Monday, February 21, 2011

Opportunities and Challenges in managing the Millennial Generation

Have you heard the latest? Where, A is for Apple, but B is not for ball—it is B for Bluetooth, C is not for cat – but it is for Chat. And the saga continues! D for Download, E for Email, F for Facebook, G for Google and it goes on all the way up to X for XP, Y for You Tube and so on.

Leaving the humour apart that’s the story of the generation in reference.

And now, let me make an unconventional beginning.

I want to place before you a few discreet and disparate data points for your consideration. And you can tell me if you have either not heard or experienced any of these or something similar to these.

There are two friends. These two young lads say they are very close friends of each other. They live in two adjacent flats and yet don’t meet each other for days and weeks, yet they know everything that is happening in each other’s lives - literally on a day to day basis if not on an hourly basis! Their media of bonding are email chats, text exchanges, facebook, etc...

A friend of mine recently went to attend a two week long workshop on Vipasana – A way of Life that guides you to make a connection with oneself without allowing any communication with anybody around oneself. An introspective, soul searching and meditative intervention. What he found there was that his class had 40% representation from the millennial generation.

You all must have seen one of the popular cartoons making rounds on the intranet where a young child was seriously asking his mother whether he was born or downloaded! I am told that, that cartoon was depicting a common story.

A major political upheaval is happening in Egypt and it is already believed that but for the existence and propagation of the social media in its current state, the result of the uprising against the long standing political power would not have been the same. To what extent technology and social media have played a role in this political transformation will eventually be settled and surely the political scientists will make their studied conclusions. However, the fact cannot be denied that the social media powered by a strong user-base of the members of the millennial generation, has had an influential role to play here.

Such is this generation – impatient, experiential, exploratory and active learners. It is not really so important, for the purposes of this discussion, to debate as to what are the cut off points related to the beginning and end of this generation. It is generally accepted that millennial generation consists of those who were generally in their teens at the turn of the last millennium.

Characteristics of this generation vary, depending upon their socio-economic and regional context. However, they have some common threads. We already mentioned about impatience and learning capabilities above — additionally, they are extremely savvy when it comes to usage and familiarity around communication media and digital technologies – an ability sadly missing in our generation when compared with the Millennials.

As the educational awareness grows around the world, coupled with higher learning orientation of this generation, it is safer to assume that the Millennials will not adapt to the existing organizational cultures without asking some hard hitting questions. The earlier generations choose cultural compliance as a preferred route but this generation will demand cultural re-definition in the face of changing realities around them. Obviously, the imperative for the corporations will be to redesign their supervisory and leadership training interventions that would address a need created by the induction of Millennials in the work force. Managers of this generation will also need to create extra bandwidth for handling some additional work, because apart from the task allocation and supervision they will also have to explain to the Millennials the norms of business behavior related to the use of cell phones, internet, digital cameras and so on.

Unlike the earlier generations that saw a comparatively stable business environment, the Millennials unfortunately have already seen and experienced the bumpy roller coaster rides within the businesses they have been working. They have seen and felt the effects of right-sizing, economic meltdown and the resultant actions that the organizations took to tide over the crises. This has made them cynical about issues like job security, long term loyalties etc.. The organizations, as a result, are now faced with managing the residual effects of such actions that have made a long lasting impact on the millennial generation. This is the time that calls for immediate and focused investments in employee mentoring, training and strengthening platforms within the organization for building credible relationships that can start working as loyalty builders within organizations.

When I was a teenager and I needed a bicycle to go to the school, it was by any definition a necessity and not a luxury. Looking back, I hardly possessed any items or services of luxury at that age and in those days. I am sure, given the enhanced ability on part of the millennial generation to argue logically, they can very easily prove to me that the iphone, the kindle, the tablet PC etc. that they possess are all equally basic necessities! But that is not the point I am making. My point is that my bicycle was bought by my dad and handed over to me but today the Millennials are playing ever increasing and larger roles in influencing all the purchases within the family. Goods and services for their consumption are not even a matter of consultation outside themselves. Result ? As a prospective family car seller, you better appeal to those young folk within the family rather than go in the conventional way to reach out to the one who is going to write the final cheque!!

