The Millennials get a bad press. They are no different to previous generations.

The issue lies with a mix of process and a failing education system.

By Chris Sheppardson, Managing Director, EP

There are many articles that will critique the “me, me, me generation” or stress generational differences. They will note the importance of greater compassion in the business world these days. It is a quality that is seen to be one directly related to millennials who are rejecting the aggressive, alpha behaviours of the past in favour of a vision that is broader and is more community focused.

However the truth is that this is nothing new. Business throughout the ages has played a key role in communities. Compassion has always been linked to periods of great social unease. There was naturally a greater social conscience displayed by those that grew up in the post war period. The 1960s was a reaction to the 1940s. Today’s increased compassion can be arguably be linked to the financial crisis and the long period of austerity. Just as no single leadership style works all the time, so values and focus change too.

Last week someone joked about the greatest illustration for how things have changed is society’s views towards strangers. When we (baby boomers) grew up, strangers were a threat. Today they are embraced with greater trust. Just look at the whole concept of Air B’n’B. LinkedIn connects strangers as does social media – there will be a whole number of followers that one will not know and most are not overly concerned as to what they have insight into. But arguably this is not that much different to the 1960s and events such as Woodstock. Life does not fundamentally change.

Maybe one of the biggest real changes is over the increased love affair with data. Every business today analyses data and there is little room for the old fashioned concept of gut feel. Data reduces risk. Gut feel can offer risk.

Of course this in turn creates a new contradiction. Companies want a minimal risk strategy and yet often ask why no one takes risk. It is a common discussion that many people today have an advanced fear of failure and this is laid at the door of aggressive, results focused strategies. It is argued that one cannot soar in a competitive environment if you are not willing to be bold and take big risks – but to have this, companies need a culture of compassion and trust serves as a safety net that allows for high-wire risk-taking and breakthrough innovation.

Of course there needs to be greater understanding that failure just happens and goes with the territory but leadership teams are no strangers to failure. Every CEO will have failed regularly often. No the issue does not lie with any group but with how business has allowed compliance and process to be become too dominant.

Back in the 1990s and early 00s, Blair’s government set up a vision of a highly educated society with over 50% of people possessing degrees. Admirable but there is nothing wrong with:

  • The capable person with a strong work ethic that is prepared to work their way up from the bottom and compete evenly with the person without a degree
  • The dyslexic who found education no to their liking but possess other great attributes that contribute
  • The disabled person that has been forced to take a different route.

Rigid processes has started to reject those that can really bring balance in work and psychology to teams. Process has created an imbalance in teams that has created its own issues. Process and an education system that is arguably proving to fail the young. Too many have been taught to pass exams and not on their broader knowledge and their overall characters.

No the battleground is to ensure that companies and teams embrace all people and talent with no barriers. If one is good enough then there should be no barrier.

Good people will always find a way to improve their lives but maybe companies can help themselves but looking at L&D through new eyes too. Too much is made of generational change. If there is a problem, the blame lies not with the talent but the system