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Guest Commentary: The Millennials Are Here – Are We Ready?

As a person who endorses the philosophy that in life and in business it is important to value the differences in people, I am intrigued by the impact that the millennials are making.

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John Passante is a broad-based senior executive with over 30 years of extensive organizational development and senior human resource experience with progressive corporations involved in multiple locations, both domestic and international.

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Co-authored by Dr. John A. Passante and Ryan Dickerman, Eastern regional sales manager of KYB Americas.

As a person who endorses the philosophy that in life and in business it is important to value the differences in people, I am intrigued by the impact that the millennials are making. It is indeed exciting and refreshing. It has been enlightening for me to manage and guide millennials, and a rewarding experience to function as an executive coach for many of them. Their technical talents and skills cannot be matched by most Baby Boomers.

This group of energetic people are well-educated, confident, direct, probing and eager to make a difference and to leave their mark on business and in the world.

When I began my business career with large aftermarket organizations, they tended to be corporate hierarchies, unlike today’s flat management structures that are more team-based which the millennials thrive on.

This group is quite comfortable to challenge senior management, and to share their opinions, which I find both admirable and refreshing. My generation was less likely to challenge senior management. For example, as a United States Air Force Veteran, I learned quickly to follow orders.

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Let me be clear: millennials air their opinions with facts, thoughts and conviction. They seek to improve things and paint a vision of the future. Their youthful eyes have watched the world become global and connected, and their sweet spot is to work in a collaborative fashion with access to the information they need. These individuals thrive on creativity and innovation.

I marvel at the millennial’s focus on creating a work-life balance. Flexibility in the work environment is of paramount importance to this group of exciting thinkers. Millennials seek challenges and rewards. It is important to reward in public, which enhances belonging and staying connected. Immediate feedback is a must!

Millennials are the first generation to witness the world going from analogue to digital. Their knowledge and affinity with technology is a huge game changer. Instant access is in their DNA, which influences how they are managed and how they behave as consumers. They are keen on job growth and diversity in work assignments, as well as both vertical and horizontal career moves.

Millennials are learners. They excel at multi-tasking and seek to make relevant contributions. Adding value is high on their list. Indeed, millennials have and will continue to foster change in our society as we know it. They embrace change. Fun is important to them, and there are many lessons we all can learn from this heady group. I admire their refreshing approach to life, learning and business.

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Openness is a given with millennials. Authenticity is in their genes. Their honesty is a jewel to be admired. They take ownership of mistakes and are direct in their communications. Adaptability also is a key trait for this group – they enjoy learning new technology and systems – and it is one of the many things I have learned from them.

Teamwork counts.

Working with millennials offers the opportunity for collaboration and teamwork. Their generation grew up playing team sports and, in my view, we should all view life and business as a team effort. Working on projects with co-workers and building relationships are strong motivators and are good for company morale. Their value system is anchored in the mission to make the world better. Involvement in helping, such as aiding the poor and veterans, is a passion of the millennials.

This generation is leading the change for a more people-sensitive workplace, with open dialogue, flexibility and autonomy. It has been my honor to function as an executive coach for many millennials who have shared their insights, experiences and dreams with me, some of which include:

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  • Company integrity is No. 1 in their value system, the truth matters – the good and the bad
  • Products and services should meet or exceed their marketing promises
  • Keep them informed, coached and mentored
  • Life is to be celebrated, and life/balance drives them
  • Listen to them and take them seriously
  • They do not need a boss – they want a coach and a guide
  • Culture is more than a nice word
  • Do not put them in a box; they want to explore
  • Give them freedom
  • Do not judge them by their age
  • Paint a picture of their career path
  • Nurture their “can do attitude”
  • Capitalize on their affinity for networking
  • Remember to make work fun
  • Provide feedback every day on how they are doing

The millennials have intelligence, spirit, energy and curiosity – let us all join them in bringing positive change to our work and to our industry.

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Over the course of the past 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to function as an executive coach for a diverse group of remarkable, unique and talented leaders. And as a lifelong learner, I have indeed gained a great deal from each of the leaders I have worked with. The relationships have been based on trust, mutual respect and honesty. It is a true partnership, a sharing of career aspirations, challenges, concerns and dreams. It is rewarding to learn from the individuals I coach. I also enjoy their multigenerational point of view. It was with this in mind that I asked Ryan Dickerman, Eastern regional sales manager of KYB Americas, to share his views on the executive coaching experience. At each coaching session, we met at the intersection of collaboration and inspiration.

The Thoughts Of A Millennial by Ryan Dickerman

As a millennial in a leadership role, I was pleased that Dr. Passante asked me to share my thoughts and experiences on a subject that I have a great deal of interest in. Over the past year, John functioned as my executive coach, which gave me the opportunity to share my thoughts on leadership, career development and many other topics that led to a very rewarding experience. Being able to reflect on my work and what I have accomplished so far in my career was an important growth step for me. The mentor/coach in my career was the single-most important aspect of my success. It allowed me to vent frustrations as well as receive vital feedback from an experienced professional. I know that millennials have a place in our work environment, which is a good thing, because they are here and they are the future of our businesses.

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A company with a strong value system, with integrity, is highly important. Corporate social responsibility should not be just another term but should be an important value of a company. Not only taking an interest in the community, but also taking an interest in the charities and hobbies of the company’s employees. Millennials will give back to their communities and expect the companies they work for to give back as well. Take an interest and truly care about what goes on in the lives of the people you sell products to.

This also is why a work/life balance is so important to millennials. Many people believe millennials are lazy and do not want to work, but that is not the case. Millennials want to do work that is meaningful and worthwhile. The traditional 9-5 is not conducive for expressive thinking. Inspiration doesn’t always happen from 9-5; it is a fluid environment that should happen when people are enthusiastic and motivated. These two things rarely happen by keeping an employee in a cubicle for an eight-hour stretch.

With millennials, you typically see a lot of “job hopping.” There are many reasons for this, but to be able to keep millennials, a company needs to be able to have options with a career path. Simply knowing the direction and options for a career path can be motivating and give workers something to aspire to. Job titles and different workloads are not as important as knowing where you are as an employee and where you can go. Encouragement and recognition also will help to keep a millennial around. Millennials like to be given things to prove their worth and they also want to be told they are worthy. We are talking about a generation that can get a hundred likes for taking a picture of their new favorite taco. It is important to let them know what they are doing is important.

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Millennials are taking over the workforce, and businesses need to be prepared to adapt. As a younger professional in this industry, I know that we need to change some aspects of what we do as companies to entice millennials into working in the automotive industry. So, are we ready? No, I don’t think we are. The question becomes: what can we do to fix that? We need to inspire our employees to lead a positive work/life balance, coach them, make work fun and value their contributions.

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