This generation does not like restricted choices, they like to exercise their freedom to select, personalize and customize the products and services they consume.

In short, they want to be in the centre of the decision-making plate. It is a good news - if you look at them as future business leaders and it may not be such a great news for their current managers and coaches if they are used to a habit of making non-inclusive decisions!

And finally some India perspective :-

- One of the recent studies shows that 72 % of the Millennials in India , 52% in the United States and 45% in China have said that, the more state-of-the-art technology the organization has, the more will be their inclination to join such an organization.

- Millennials of China and India have significantly higher positive perceptions of technology when compared to their counterparts in the Americas and APAC.

So far so good!

But, equally, one should not ignore some other facts that surround India.

- All the discussion we have had above predominantly covers certain sectors of Urban India, but we should not ignore that 50% of people in India work in agriculture, fisheries and farming sectors.

- 25% of India lives in Poverty.

- With the best estimates we are running 10% of unemployment and I am not even counting the disguised unemployment and that the current leading indicators of inflation will only worsen the situation. Our labor force is growing at an annual rate of 2.5 % and employment at 2.3%, clearly adding to the ongoing unemployed youth!

- More than 90% of the working population is employed in the unorganized sector.

- On an ongoing basis, amongst those who find employment, just 10% are absorbed by the service sector.

- And finally, the top 10% of India’s population enjoys almost 30% of the country’s income and the lowest 10% have just over 3% of the country’s income spread over this segment of population.

Although on the face of it, this statistic may look out of place within the framework of the subject in reference, I always think that it should form a necessary reminder to every Indian about the entire context in which we live and operate. Non-appreciation of the same can make us nationally irrelevant!

In summary, the emergence of the millennial generation is universal but its manifestations have unique socio-economic and regional dimensions. It is very important for us, the business leaders, to understand what this generation is made of, what their aspirations are, what works for them and what does not work and what we need to do to re-orient our operating strategies that can best accommodate co- existence of more than one generations within our business set-ups. Millennials, although are the least understood, but have a highest potential to influence the futures of our organizations. Hence, this discussion!


Praajakta said...

Very relevant, Abhay Kaka. The "Millenial Generation" is surely going to have an influence on the way much of the world works in the coming years.

For instance, in times of recent airline industry crises (volcanic ash/strikes etc) companies have resorted to Facebook and Twitter over more "traditional" telephone lines or even websites (which have inbuilt limitations thus delaying information dissemination). The key these days is speed - the "more" instantaneous the better.

Then there's the Middle East... no need to say more, as you point out in the article!

A thought: While perhaps advocating the correct use of phones/cameras could be justified by reference to politeness and respect for others, many companies also ban the use of social networking/even private email sites during work hours. However, as we've seen, the "Millenial Generation" is not one to stop communicating just because of a few "rules". So do you feel that such companies will have to modify their views of productivity/discipline/whatever else they use to justify such policies, if they want to attract/retain this talent pool?


Unknown said...

Very true Abhay. Yes, there are further variations depending on Socio Cultural orientations. This is further magnified by digital divide in societies due to economic factors. This is a time of churn and more to come after mid east.

Amit Malik said...


Like always witty and thought provoking. Some serious points for consideration. Irony is that when you delivered it few would be listening. To make sure everyone of your audience understood hope you did pass on the address of your blog.

keep them coming ...


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Dear Praaju...You are making some good points and asking a very valid question.My short answer to your question is that such companies will have to evolve their policies such that the Millenials view them as contemporary, progressive and non-restrictive. In fact, one of the researchers has predicted that this generation may have more propensity to violate rules/norms that are seen/perceived by them as restrictive/primitive/non-pragmatic/non-progressive! I didn't elaborate on this point, because, historically there is an evidence that every young generation is rebellious--and therefore such rebellion, per se, doesn't define/characterise/differentiate the Millenials. Agree?...Regards

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Hi Buck,

As always, thanks a lot for your quick and yet very insightful comments....I appreciate it..Cheers..Abhay

From: Buck Kulkarni []
Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 7:53 AM
To: Valsangkar, Abhay (Abhay)
Subject: RE: Hope you find it relevant...

