I was leading a workshop in generational diversity for a group of Generation Y military interns last week, and my PowerPoint presentation began to act up, advancing slides on its own despite the fact that I wasn’t even touching the remote.  I struggled with it for a few minutes, then gave up in exasperation.  “What generational stereotype does this speak to?” I asked the young participants.

They didn’t even hesitate.  “Old people don’t get technology!” they shouted in unison. 

I kinda like that.  An older crowd might have sat in what they considered to be polite silence, which would only have heightened my embarassment.  The Millennials just put it all out there so we could laugh about it.

It made me think about all the things this generation brings to the table in today’s workplace.  We talk a lot about the sense of entitlement, the lack of loyalty, the different work ethic—all those things we perceive as negatives.  What about the positives?  I’m reading a great new book called Keeping the Millennials, by Dr. Joanne G. Sujansky and Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed, and here are some of the high points:

  • Millennials are good at saying what they think.  I spend a lot of time teaching older employees to put their “left hand column thoughts” out there, to use Chris Argyris’s term; with the younger generations, you don’t have to sell them on the value of being candid.
  • Millennials understand how to harness the power of technology, especially social media, for competitive advantage. 
  • Millennials get that we live in a global environment, and they place a high value on diversity, seeing it as a source of creativity and dynamism.  Show a Gen Y job candidate two photos, one of a boardroom full of middle-aged white men and the other a boardroom full of people of different ages, races, cultures and genders, and they will choose to work for the latter company.
  • Millennials are results-oriented rather than “put-in-the-time” oriented, and they value work/life balance.  We could learn a thing or two from that.
  • Millennials want to make a difference; they look for companies that are socially responsible within their communities.

Perhaps most significantly, in my opinion, Millennials have been raised in a collaborative world.  They did everything in groups when they were in school; group sports, group class projects, even group dates.  In other words, they understand the importance of teamwork.  They understand what makes a team tick, and they enjoy working in a team environment where they can collaborate and brainstorm with each other.  What a great strength to leverage!

What are you doing to leverage the strengths of your Gen Yers?

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