“What comes to mind when you think of millennials in the workplace?” Bethan Harris, strategist and collaborator at Collectively and the League of Intrapreneurs (LI), asked during her Tuesday afternoon session at SB’16 Copenhagen.
Here are a few audience associations: flexible work, boundary pushing, instant gratification, technically advanced and can ‘build anything’, demand consistency, expect brands to walk the talk, slow to make decisions, free to not make decisions, entitled, difficult to manage, don’t want to be managed, collaborative, and Snapchat.
After moving past beanbag-chair stereotypes, Harris gave examples of how brands can be #awkward with millennials. It’s important to understand this generation in the workplace and as consumers, she said; they’ll be 75 percent of workers in 2025. Sometimes brands miss the mark — like the UK Government’s ill-fated “Chillin Meetin Tourin #Votin” ad during a recent Brexit-remain campaign.
She cited studies showing millennials (born roughly 1980s-2000) believe their generation is starting a movement to change outdated systems, want to work as a vehicle to create change, and want bring their ‘whole self’ to work. Many desire independence to work outside the system, they prioritize learning news skills at work, and they desire collaboration over competition.
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In this sense, millennials have a “tribe” mentality, which companies can use to build movements and nurture innovative cultures.
LI Global Director Maggie De Pree then spoke about how her organization helps companies drive internal innovation with a tribe mentality.
They want to create employees who have a deep relationship with their company, who don’t say they “work for” a company but “from” one.
“We all want a sense that we’re valued, we matter,” De Pree said. “Tribes can create a space for authenticity … because typically in the corporate world, we wear a mask … What if there were a tribe within your workplace where you could talk about these things?”
Tribes are about trust, she said. If employees feel connected to one another, they are more likely to collaborate, share and try new ideas. LI helps companies reboot their culture through small prototypes inside and outside organizations. De Pree explained that it approaches problems from the outside first by identifying a societal need and advising on companies on meeting the issues that matters to them. In aligning business with a larger purpose, three things are essential: articulating an identity and beliefs, creating action learning communities, and moving beyond trials to embed it in future systems of work, she said.
One of the companies partnering with LI is SABMiller. Bianca Shea, Senior Manager of Sustainable Development Policy and Advocacy, spoke about her company’s experience with an internal competition for innovative sustainability projects. Several were chosen to be funded, out of 140 entries and 45 potential projects, and today make the company more efficient through cost-cutting and new revenue.
The awards were highly successful, despite SABMiller facing a change in leadership at the same time. Critical to Shea’s success in driving change, she said, was having a clear message at the beginning and a strong case they believed in, and then building a cross-functional team that could address leadership. “You just need to light the fire under the five right people,” she said.
Luckily, the chairman of the board loved the idea of intrapreneurship for sustainability. Regional champions of the competition handled communication to employees, rallying them to participate and win the competition.
Shea said the company was also building from a strong sustainability foundation. “We’ve demonstrated that embedding sustainability into core business strategy is a generator of value,” she said.
All told, several hundred employees – millennial and otherwise – participated in SABMiller’s purpose-driven Mackay Awards.