make decisions quickly, and the network model rather than the singular node model of decision making will make organisations and decision making more fluid. Because social media has democratised everything and given everyone a voice, junior people see themselves as important as senior people. And why not? The old hierarchies were already dying in organisations and the millennials are hastening their demise. In the past, a lot of people had jobs because they had more information than other people. This is changing as that hierarchy flattens. There’s also a need to give millennials new challenges more often. There is no set pattern when it comes to getting promoted – millennials want to know they can accelerate if they’re good enough. Because if they get bored, they will just leave.

When it comes to feedback, we heard about the tyranny of the annual review. It’s dead, apparently. Millennials just love feedback – don’t we all – but with this group we need to get used to giving feedback more frequently than before. Social media has made everything and anything transparent and so expectations of this transparency extending to the workforce are reducing the layers, and the corporate secrecy. When it comes to work-life balance for this group, Cashmore used the example of SXSW as a whole – is it work or life? The answer of course is that it is both. No longer do we delineate between the two, and that is especially true of the millenials.

Some recently published research on millennials shows that they want their boss to be a friend – a scary prospect for most managers. But the point is that management needs to become more a coach than an issuer of orders and instructions. By 2025, 80% of the workforce will be millennials so we’d better pay attention. Pete Cashmore is surely the pinup child of this generation – a billionaire in waiting who started a tech blog in his bedroom, and speaks coherently about how he is building a company based on what he and his cohort want and need to succeed.  Of all the sessions I’ve heard at SXSW, this one may not have been the most creative but it just may have the biggest impact on my thinking when I leave here.