Millennials get a bad rap. Lately I’ve been overhearing conversations on the perceived entitlement of 18- to 34-year-old workers and the difficulty involved with managing them. Search on Google and the results are horrific:
This popular idea not only risks being ageist, but also it misses the bigger picture. Creativity has become one of the most important differentiators in our rapidly changing world. Like all young generations before them, today’s Millennials are adept at challenging the status quo. This is not a bad thing. Businesses need diversity to succeed. This diversity comes in many forms and with Millennials, may even come with some cost: like the fact that two in three Millennial workers expect to leave their current jobs by 2020. The number might be shocking—but instead of being discouraged, think about how the flow of people into and out of your company forces your organization to adapt to change and think quickly
So, how do you create a work environment where Millennials can thrive? Here are some simple touch points I’ve seen work at Prezi.
Empower transparent communication.
Millennials are the first digital natives. Unlike some of your older employees, these people grew up communicating over the Internet and via smartphones. They are well versed in navigating the often tricky waters of public/private life. Offer them the opportunity to express this skill internally with a variety of tools, starting with something as simple as email.
Starting in Prezi’s first year, we allowed everyone to communicate using a shared email address. The idea was to create an account where anyone (not just managers) could send a note and it would go to the entire company—and we encouraged employees to be forthright with their opinions. At times, I witnessed prolonged debates over things like product features or marketing messages. Other times I would see a message from a person who had decided to leave the company. These messages were sometimes painful for me to read, but they also gave us a window into the thoughts of a big sample of people at the company.
As a manager, it can be daunting to encourage this type of open, transparent communication. What if people troll or obstruct? Ask yourself what is better, though: to know about the thoughts of people and be transparent, or to allow those feelings to happen behind closed doors? Mass communication in today’s age is only one click away and cannot be stopped, even if you may not like some of what is being said. Over time at Prezi we decided to switch to a different messaging software that functions in a similar way, but the ongoing opportunity for cross-company open communication has been appreciated—particularly by our younger employees. And it’s a great barometer for how things are going in our different teams.
We’ve also learned some valuable lessons that transparency is never clear cut. You’ll be engaged in discussions that you may not prefer. On the other hand, engagement is more important than control, so creating an environment where conversations thrive will benefit your culture in the long run.
Millennials thrive in a culture of collaboration. According to The Intelligence Group, 88 percent of Millennials prefer a collaborative work environment over a competitive one. For most of us, it’s easy to say yes to collaboration, but actually making it happen can more difficult. After a lot of trial and error at Prezi, we came to realize that expectations are set starting in the hiring process. Like most companies, we fell into the trap of hiring people who look good on paper/in interviews while rejecting others who had spent less time developing their interview skills.
To solve for this, we turned to collaboration.
Now, once we’ve narrowed down a few final candidates for a position, we will bring in those people for an “assessment” where the candidate will work alongside his or her potential team members on an actual task that will be part of the job for which he or she is applying. This allows us to assess the candidate at the same time they are assessing us.
Candidates can ask themselves if they are being heard and seen by their colleagues/managers, and teams can assess if an individual would complement the rest of the department. This process allows people to have a voice. It’s only when you take the time to hear each other out that you can generate better solutions together. A hiring process like this also sets the expectation with current and future team members that collaboration at Prezi will be key.
Practice a beginner’s mindset.
So much of what we do in our daily lives is built on habit, but when you do things mindlessly you also risk missing the subtle nuance that may enable you take the next leap forward. Millennials are relatively new to the workforce, which means they have few work habits and are excited to adopt new ones. Entrepreneurs are smart to take cues from Millennials around the habits of their own organizations.
For example, Millennial employees at Prezi love trying and introducing new tools to the rest of the company. While many attempts at introducing new technology and processes fail—and only grow our learnings—on occasion they succeed. We haven’t been able to settle on one video conferencing tool and often we waste valuable meeting time negotiating which platform to use, but the continued use of these tools has helped us also to understand their strength and weaknesses.
A more successful experiment has been the introduction of Slack, which a young employee brought into the company for chatting with his team members (disclosure: we share investors). For some time we faced the challenge of having to maintain two chat services—Slack, and the software we were previously using for intra-company messaging—but after while we saw that Slack was clearly superior, and we ended up discontinuing our previous service. We’ve learned that building a creative organization means you have to be tolerant of noise in the system and mindful in picking out the signals that help you to become more successful.
Building bridges between cultures and generations is one the hardest challenges for humanity, but diversity of thought and background is good for business. Keeping an open mind is not just the moral thing to do, it is also the economical thing to do. It will help your company to build a future instead of just following it.
This article was written by Peter Arvai from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.