Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter are founding partners at WorkXO, a research and consulting firm working with leaders who are ready to create the future of work, powered by authentic connections with the talent of today and tomorrow.
The Millennial generation, shaped by trends like the social internet, abundance, diversity, and the elevated status of children, is showing up in the workforce with very different expectations—and at the same time shining a light on what the future of work is going to look like. In our book, When Millennials Take Over, we identify four cultural capacities common to organizations that are aligned with both Millennials and successful, forward-thinking organizations: Digital, Clear, Fluid, and Fast.
Digital is only partially about your capacity to employ and leverage digital technology; more importantly, it’s about adopting a digital mindset. That means developing proficiency in three areas: an intense focus on users, including customers and employees (both “users” of your culture); the ability to provide customized experiences for those users; and the capacity for constant improvement and innovation. A few examples of what a strong digital culture can claim:
- The internal tools and technologies we use are as good, if not better, than the ones our competitors use.
- Our company spends time and money giving employees skills they didn't have before they got here.
- We push past the "we’ve always done it that way" objection.
Clear is about being transparent in the service of better decision-making: not sharing information blindly, but making things visible, both internally and externally, to increase the quality of decisions throughout the organization. Clear cultures honor the connection between transparency and effective decision-making, and ensure the right people have the right information at the right time, as in:
- We share information freely to help others out, even when it’s not specifically part of our job to do so.
- Leaders are transparent about why they had to make difficult choices.
- We welcome comments from others even if they disagree with us.
- We evaluate the quality of the decisions we make internally.
Fluid is about injecting flexibility into your organization’s hierarchy. The goal is not a flattened power structure, but one that is intelligent and reflexive, depending on the context and who has the information needed to make the best decision. Fluid cultures create rules within the hierarchy that permit enough flexibility for greatest effectiveness, such as:
- Knowledge and expertise matter more than title or tenure.
- The senior level gets out of the way so more can get done.
- We remove 'silos' and 'boundaries' at work; we refuse to be territorial.
Fast is about being able to leap ahead of the competition and accomplish speeds that surprise those around you. The hard part of achieving that kind of speed is letting go, in some measure, of control—and you can’t let go of control unless you’ve established a trustworthy process to replace it. Fast cultures build a specific kind of trust internally, releasing traditional controls and unlocking amazing speed. A few aspects of fast cultures:
- Embracing change as an organization.
- Managers will back up their employees when they want to try a new way of doing something.
- We trust each other to do our jobs and to do what’s right.
How your employees experience your culture around these Millennial drivers—and particularly how the drivers are interrelated—have important implications for organizational performance. Do the hard work of identifying and strengthening these capacities, and you’ll be positioned to attract the workforce of tomorrow, keep them engaged, and maximize effectiveness.
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