Business Brains

Five tips for working with, and for, twentysomething Millennials

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Contrary to popular belief, Millennials aren't driven primarily by eco-interests, but they do believe in business as a cause.

OK, first off, let me say that I don't look at people and immediately try to guess their age. Maybe it's because subliminally, I don't want anyone to return the favor. But I do remember the days when my now 40-year-old brother was thrilled that his hair did the George Clooney salt-and-pepper thing in his 20s, because it meant he might be taken more seriously in business meetings or sales calls.

With another birthday approaching, I find myself responding more often to data and information about the so-called Millennials, those primarily born in the 1980s and 1990s approaching the year 2000 switch-a-roo. These are the people who probably don't remember a time when there weren't e-tail bookstores. Or, who have pretty much ALWAYS had email. They ones, in short, for whom using Internet-connected technology is a habit, not an acquired skill.

There are two big reasons that I care about people of this certain age: one, they will have a lot to say about the shape of technologies that are developed and released over the next two decades. And two, I'm going to be be working for one of them. In fact, one of my editors here at SmartPlanet is significantly younger than me.

In that context, I just went through a study about Millennials conducted by Intrepid, a market research consulting company, and MrYouth, an integrated marketing agency. The study, called Millennial Inc., covered more than 800 online interviews covering career issues, consumer preferences and the intersection between technology and life.

Here are some of the top takeaways from the report, which should serve as tips for how you approach working with a Millennial -- no matter whether they are your colleague or your boss:

  1. Get ready to collaborate: If you're one of those maverick sorts who likes to do things on your own or your department prefer to keep to itself, get over it. Millennials will seek -- and encourage -- the breakdown of siloes between divisions, job functions, etc. Incidentally, looking across siloes is one of the best ways to find operational efficiencies, so this is just a good idea, no matter how old you are.
  2. Think of business as a cause: It was interesting to me that the Millennials survey actually WERE NOT all that much more hyped up about green or eco-issues than the general population. In fact, only 20 percent were actively concerned about their personal impact on the environment. Approximately 50 percent were neutral on this issue and the rest highly disagreed with the notion that they were concerned with their personal impact. The study describes their mindset as "conveniently conscious." That doesn't mean they aren't interested in the world around them, though. The study apparently believes that responsibility should be integrated into the core of the business.
  3. The phones are open: Actually, not the phones necessarily, but the lines of communication. The study shows that Millennials believe that products should be as personal as possible. That means, of course, that they want to work for companies that encourage and act on customer or partner feedback. So, get familiar with social networks. Or don't, at your peril.
  4. Quality matters, a lot: Only 11 percent of the Millennials disagreed with the idea that they should/would pay more for items of higher quality. This is a generation that responds very negatively to hype. Which, by the way, will factor in the ways they will decide to promote and advertise products and services when they are on the spending end of the marketing budget. By the way, their favorite brands right now are Apple (shocker!), Sony and Nike. The No. 1 reason Millennials cited these brands was because of perceived product quality.
  5. Ideas mean more than experience: This is the one that should really get your attention, and it is really code for the whole crowdsourcing movement. Apparently, Millennials don't care about tenure, they care about contributions. To me, this says two things: First, resting on your laurels is a dangerous activity and, second, if you have a great idea, it doesn't matter whether your hair is turning gray.

More coverage of Generation Y on SmartPlanet:

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure