Millennials In Corporate America: We Hate Your Hierarchies


by John Graham


Have you ever felt like you’re the only sane one in the room? Like when you’re trying to explain something to someone and no matter how eloquently you phrase it or how detailed you convey your thought they still have a blank stare upon their face. That’s how it is for a large population of millennials in corporate America. If you find that I’m telling your story by the end of this article then be sure to retweet, repost, and reblog this until it breaks the internet.

On a daily basis I hear, see, and experience the struggle between digital natives and non-digital natives. The clash is subtle yet overt. Often times the disconnects are so obviously disguised that both segments can’t quite put their finger on it but they know something is clearly amiss. When I hear of leadership using buzz words like “Social commerce” or “Digital strategy” and how they need to grow their digital channels what they’re really saying is ” We need to use these new platforms to increase revenue while using traditional approaches.” I then hear from those who have the pleasure of measuring effectiveness of their leaderships efforts to push products on to people through a medium that was never designed to do so. What is clear and evident to us is not so to those who didn’t grow up within the digitally defined norms of the new marketplace. We’re here to help but first you have to admit that you need help.

The age old adage “The customer is always right.” is more relevant now than ever before. With the ability to garner real time feedback on the effectiveness of your business decisions you’d think businesses would be able to sell anything to anyone at any time because they have the information directly from the consumer. Sadly, this is not so.  Customer sentiment reports are being scoffed at by leadership as just another forum for a few disgruntled customers to complain. Sales numbers fall well below expectations because product offerings are based on healthy margins instead of consumer demand. Year on year growth increases become justifications for not changing course even though your competitors continue to gain top of mind consideration and market share. To that I say, it’s difficult to tell someone the party is about to end when they’re having such a good time…

While I’m not suggesting a doomsday scenario for companies that fail to embrace “Now” media the way that millennials do, I am forewarning severe “misses” in sales targets for those companies that fail to take millennial perspectives into consideration. What’s more I see a mass exodus of top tier talent to companies that are more in tune with the realities of today. Here’s why…


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2015 millennials will overtake the majority representation of the workforce and by 2030 this hyper-connected, tech savvy generation will make up 75% of the workforce.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a major shift in the workforce population and this next generation is accustomed to being connected at all times. With our expectation of collaboration and inclusion being a foundational requirement to keeping us as employees, this new reality requires greater transparency from leadership to engage and encourage their new workforce. We want to be partners in the process of success not just backseat passengers without a voice. We want to apply our knowledge of consumer behavior to your digital business models instead of sitting by idly while our insights are ignored or supressed.  I understand that change is a slow and painful process so I’m not expecting miracles over night. I also recognize that large ships don’t turn easily and corporations are indeed like aircraft carriers. Since we will soon takeover as the captains of the ship it would be great to have a seat at the table. Fact is, we care passionately about the success of companies we invest our time into and feel we have a ton of untapped potential to offer.

We’re a generation of multi-talents and diverse interests. Unlike our parents generation what, we were hired to do is not necessarily all that we can do. The “Specialist” is a rare breed among us. Chalk it up to the lackluster economy or the myriad outlets for social expression but we have many hustles and we juggle many work streams simultaneously. One could argue that we’re Jacks/Janes of all trades and masters of none but then again weren’t our great grandparents during the depression? With more debt than any other generation in the history of the world we would be hard pressed to put all of our eggs in one basket. Companies go belly up every day and what was once the normal expectation of working a job for 30 years and retiring with a pension is now an anomaly if you’ve worked at the same company for more than 5 years consecutively.

Before I forget, we hate hierarchies. We respect your title and your years of experience but a top down dictatorship based on your pay grade and fancy title is a quick way to lose top talent. Instead, why not use those years of experience to mentor or mold the next gen leader? Give them opportunities to shadow you and observe how tough decisions are made behind closed doors. The old boys/girls network was cool up to the 90’s I guess but now it proves that you’re not in tune with the world outside of your office doors.Hierarchy

The leaders who recognize the new reality and embrace the future by cultivating environments of cross-functional collaboration are the ones who will win tomorrow. You’ll find that silos come tumbling down and input from various departments get communicated more succinctly to your customers because there’s a stronger focus on customer experience rather than internal bureaucracy. The result will be new revenue streams, stronger employee engagement, innovation, dogs and cats will suddenly embrace, and the middle east will at last find peace. Ok, the last two are a stretch but who knows?

With open communication between executive leaders and their millennial employees solutions to real world business challenges may be discovered in less time and at less expense. I just hope this happens sooner rather than later because the scene from Titanic with the band playing as the ship goes down is not a scene we’d like to be a part of. Especially when we have an app to tell us there’s a glacier up ahead!



Check out what Dan Schawbel Managing Partner at Millennial Branding (@DanSchawbel) has to say about the new workplace.

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