05 Aug 2015 20:05 IST

Millennials want to do something that is meaningful, says author Jamie Notter

And organisations of the future have to align themselves to the needs of this generation

Jamie Notter, author of When Millennials Take Over, in his book, talks about how the rise of the millennials to management positions will change the way successful companies operate. Notter, also a partner at consulting firm Culture That Works, claims that the future of business thus looks ‘ridiculously optimistic’.

In conversation with BLoC, Notter demystifies millennials: what they want, their approach towards organisations, and how organisations of the future will need to align themselves to the needs and wants of millennials to succeed. Excerpts from the interview:

What do you mean when you say ‘ridiculously optimistic future of business’?

Millennials are known to be optimistic; in fact, when researchers asked them (some were a little older than millennials, a bit more settled in life with a stable job, kids, etc) the question: Is anything possible? A whopping 88 per cent said yes. I see this as being part of a big shift — away from a mechanical approach to management and towards a more human centred one. I think we are going in a direction which will set us on to a new trajectory in organisations, in which we can accomplish much more than we thought we could. And millennials are asking for that.

So, when I talk about being digital, fluid, clear and fast — all these points are evidence that organisations will be able to accomplish a lot more if they align with the millennials' thoughts.

What do millennials want?

Those who grew up in the US were raised amid abundance. I’m sure this is true in the case of millenials in India too. They had a lot of resources at their disposal. They grew up in the age of the Internet, so information was instantly available; whereas, for previous generations, it was hard to access that kind of information. For the millennials, it was just a lot of everything. I am generalising but since their basic needs were met, they want everything advanced, they want more. I think, what they want is meaning — they don't want tangible things, they want the intangible. They want the work to matter to them, they want their life to have a meaning, they want the company they work for to have the values they believe in — these are all higher order wants.

Will it not make them unhappy when they realise they just can't have everything?

I don't think they are unrealistic as a generation. Their point of view is: “We want these things, we know we won’t always get them.” You get depressed when you say: “We want these things, and we are going to get them, whether it's realistic or not”.

I think millennials are pretty adept at realising when they are going to get what they want and when they are not. But I also think, because of the size of this generation, if they don't get it, they will create it.

So, if a workplace tells them ‘we can't give you what you want’, they will find a way around this. They will create their own companies; they will start up something of their own. The companies that resist this change will get run over.

What kind of companies do you think millennials want to work with?

I think they are more attracted to companies that have a clear culture. They know what they stand for, and why they stand for it. Millennials are attracted to companies that are employee-focused and have a digital mindset. There are companies which have designed their entire office based on the needs of their employees. In one of the cases mentioned in my book, one of the employees, who happens to be a millennial, says: “This place cares more about us, so we want to care more about this place.” Millennials don't see themselves as just cogs in a machine. They want to connect personally to their organisation.

How are they (millennials) changing the way business gets done?

Millennials, at this point, have not brought much change. Most companies are currently frustrating millennials. They are not established enough in the hierarchy to push the change. Not many are in a position to influence change that will affect their organisations. The outlier organisations that have changed are not run by millennials but by those from the older generations, who just happen to create an organisation that is consistent with millennials' beliefs. So, I think the ‘millennial approach’ is changing things and not necessarily the millennials as yet.

In the next 5-10 years however, they will bring a lot of change because they will become the largest segment of the workforce.

How should millennials prepare themselves for this change?

Proceed until apprehended, like Florence Nightingale did; it means, don't wait for someone to give you permission, just go do it. And when they stop you, saying: you can't do it like this, then you have a conversation with them and tell them about the way you have been doing it, and the kind of results you are getting, and explain that it is the reason why you want to keep doing it this way.

So, my advice to millennials who want to change things is: find ways to experiment and then show the results of your experiment because, while some managers may not like the millennials’ approach, they do like results, so show them that.

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