Board Focus: Millennial Mindset

While many factors contribute to the evolution of the workplace, millennials and technology have already made a sustaining impact. Further, by 2025, millennials will make up approximately 75% of the workforce. Building on my last post, as you reflect on the generational diversity of your board, consider the information below.

Millennials are on course to become the most educated generation in American history, a trend driven largely by the demands of a modern knowledge-based economy. With limited diversity in the boardroom, Deloitte’s Deborah DeHaas noted that “the voice and perspective of younger generations—a demographic group estimated at 77 million in the U.S. alone—are often missing. That gap poses a risk for nearly every business and industry.”

Almost 70% of millennials say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities (whereas previous generations would have indicated career growth and stability). Imagine how their perspective could improve the service or product you’re selling, or better engage the employees you’re trying to attract.

A report by The Council of Economic Advisers noted that “while all generations have experienced technological advances…millennials have come of age in a world in which the frontiers of technology have appeared unlimited.” It is critical to address technology risk and develop a plan before a crisis strikes, but it is unrealistic to think that all board members would have a strong working knowledge of a topic like cybersecurity. As such, the right board structure and composition can improve communication and ensure effective oversight.

Millennials believe that technology makes life easier (74%), and they outpace older Americans in virtually all types of internet and cell phone use. While many public company boards are using electronic portals to share board pack materials, that’s about the extent of technology in the boardroom.

Millennials are used to absorbing vast amounts of information from a variety of technology sources. They not only have an innate understanding of which web sources are credible—because they grew up sorting through all the noise that the internet can generate—but they can do it efficiently.

While millennials are often characterized as needing constant feedback and positive reinforcement, they are a generation that has been constantly encouraged to push the envelope and to innovate. They inherently approach problems differently than other generations. According to the Huffington Post, more than 60% of millennials consider themselves entrepreneurs, and 90% recognize entrepreneurship as a mentality. Interestingly, according to a Babson University study, only 13% of millennials are interested in climbing the corporate ladder. While a challenge to traditional organizational and incentive structures, it is also a tremendous opportunity to cultivate and support this new generation of socially-minded innovators. DeHaas perhaps put it best: “There is another demographic shift taking place at organizations for which the millennial perspective at the board level might be crucial: the changing persona, views and expectations of the workforce. With more baby boomers retiring, many organizations face a skills shortage. But attracting and retaining talent from the millennial and younger generations, which seek work-life balance and view job tenure much differently than older workers, may require new approaches and tools.”

In addition, millennials are a key driver of shifting consumer preferences. Whether it is tracking consumer trends and social sentiment, or creating engaging customer experiences, having a millennial perspective in the boardroom can be beneficial.

Finally, 78% of millennials consider themselves leaders, but not in the traditional sense. To them, a leader is someone who motivates or influences others to reach a shared goal. This closely resembles the purpose of boards, too, doesn’t it? Millennials prefer to work in settings where they can share ideas, collaborate freely, and embrace coaching and mentoring. This provides an opportunity for board members to mentor their younger counterparts, and for millennials to share ideas and concepts that could ultimately benefit the board and company performance.

There is a great, and largely untapped, opportunity for boards to seek younger directors to gain perspectives of a generation that is redefining technology, consumer preferences, business strategy, business models and even business risk.” Boards that embrace technology and incorporate members across generations can drive the future of innovation in the boardroom.

Additional resources: 2014 Board Practices Report by Deloitte and the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals