About every 20 years, a new generation enters the workforce. And, often, people freak out. Today, it is the Millennial generation (born 1982 to 2004). Back in the 1990s, it was Generation X, with their disrespect for authority figures and cynicism. Before that, it was the Baby Boomers with their long hair, protests and self-focus.
This has been going on for generations and generations. Each new generation brings a shift in values, so every twenty years or so we have to adjust to the newest generation that takes over the workplace.
Millennials are revolutionizing the way we view business. The social internet is powerful, but it was never going to revolutionize management on its own. And that’s where the Millennial steps in.
Over the next several years, Millennials will ascend into management positions. And with that will come change. This book is a guide for leaders who want to participate in the revolution, rather than be run over by it.
After some research, we discovered four organizational capacities that we think will prepare organizations to be successful:
Digital: Digital is about perpetual and exponential improvement of all facets of organizational life using both the tools and the mindsets of the digital world. Millennials are the first generation to have only worked in a digital workplace, and they are used to being able to leverage that power. Digital organizations grow faster and accomplish more by focusing on the user, both internally and externally.
Clear: Clear is about an increased and more intelligent flow of information and knowledge that supports innovation and problem solving within organizations. Clear in the Millennial era is about leveraging transparency in systems to allow better decision making. Clear organizations make smarter decisions that produce better results.
Fluid: Fluid is about increasing and distributing power in a dynamic and flexible way. Fluid in the Millennial era is about systems that enable an integrated process of thinking, acting and learning at all levels of the organization. Fluid organizations serve customers more effectively and are more agile in strategy and execution.
Fast: Fast is about taking action at the exact moment that action is needed. Fast organizations jump ahead of the competition by releasing control in a way that does not increase risk.
We’re optimistic about this revolution and about the future of business. And optimism, not coincidentally, happens to be a key trait of Millennials.
To get a better understanding of the future of business, we’re going to take a look at the past. The hype and the oversimplifications that dominate the conversation about generations have prevented us from seeing the serious implications that generational differences have for business.
Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe are arguably the most credible authors when it comes to generations. They have discovered a pattern about the generation cycle. According to them, once every four generations (about 80 to 100 years), there has been a major war that marked the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. The first major transition was during the Revolutionary War in the 1770s, then four generations later the American Civil War, and then the Great Depression and World War II.
If you skip ahead 80 years from the Depression and World War II, it is right now. If the pattern is correct, we’re due for a significant transition from one era to the next.
In the last decade there has been a lot of evidence that suggests our machine approach to management may not be around for much longer. Not coincidentally, machines are not very good at engagement or agility. The Internet will certainly play a role in the shift, especially with how we run our organizations.
Millennials are not the first generation to be frustrated with bureaucracy and hierarchy, but they are the first generation to have been given tools to get around them. Growing up in the context of great abundance, Millennials have a hard time in a workplace where they are expected to follow orders, wait for others to make decisions, and do things the way they’ve always been done. Millennials want to do something different.
Digital is the first of the four capacities because in many ways it is the most obvious characteristic of the Millennial generation. You don’t have to be an online retailer to embrace what it means to be digital, it’s more about the digital mindset. It’s about organizing and working in ways that leverage and build off of what digital technology has made possible in today’s world.
A big part of that is personal service. The digital mindset enables a personalized focus on each customer, something that was impossible in the previous eras. Organizations that embrace this mindset will put the customer first when it comes to decision making and provide as much customized attention as possible.
Digital companies are also constantly improving. Innovation is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. Companies that embrace the digital mindset can innovate business product offerings, business models and even internal management processes with a sharp focus on continuous improvement.
Being digital doesn’t mean you need the latest technology. That can be a part of it, but it mostly means putting the user first, serving the bulk of your customers, and continuously innovating and improving.
Truly digital companies integrate these principles into the framework of their organization. They invest more in technology. They focus on internal culture. They enhance their digital collaboration.
To make your organization digital, try to enable these principles. Create space for experiments. Let your employees try new things without fearing punishment. Guide your employees and give them better feedback. Hire for culture fit and personal growth. Revamp your HR department. Have them focus on using a hiring system that gets better candidates and reliable data around technical and collaborative skills.
Some of these may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make them easy. The digital mindset is about a relentless focus on the user (both external with customers and internal with employees), the ability to personalize their experiences, and continuous innovation – unlocking new value through learning and improvement.
There is an assumption in management that releasing too much information will lead to chaos, mistakes, misinterpretations, inefficiency and an overall lack of coordinated effort. This can be true. The solution is to control the information.
Sharing information doesn’t have to result in chaos. For example, let’s look at open-source software. By sharing the code and letting people change it, the software actually became more stable. Making it open allowed the right information to make its way into the right hands.
