Working with Millennials in the Supply Chain

Working with Millennials in the Supply Chain

It was an epic battle of the generations on "Survivor" – Millennials vs. Generation X. Millennials were born between 1979-2000 and Gen X-ers between 1961-1980. Throughout the contest, stereotypes, characteristics, and philosophies of each group were discussed and debated. It was good entertainment, but in the real world of competitive business, people of all generations need to work well together.

Generational Stereotypes

Each generation has its own set of cultural stereotypes. Veterans, also known as the Silent Generation (1922-1945) were conformers who responded to discipline and order. Baby Boomers (1946-1964) were seen as optimistic and involved in social change. Those born to Generation X (1965-1980) were seen as slackers who preferred informality. Generation Y, more commonly known as Millennials (1981-2000), are often referred to as unmotivated, entitled, and overly confident. Although some of these descriptions are less than flattering, there are a myriad of positive characteristics that can be ascribed to each of these generations.

For Millennials, who will one day be the leaders of tomorrow, there are a variety of characteristics that may make this group uniquely positioned to handle the challenges of the future. As a group they tend to be more accepting of diversity, technologically savvy, work well in teams, and are motivated to learn and to lead. These characteristics are being noticed by many employers seeking individuals who are able to work in an increasingly technical workplace with employees who are not only diverse but who may not always work in the same building, state, country or time zone. This is precisely the challenges seen in the modern-day supply chain.

Millennials and the Supply Chain

In a recent study posted on the site Material Handling & Logistics, over 55% of respondents felt that the "abilities of millennials to understand and adopt technology will drive many new innovations within supply chain organizations." Another interesting finding of the study -- survey respondents said the "biggest impact millennials will have on the supply chain is in terms of how they change the way consumers buy. The move towards new marketplaces – online, mobile, via social media – will be one of the transformative ways supply chains will be affected."

Working with Millennials

Each new generation entering the workforce has their own unique philosophies, characteristics, and preferences that influence the way they create and navigate their professional life. Facilitating and nurturing those characteristics and preferences, in an active and meaningful way, requires managers to rethink the way they work and interact with their younger.

Five particular characteristics that set millennials apart from previous generations are the way they communicate, how they provide and receive feedback, technology skills, desire to work in teams, learning and leading preferences and the importance of meaningful work in their lives. Gaining insight into how this generation thinks about their personal and professional life can help managers get the most from the millennial workforce and maintain a pipeline of high quality employees for the future.

Communication and Feedback

Millennials came of age during a cultural shift surrounding communication. Former generations were not encouraged to acknowledge or articulate their feelings, especially at work. Now experts in psychology, sociology, and communication espouse the importance of effective interpersonal communication, productive conflict management, and active listening skills. As a result, many millennials value meaningful communication in both their personal and professional lives. This means that managers and supervisors must be open to the idea that many millennials prefer direct communication and thrive on feedback.

Technological Savvy

Video games, cell phones, and social media applications are as much a part of the millennial generation as transistor radios, roller skates, and protests were to the Baby Boomers. However, millennials are not just using mobile devices for Facebook and Snapchat, they are using it for online education, research, and innovation. Millennials have grown up with technology and they understand how to use it intrinsically to create products and services.

Team Work

Ask anyone older than a millennial how they feel about working on teams and they may grumble and recall times when one team member’s lack of production left other team members to fill in the gaps. Most millennials enjoy working with teams and prefer collaboration to competition. They tend to be highly social, prefer unity, and appreciate feedback and support from team members. This provides an opportunity for the manager who understands and can optimize these preferences to make a difference in an organization.

Learning and Leadership

Many millennials thrive on learning. They understand how to acquire knowledge and they also know how to apply it in the real-world. They tend to be eager to share their knowledge. Innovation and curiosity, combined with a desire to empower others, are characteristics of millennials and also happen to be characteristics of good leaders.

Meaningful Work

Millennials, as a group, do not seem to be motivated by money alone. Rather, they are inspired to do meaningful work. Barry Salzberg, Global Chief Executive Officer of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, suggests that "in their insistence on social principle, many millennials are not driven by money or success in quite the way their parents were." This generation wants to know how your organization will improve society, and how a company or organization’s values shape its actions. Millennials want to know how they make a positive difference in the world through their work.

Understanding millennials is one step toward creating a workplace positioned and ready to take on the challenges of the future. Finding a way for all generations to work together for the overall good of the organization is the real key to making a difference not only for the supply chain but for the organization as a whole.