By Soma Bhattacharya
56 million. That’s the estimated number of millennials currently working or seeking work—making individuals born between 1980 and 2000 the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to the Pew Research Center.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
By 2025, millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce. Companies like Accenture have already reported that millennials represent over two-thirds of the company’s entire employee base.
As of late, agile has been sparking more and more conversations—about how it has worked wonderfully well for some organizations and failed for others.
If you look at the profiles of the organizations or teams reporting their project progress, their successes and failures often point to the workforce and, of course, company culture. For many startups and young organizations, where the workforce is mostly millennial, agile seems to be accepted more easily. I know this personally because I have seen companies—small companies that are very open and motivated to make it work—with huge support from management make it successful.
I believe that agile works better for teams of millennials simply because the approach focuses on many of the same qualities that are among the core values of millennials.
Let’s look at some of them:
Empowerment: Agile is all about empowering individuals. From holding team ceremonies to the team structure, it’s all about interacting as a group, coming together every day and making decisions as a unit. Nearly 50 percent of millennials believe leadership signifies the empowerment of others, according to a Workplacetrends.com survey. They also seem to value traits of humility, openness and continual learning, promoting the importance of recognizing both strengths and weaknesses.
Transparency: Transparency, another pillar of agile, is easier said than done. Millennials believe in looking at the bigger picture of their organizations and teams. They want to participate in that shared vision. There are companies that have transparent salaries, are candid about their roadmaps and quickly own their mistakes. This leads to teams that are transparent among themselves about what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.
Visibility: Visibility is also critical, because it impacts how teams distribute work. It fosters quicker decision-making and more effective resource management. Unless the value is explained and showcased in clear terms, it’s natural that certain tasks will seem like a boring chore. This means the role of mentors and leaders is of high importance in how the team is trained and how team members communicate.
Trust: Trust in the team, leadership, and, yes, estimation. If you look at the root cause analysis of why it doesn’t click with some teams, there’s a larger story to tell. It could be people who prefer to work in silos or a lack of trust. By pivoting, you can probably get the team to rethink their estimation based on asking the right questions or pairing up team members so the experienced ones can help their juniors. You can mentor the team to get things done quicker. It’s all about how you communicate without damaging team morale.
Acknowledgement: Communication is an art, and millennials use all forms of communication to get things done. Smaller teams, as used in scrum, also mean better communication, faster decisions and acknowledgement. Millennials thrive on acknowledgement more than anything. They need to know their work matters.
Perspective: Learning and having a growth mindset is essential to adopting any new process. That’s why the way you approach the team about change or how you handle and mentor the team is so important. Don’t introduce every change on day one, and don’t blame those changes on agile. Give everyone the time to doubt, adapt and see it for themselves. Meanwhile, be with them, give them the right information and take the journey with them. There’s nothing more apt than using the Goldilocks rule in this scenario.
Motivation: Give them a challenge with a difficulty level that slowly scales up and allows them to feel accomplished. Telling them to run a marathon when they have never walked a mile before is not only foolish, but a huge demotivator.
Gratification: Millennials also look for immediate gratification. There’s a talk by the author Simon Sinek in which he mentions that millennials are used to having everything immediately: You want a phone? You can order it online and get it delivered in a day or two. You want a shoe? You have so many shops and online stores to choose from. Unsurprisingly, millennials in the workforce also crave immediate feedback and want to feel confident at work without waiting until they hit the six-month mark. They want to be happy, get things done faster and work for something they truly believe in.
True agility is also a test of how the organization forms itself. If you really want the team to have the right dynamics and bonding, appraisals should put more weight in team performance than individual performance. For extrinsic motivators, this will have a great impact.
As it also turns out, at companies where managers show sincere interest in millennials as people, the organization sees an 8x improvement in agility and a 7x increase in innovation, according to a Great Place to Work survey. Now that’s something to think about.
What has been your experience with agile and millennial team members? Share in the comments below.