In the last few months, we’ve seen the frustration of the Millennial generation clearly displayed for all to see. First came the Brexit vote in the UK, where just shy of 75% of the younger Millennials voted to remain with the European Union. Of the older Millennials the number was over 60% voting to Remain. When the decision was announced that the Leave voters had won, the UK’s Millennials protested that their futures had been decimated by older voters who did not have to face the repercussions of the decision to leave. Protests garnered media attention for weeks.
Then came the recent US election, where Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency in a vote that showed a similar opposing breakdown when you look at the results by age. The fact that older voters trend more conservative while younger voters trend more liberal is not surprising to those of us who follow politics. But the degree of the clash this year was notable. USA Today reported exit polling results from CNN indicating 55% of Millennials voted for Hillary Clinton, whereas older voters supported Donald Trump by 53%. Protests broke out in numerous cities across the country as young people decried the election result.
Clearly young people are frustrated, and it’s not limited to politics. Younger employees who are in the workforce are also frustrated at the biases they face at the office. A recent article in Entrepreneur pointed out three of the most prominent biases young employees suffer from when it comes to their perceived ability to lead: They lack experience, They aren’t knowledgeable about the business, and They have unrefined leadership skills.
The article did a pretty poor job of communicating how to counteract these biases, choosing simply to list actions that should be taken in order to correct the bias rather than addressing why the bias exists in the first place or how companies can identify if the bias is a problem in their organization. But I feel that it’s important to point out that each of these negatives has a very distinct positive associated with it.
They Lack Experience – The flip side of this coin is that they are bringing fresh ideas to the table. If your business is in need of change (and whose isn’t?), this is an incredible opportunity that can be leveraged to grow and foster that change.
They Aren’t Knowledgeable About the Business – The flip side of this coin is that they can help you business adapt in a VUCA environment by taking on the sacred cows that are holding you back. This is the antidote for the “We’ve Always Done It This Way” mindset that older leaders can develop that stunts your business growth and puts the organization at risk.
They Have Unrefined Leadership Skills – The flip side of this coin is that they can easily identify lackluster leadership practices which may be sabotaging your organization. If your leaders are talking the talk without walking the walk, younger employees have already seen that and, with a little training, can help current leaders up their game while building their own leadership toolbox.
I have dealt with these issues at every position I have held in my career. In the Executive Director role I was dealing with a Board entirely composed of people old enough to be my grandparents, and the next youngest member I had on staff was just a few years younger than my mother. After time and a lot of hard work, I was able to get them to trust me enough to give me the freedom to implement changes the organization desperately needed, and we reaped the benefits of those changes over multiple years.
This issue is also present among the younger employees at my current organization, to varying levels of frustration. While it is harder to affect change in larger, more complex organizations, it is not impossible. Already I have seen the signs of change that originate with observations from myself and my fellow younger employees. Those signs of change are what keep us going.
To the Millennials out there, take heart! Change can be slow, but remember that progress is better than nothing. You have lived your entire life in a VUCA environment, and you are well-adapted to it. That’s an asset…don’t be afraid to use it.
To the Leaders out there, beware of VUCA. It’s in all business and all sectors of the economy, and it will kill your organization if you ignore it or turn inward. Let your employees who are most knowledgeable about operating within a VUCA environment help you defend and grow your business in these challenging times.