More than one in three American workers today are Millennials (adults between the ages of 18 and 35) and they have surpassed Generation X as the largest share of the
workforce. With many Millennials set to graduate from college in the coming years, their presence in the American labor market will only continue to grow.
Millennials are also gaining leverage as consumers. In 2015, they had amassed $200 billion in annual buying power – the equivalent to the GDP of a small country!
As Baby Boomers head towards retirement and Gen X buying power peaks, gaining traction with the large Millennial cohort’s purchasing power is key to longer term
In a study with over 1,300 Millennials, Forbes found that “33% of Millennials rely mostly on blogs before they make a purchase, compared to fewer than 3% for TV news, magazines
and books.” Targeting the appropriate channels is key to tapping into the Millennial market.
As Millennials enter their late 20s and early-to-mid 30s, they are changing the way companies manage their employees and shape their organizations. The Baby Boomer
generation of managers created employee support programs. Generation X made the workplace less formal. Today’s Millennial managers are taking the “people first” approach to the next
level. They value results over time spent in the office, blur their personal and work lives, and empower employees to challenge the status quo.
Millennial mindsets, approaches, and working behaviors don’t always correspond to the Baby Boomer status quo
According to a report by Ivey
Business Journal, Baby Boomers grew up in companies with large corporate hierarchies rather than flat organizations with more team-based environments. We’ve
discussed how B2C companies have faced challenges in marketing to Millennials, but this is also a challenge for Business-to-Business (B2B) companies where Baby Boomer
and Gen X executives are trying to grow their businesses.
For example, consider vendor selection and vendor management strategies and tactics. Where Baby Boomers might have traditionally prized a vendor’s ability to respond quickly to an RFP, network at a trade show, and maintain personal
relationships, Millennials may place greater emphasis on data analysis, published reviews, and social media. As a result, B2B sales processes and approaches need to
evolve in order to build credibility and win business from the growing body of Millennial decision makers.
In this fictitious example, Frank is a Baby Boomer senior manager within vendor management at a consumer product goods company.
Frank (aged 56) has been with his current company for almost 18 years. He makes every attempt to meet with clients and colleagues in person, and values collaborative,
group decision making.
In this same story, Melissa (aged 32) is a fast-rising Millennial manager who works alongside Frank in vendor management. After graduating from a top-ranked business
school five years ago, Melissa has since risen up the ranks at her current company and is well on her way to becoming the Vice President of Procurement. She is
attached at the hip to her phone, tablet, and laptop, and uses them to transition seamlessly from being onsite to working remotely.
The dialogue below highlights just how different Millennial and Baby Boomer management styles can be:
Frank: “I think we’re about ready to sign on the dotted line, Melissa. I had dinner with
an old colleague of mine who’s been in the business for ages, and he said we can expect to have mockups of the redesigned packaging in our mailbox in two
Melissa: “Frank, while it’s great that you’re rekindling old relationships, can
you provide his company’s name so I can research his portfolio and any client reviews?”
Frank: “Well, the company is called Démodé Design Studio and they are more of a
word-of-mouth kind of company. Everyone in the industry knows them.”
Melissa: “Great. In the meantime, we have a meeting tomorrow with a top innovator in the
design industry, Revolution Design Collaborative. Here, check out the founder’s LinkedIn profile…”
Frank: “Sure thing. I’ll do it when I’m back at my desk…”
Frank and Melissa clearly have different approaches in sourcing potential vendors. Melissa asks for publicly available information on the company, whereas Frank
references his long-standing relationships. Melissa suggests using the social network LinkedIn while Frank seems disinterested. Baby Boomers and Millennials can often
diverge on which data points they value, as well as how they source them.
What will the future of work look like?
Ideally, the vision for the future of the workforce is not for the generational gap to disappear, but to instead be leveraged as a tool to bring varied skills, views,
and behaviors to the table. The key to harnessing this balance of skills and contribution into a single program or project is to enable communication. A great barrier
will be overcome when Baby Boomers are able to understand the working style of Millennials, especially as it relates to non-tethered and flexible work habits.
Millennials in turn will benefit from appreciating the significance and relevance that a long history within the industry brings to the table.
It’s one thing to know what this trans-generational future looks like. It’s another thing to know how exactly to get there.
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll listen in on another “impassioned” conversation between Frank and Melissa. We’ll also explore the leadership
challenges of getting the best of both generations in the workplace, and how best to address them.
This blog was co-authored by:
Sean is a Senior Consultant in the Digital Strategy
practice and is based in San Francisco, California. He has experience across a spectrum of industries, including telecommunications, life sciences, and ecommerce and
is most passionate about (digital) customer experience.
Emily is a Senior Consultant based in New York
City. She is experienced across industries including consumer packaged goods, retail apparel and electronics manufacturing, and specializes in product launch strategy,
process design and customer experience.