The Generational Shift: Millennials Entering the C-Suite

May 9, 2018 – By 2025, according to some estimates, Millennials will represent 75 percent of the U.S. workforce, as the Baby Boomer generation retires and younger Millennials continue to enter work. The oldest Millennials are now 37, and some are in management positions; the youngest, at 21, are in their first jobs or still in education or training. A recent study ‘Redefining the C-Suite: Business the Millennial Way,’ by American Express set out to uncover how the rise of Millennials into C-Suite positions is set to change the way that companies are run.

Millennial attitudes are already altering and shaping the values and practices of business. However, there is an opportunity to delve deeper into the impact of Millennials who currently hold manager level business roles and, as they rise to senior jobs, how they may further change the way business is done and companies are led.

Mentoring: A Two-Way Street

Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers in the U.S. as the largest living generation, according to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. They are poised to make up a majority of the global workforce by 2020. One result has been increased mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, which many see as an effective way to impart knowledge from one generation to the next.

Sally Stetson, co-founder and principal of executive recruiter Salveson Stetson Group, agreed. “Companies would be wise to engage Baby Boomers and pair them with Millennials for more mentoring opportunities,” she said. Likewise, she noted, Baby Boomers can also be mentored by Millennials in technology initiatives or social media.

“While that’s certainly a benefit, there are many more advantages that you might not consider when pairing off your seasoned employees with promising young talent in your organization,” said Mike McDonough, CEO of Chicago-based executive recruiting firm General Search & Recruitment.

“Millennials value a job with good experience, a strong mentor and room for growth over a dead end job that pays what they perceive to be a paltry annual salary,” said a recent Findly’s study titled Recruiting Millennials: 21st Century Advice for Recruiting This 21st Century Generation. “They take directions well from management and look to you as a coach/mentor, so play the part. Just be careful not to overstep your bounds,” it said. The New C-Suite The new C-suite in the 21st century business will be different from that of the 20th century business, according to the American Express report. Executives will behave differently and prioritize different things, while navigating a world of work that has been transformed by new demographics, new technology, and new values.

From the qualitative and quantitative research that contributed to this report, American Express identified five key areas of difference that are set to characterize the Millennial C-suite.

1. Earning Authority

In the Millennial-led business, cultural or collegial leadership works better than authority or position-based leadership. Millennials focus more on who you are, what you do, and how you behave, than on your title or place in the hierarchy. Millennial leaders are focused on earning the right to lead, and this is partly done through emotional intelligence and emotional awareness: making sure that people understand the purpose of their project as well as the overall business, and taking time to understand the motivations of those who work for them.

2. Open to Everything

Traditional CEOs tend to turn to each other for support, which is one of the reasons they tend to accept offers to sit on the boards of other companies. Millennial managers will be more open to other kinds of support and to ideas from all levels within the business. One of the challenges Millennial business leaders face is how to be informal enough to be able to learn from those inside and outside of the business, while formal enough to be seen to be behaving appropriately to the role. Whether done informally or formally, Millennial leaders will welcome hearing from all voices.

3. Managing for Overload

Technology means that businesses are flatter, while layers of management and administration have been stripped out, or outsourced, in the search for cost reduction. Managers are therefore likely to be responsible for more people, while also fulfilling project roles and functional roles, and managing stakeholders and suppliers. One reason why forgiveness is more fashionable than permission is that it is the only way to get things done. But this all reinforces the importance of listening, of fairness, and of integrity.

4. Focusing on Human Value

Millennials see human value in a multitude of characteristics and attributes. As leaders, they seek out and source talent from atypical sources. Gender, ethnicity, and, to a certain extent age, are of less concern. Instead, Millennial leaders look for openness to learning and aptitude, shifting focus towards softer skills that encourage a more diverse workforce.

5. Working time

The spread of digital technology and networked teams means that it is possible to be involved with work around the clock. Millennial managers have grown up with an “always on” social life. But as leaders, they seem to be looking to establish clearer distinctions between work and the rest of life. Some businesses are now restricting email to office hours, and insisting on a certain amount of face-to-face contact with colleagues and remote workers. This is partly out of self-interest; time away from the moment-to-moment demands of the business manifests itself in beneficial ways, through lower levels of stress, increased effectiveness and productiveness at work, and better thinking insisting on a certain amount of face-to-face contact with colleagues and remote workers. This is partly out of self-interest; time away from the moment-to-moment demands of the business manifests itself in beneficial ways, through lower levels of stress, increased effectiveness and productiveness at work, and better thinking.

Changing Values

Some of the discussion surrounding Millennials, in the workforce and elsewhere, can give the impression that they emerged as a cohort with fundamentally different attitudes from previous generations, according to the American Express report. They do, certainly, differ from the older Baby Boomers. However, the role of the bridge generation, Generation X, in changing values is often overlooked. One of the objectives of the American express report was to understand the extent to which Millennials represented a radical break with earlier generations, and the extent to which their attitudes had partly been shaped by these generations.

“Millennials have high expectations for the businesses they work for – and will eventually lead,” said Susan Sobbott, president of American Express Global Commercial Payments. “The successful U.S. business of the future will need to have an authentic purpose and foster employee well-being with passionate, committed leadership at the helm,” she said. “Millennials are seeking work with meaning beyond just making money, and they’re willing to make tradeoffs to achieve their own definition of success.”

The Millennial Led Business

Looking at the American Express’ research on Millennial values, it is possible to believe that Millennials care more about the softer aspects of business, and this is largely true. They prefer to work with people and organizations that share their values, confirmed by our research. Across all four countries, 75 percent of Millennials agreed that “it is important that the values of the business I work for match my values.” Millennials want to work with organizations that put purpose ahead of profit—they want to feel like what they’re doing matters. But they also want to work for businesses that are effective.

Millennial managers also have strong views on the types of structures they expect to see from the businesses they work for and may one day lead. “They expect them to look beyond traditional models and to be open to working with new partners,” the report finds. “They expect that financial transparency will be important. They expect data to work harder, and to leverage it more efficiently to drive success. They expect businesses to be flexible in the face of volatile working environments. And they expect them to build connections between different functions.”

What sits behind this is that Millennials also believe that their job is no longer the source of status and self-worth that it once was, while their work, however conceived, may prove to be a more important source of self-worth than it ever was.

For some Millennials, employment is merely the means to live while doing what they really want to do. In general, Millennials value having a life beyond what they do for money. Traditional CEOs tend to turn to each other for support, however, Millennial managers will be more open to other kinds of support and to ideas from all levels within the business, according to the AMEX report.

One of the challenges Millennial business leaders face is how to be informal enough to be able to learn from those inside and outside of the business, while formal enough to be seen to be behaving appropriately to the role. Whether done informally or formally, Millennial leaders will welcome hearing from all voices.

Millennials see human value in a multitude of characteristics and attributes, says the report. “As leaders, they seek out and source talent from atypical sources. Gender, ethnicity, and, to a certain extent age, are of less concern.”

Instead, Millennial leaders look for openness to learning and aptitude, shifting focus towards softer skills that encourage a more diverse workforce.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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