This is the core of clear: making more information available to more parts of the system to enable better and more strategic decision making, thus improving results. Clear organizations start with the assumption that information is and should be available. From there, they sharpen the focus to ensure that the correct information ends up in the correct place, relying on the power of an intelligent, decentralized system rather than central control.
Millennials are used to having all the information they could ever want at the tips of their fingertips. They have always had Google. In the workplace, they are frustrated by the lack of information flow. We’ve all felt it. It’s frustrating feeling like we have little power and are missing out on opportunities.
There is no one perfect way to make your organization clear. Clear companies have a few things in common.
They work out loud. The internal work that gets done is never private; it is transparent and visible. When everything is visible, employees will make better decisions about how to get the work done, without requiring any actual layers of management.
They bring clients into their system. The clients are in on the transparency as well. They help make decisions and assist with project management. By creating a system where everything is more visible – to everyone – it becomes easier to come to decisions in a collaborative way, in which everyone’s relative expertise is accounted for in sharing the decision-making load.
To make your organization clear, you must define your company culture. Here’s our definition of culture: the collection of words, actions, thoughts, and “stuff” that clarifies and reinforces what a company truly values. Most importantly, culture is the way people work together.
Share your data and be clear about who makes what decisions. Lack of clarity on these issues is often a huge inhibitor to good decisions. Give everyone access. Millennials know that, to do a good job, they should be able to find the information they need inside their organizations.
Fluidity takes a look at the structure of a management system. Hierarchies have their purpose. They are efficient and coordinated, and they provide a key benefit that we cannot live without: they reduce the cognitive load. However, maintaining distributed authority doesn’t necessarily require the vertical nature of traditional management hierarchy.
One alternative to a hierarchical pyramid is a circle. In this system, people are organized based on the work they do and their domains of expertise. There are separate processes to deal with operational tensions (working in the business) and governance tensions (working on the business). This does not make everyone equal. It makes it more fluid.
It is not the lack of hierarchy or uniformity of decision-making authority that makes an organization fluid. It is the ability to shift and morph those things to accomplish more. A fluid hierarchy learns how to shift decision-making authority and action to the individuals and groups who are best equipped to be successful given the context.
You can shift the power to those who have best access to the information or those who are closest to the customer, rather than always relying on the senior managers who may not have context-specific perspective.
The essence of a fluid hierarchy is a refined understanding of how a group of people can most effectively get done what needs to be done. “Managers” are valuable, of course, but they may not always be the best person to make every decision. Look at all of your team members as equally valuable.
A few things characterize a fluid organization. They create power flux. They balance their expertise. Some employees have an expertise with customers, some with numbers, and some with finance. Give different employees different authority based on their expertise. Fluid organizations communicate well and thoughtfully – which is key to making a fluid hierarchy work.
To be fluid, your organization must find its true mission. It must think beyond the profit margin. And it must be proactive. You need to look deeply at your organization and your business model to understand what drives success and clearly identify how being more fluid does or does not connect to that.
Fluid hierarchies are more dynamic and flexible, which puts the responsibility back on the people to do a better job. The ability to confront and work through conflict, without any drama, is crucial to making a fluid hierarchy work. When decision-making is more fluid, your employees will be forced to figure things out on their own, and that will require smooth handling of conflict when it emerges.
Another key aspect to a fluid hierarchy is authenticity. Authenticity is when your external behavior and the way you engage with others is very closely aligned with your deeper identity, purpose or even destiny. Authenticity is important because when your employees are confident that their coworkers are consistent, it will become easier to speak the truth, challenge each other and tackle the tough issues.
Fast is about speed. New technology is being developed constantly, and it’s almost impossible to stay ahead of the curve. In the last century, we’ve dramatically increased productivity and efficiency, but there’s always room for improvement.
The most important type of speed is the kind of speed that enables you to leap ahead when the context demands it. This is evident in the speed of social media growth. It took 13 years for television to reach 50 million people. Contrarily, by year 13, Facebook already had 1.2 billion active users.
Millennials are used to fast. And when they show up in the workplace, they expect this kind of speed. Millennials let go easily, while the rest of us hold on, and because of this, they’re always looking to the future. In order to leap to the next level, you need to let go of control. Giving up control is hard to do, but it’s worth it to make things go faster.
There are a few things you can do to make your organization fast. To begin, try to build real internal and external relationships. With genuine relationships, you will gain trust. And with trust, it’s easier to give up control and gain speed.
The previous three attributes will help with speed as well. If you invest in technology and build a digital mindset, that will generate speed. If you get information where it needs to go, that will enable speed. If you give power to those on the ground, your organization will become faster.
Get Out There
Digital, Clear, Fluid and Fast are powerful by themselves. But they will be much more successful when they are connected to a strong community. The transition needs human community to work, so integrate a community focus in addition to the four capacitates we discussed.
Furthermore, a strong and powerful culture will attract both the best customers and the best employees. And it will help you join the revolution.