By Lauren Brousell
Business leaders in charge of large-scale, digital transformation need all the help they can get. Oftentimes, they have valuable digital experts in-house—not just veterans of the workforce but digital natives as well. Otherwise known as millennials.
This age group of 18- to 35-year-olds represents more than one in three employees today, according to Pew Research.
Michael Papay, co-founder and CEO, Waggl, a web-based employee survey tool, says that statistic is only going to grow: “Within the next 10 years, 75 percent of the workforce will be millennials.”
Not only are they making up a large percent the workforce, but they have a direct effect on an organization’s transformation to digital.
“Millennials are driving things in ways we don't want to admit,” says Tom Koulopoulous, futurist and founder of consultancy Delphi Group. “It’s the first time in human history that [a younger generation] has been so influential and incredibly powerful in terms of wielding influence.”
Although it can be dangerous to make sweeping generalizations, it’s hard to ignore the impact millennials are having at organizations today.
In some cases, millennials make a small impact. Some are turning a manual process into a digital one. In other cases, this generation of workers can be instrumental in contributing ideas, gut-checking executives’ strategies, and being one of the driving forces towards an all-digital enterprise.
Whatever their contribution is to the master plan, the ability of these digital natives to leverage technology in powerful ways can help you and your organization benefit from their abilities. Here are three tips to help set that tone and bring your company to the next era of digital:
1. Shape the Role of millennials
Organizations embarking on a digital transformation journey need the expertise of all the employees in order to succeed, and that includes millennials.
Leaders can show millennials that they are a valued part of the transformation by tasking them with work that contributes to the overall goal of the company. It also teaches them skills that contribute much more to the bottom line, helping to move them away from the unwarranted perception that they are playing around with their iPhones all day.
For example, insurance company Liberty Mutual, is working on its IT2020 program. This company-wide initiative focuses on becoming more digital by the year 2020.
Eric Morin, a millennial and application portfolio manager, manages a team consisting mostly of millennials who create custom software for departments within Liberty Mutual. He says IT2020 is an effort that includes all generations but also empowers millennials to feel like leaders.
“With millennials, there is a lot more challenging of the status quo, asking why and understanding why we’re doing something a certain way,” he says. With IT2020, “there’s a strong sense that there are a lot of millennials leading and pushing the envelope with their actions.”
Specifically, Morin’s team contributes to the IT2020 mission by creating online solutions for employees to do their jobs more efficiently. The team uses agile methods, responsive design and single sign-on. They meet with their stakeholders on a daily basis to make tweaks and incorporate feedback. Morin says as a millennial, his own expectations around technology drive his team’s strategy.
“[Technology] is so ingrained in myself and the folks building the software that it really shows in the final product. At work and outside of work, everything I do is digital,” he says. “In 2016, if you aren’t making a huge investment in technology and making things digital and easy to use, then that puts you at a serious competitive disadvantage.”
2. Help them hone digital skills in different areas
Many organizations are structured so leaders set the business strategy and it trickles down through the ranks. But now more than ever, the youngest generation in the workplace can play a larger, more pivotal role in these strategies, especially when they involve digital technologies.
The world’s leading cosmetics company, L’Oréal, has rotational programs for millennial workers. Millennial Erin Morris was hired into the operations rotational program right out of college and is currently in the program as a launch coordinator where she manages new product launches for L’Oréal skin care brands.
“The program caters to millennials,” Morris says. “It gives us the ability to view different areas of the business, which keeps the job exciting and provides real growth opportunities.”
One of Morris’ previous roles was as a project engineer where she worked to optimize machines that produce L’Oréal products. She and her team worked with 3D printing, sensors, cameras, and vision systems to make machines more efficient.
For example, when launching a lip product from Maybelline called Baby Lips, her team designed a process that produced the product twice as fast, which resulted in a lower cost of product and labor.
“[L’Oréal] gives a ton of responsibility to young people. If you’re hired, they have confidence that you can handle whatever you’re given,” she says.
Another way to help millennials add value to digital transformation is by nominating them to lead. David Bray, CIO of the FCC, led his IT team through a transformation beginning in 2013. The mission was to get all IT applications off-premise and to make IT more agile and efficient, reduce cost, and increase stability and scalability of systems.
As part of the effort, Bray nominated “change agents” across his IT group and across generations to identify areas where IT could make improvements and propose creative solutions in the form of quick pitches.
“I don't look at [millennials] generation as being more or less ready to make a pitch,” he says. “If anyone can give three reasons why or why not to do it, and identify the top three ways to overcome the [risks], then they've got my support.”
Halfway through 2015, Bray and his team achieved the goal of moving all IT systems off-premise and to the cloud, and reduced the IT operations and maintenance budget. He attributes the accomplishment to teamwork and leadership among all generations and says the generational buckets are more of a mindset than anything else.
“There’s a strong need, when doing transformations, for organizational empathy,” he says. “It’s about being able to put yourself in the shoes of other coworkers and the people reporting to you, whether they be boomers, Gen X, or Gen Y.”
Perhaps one of the biggest differences among all the generations is how they receive feedback, and Papay reminds us what the expectation is for millennials.
“They've been awash with feedback their whole lives on Twitter, posting in Instagram, and getting a ‘like’ immediately.” He continues and says, “They're used to getting feedback almost every hour and then they go into organizations and they're getting feedback once a year? It's not matching their expectation and needs.”
3. Learn from them as you lead
Getting millennials into the digital transformation process shouldn't just rely on new-fangled programs tailored to their generation. Traditional practices can take on a modern twist, too.
For example, many companies use a reverse mentoring program across multiple business units. Many times, senior-level employees needed to learn about collaboration tools and other new technologies they are being asked to use.
In these types of programs, millennial participants teach the senior employees how to use the technologies and, in return, they receive a business mentor.
Tom Catalini, CIO of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, works with millennials within his IT group and also teaches an internet marketing fundamentals class at Northeastern University. This dual perspective has taught him to avoid putting the generations into categories and instead to focus on how people can work together to reach an end goal.
“I see it as a two-way street. There are things I can give through guidance, counseling, and knowledge that I only learned through experience. But I also have a keen eye and ear to what I can learn. I like to be confronted by people who think differently.”