Excellent piece. As usual, you present the issue and the arguments carefully and without bias.

The middle east revolutions are entirely to the credit of the millenial generation. They are demanding basic rights and dignity that their fathers (or our contemporaries) agreed to live without in return for a false sense of security. But as they say, those who give up freedom for security end up with neither. I don't know if you read, a newborn Egyptian baby girl has been named "facebook" by her father to underscore the role that name played in the revolution. Again, I guess the credit goes to Millenial generation, as you say it well in the article, they are not afraid of asking questions and questioning conventional wisdom. Not only Africa and Gulf, we need a lot of that in India as well. All of us know what lies behind our ITES glass towers.

Something to feel hopeful for!


Abhay Valsangkar said...

Amit...Thanks. I agree with you that the audiences possess variable degrees of attention spans! Next time, I'll ensure that I also lead them to my blog.Thanks for the suggestion...Cheers..Abhay

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Jagdish.You make a very good point about the digital divide!...Cheers...Abhay

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks Shrikant. I appreciate your instant and encouraging response...Cheers..Abhay

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Thanks, Appamama.Your response,as always, is crisp and lucid.I truly appreciate your encouragement.Regards...Abhay


Dear Abhay,
Thanks for sending your article which provides lot of food for thinking.I liked your fluent style of writing, which takes care of all requirements of good composition.Splendid opening,clarity and conviction about the observations made and an ability to put it in convincing words.This is as for the style,the contents of the article are truly relevent to the existing situation the world-over.While the common men are busy grappling the present day problems, the leaders are busy in finding solutions of the problems yet to be uncovered.The machines and their models become obsolete at great speed. Our thinking, our social norms and our training has to match that speed to avoid disaster.
(A couple of days back inTOI there was an article about--cashless economy to do away the menace of black money.You can see in that some futuristic thinking and finding some solution to an age old malady)
Love and blessings,

Abhay Valsangkar said...

Dear Anantji,

As always, your observations are to the point.

I'll certainly be interested in your further thoughts, once you have had time to go thro' the article.

You make two very significant points:

*The pace of changes is breath-taking, leading to ever-changing aspirational canvass

*We must find newer and more concrete ways to forecast challenges that newer situations will throw in front of us--thereby reducing possible 'uncalled for' surprises


From: anant tope

Dear Abhayji,

I have had a cursory reading of the article because of some professional pre-occupation but would certainly go through it in a focused way. However, I could manage to read the summary and following are my views. I know, it is incorrect to share the views without going thru the entire article but could not avoid the temptation of penning my thoughts as they emerged.

The facts enumerated are indeed indisputable about the Millennial generation.

However, considering the dynamism and its pace around them encompassing almost all the spheres which matter, I feel that their aspirations, motivational requirements also appear to be equally dynamic. By the time you think that you have identified their needs and re-orient your operational strategies within the business set up, the identified needs have become stale and obsolete ( almost overnight if I may say so ) because of replacements . The million dollar question is can we re-orient ourselves with the same dynamism? This might appear to be a theoretical aspect but a deeper peep in the issue would reveal the practical connotations.

By saying so, I am not saying that there is no solution to this. Perhaps, the suitable methodology would be to anticipate the changes in aspirations, zero in on the most probable ones and have your plan B ready. This way the possibilities of WE being taken for a wild surprise could be minimized and the gap could be reduced. The beauty in this proposition is how good you are in arriving at the most probables !!!



Suraj Vaswani said...

Well said, Abhay!

There is one point less emphasized on and that is "Human Relationships."

Relationships are the core of every human being. They may be extremely tech savvy; however these millenial generation fail to understand & sustain people relationships.

Human Development can be best measured by progress in technological competencies coupled with effective people relationships.

And this can be best achieved only if they give due respect each to first - effective human relationships and then to technology.

Suraj Lal Vaswani