Last month I was involved in discussing the complexities of working with and managing the millennial generation at two different events. At the IITM Alumni event in Mumbai, I discussed the topic with D Shivakumar of PepsiCo and we agreed that millennials cannot be 'managed' in the conventional sense of the term. They need to be 'co-opted' into organisations, they need to be given the freedom to experiment and try out new things. Maybe all companies in India should create a Young Leaders Council like PepsiCo, to empower and listen to the millennials.
At another event in Chennai my fellow panellist, Madhukar Sabnavis from Ogilvy had interesting observations about how the millennials are moving forward into an asset-free, or asset-light existence. They were postponing several key marker life events such as marriage, having a child, buying a car, buying a house etc. They are also ‘experience’ driven.
After those two meaningful interactions, I was left with the thought that our old definition of jobs need a reboot. Should we treat all employees as volunteers? Should jobs be broken up into well-defined projects with a specific timeline? If this happens, how should companies adapt their own internal learning systems to capture the collective knowledge of this moving population?
So when I spotted the book Millennials—Exploring The World of the Largest Living Generation at the Higginbothams Airport book shop in Chennai, it quickly found its way into my hand baggage.
According to the American think tank, PEW research, there are five well defined generations: the millennials (born after 1980), Generation X (born between 1965-1980), the Baby Boom Generation (born between 1946-1965), the Silent Generation (born between 1928-1945) and the Great Generation (born before 1928.)
Author Subramanian Kalpathi is a millennial himself and works in the HR function of a global firm; so he feels for millennials, inside out. That could be both an advantage and a disadvantage, but in his case it is the former.
In the book he has classified some key aspects of the millennial generation and how they are different from the other generations. He categorises them into seven buckets — intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation; authentic versus dissonant culture; embracing innovation versus accepting conformity; digital disruption versus linear growth; being collaborative versus riding solo; continuous versus one-time learning; and managing self versus leading others.
Each chapter is replete with anecdotes and interesting facts. The author has delved into each chapter, each aspect in some detail, often referring to important books and articles on a similar subject. What was also very interesting is that in each chapter the author has examined the millennial practices of exciting start-ups. So you get to meet the founders of some high energy start-ups such as Quickr, big basket and even a younger start-ups called Shopsense and Fynd. The stories about these start-ups make the various topics come alive.
Though the author has tried to create seven silos and assigned companies to silos, there is a lurking doubt if such an assignment is indeed wise. I suppose there could be something bigger at stake and one is left to his own devices to figure that out.
The other concern is that these seven principles of managing or working with the millennial generation may not be applicable through the vast millennial generation of India, simply because this is a large number and their socio-demographics are vastly different. The mindset of a millennial from a big town with a post graduate degree will be very different from that of a (first-time) graduate from a small town. I was left wondering if the former will behave more like their global cohort, while the latter may indeed behave like a different generation, Baby Boomers (who want to save, buy a house, get married, help their parents improve their lives etc.) So when you look at India, you may see a clash not just across generations, but within the millennial generation. I wish the author had explored this aspect of the rapid change we are seeing in India.
I also think there may soon be another generation that is going to be entering colleges and work forces, the generation born after the year 2000. Will they behave differently at home and work?
Millennials by Kalpathi is an engaging book, all the same and is a must read to anyone reading this review who is trying to understand and ‘manage’ the millennial generation.