How is Business Rethinking Generation Purpose?

How can business respond to the expectations of millennials, as they pioneer new styles of leadership, push for greater equality and diversity in the workplace, and have an increasingly holistic view on business performance?​

Who are millennials?

Why might millenials be thinking differently?

  • Millennials, as adults, have had the internet, mobile phones, global connectivity and social media.
  • In their lifetimes millennials have already been exposed to 9/11, the war on terror, the global financial crisis, chronic malnourishment affects 821 million people (FAO, 2017), over 40 civil wars (IRIN, 2017) and the global consensus that climate change will be irreversible, and effect millions if not billions of people.
  • During this same time 700 million people have been raised out of poverty (AEI, 2015), literacy rate for people ages 15 years old and above stands at 86% (World Bank, 2016), 174 Nations have formally signed up to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and 193 to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals .

The question:

How can business respond to the expectations of millennials, as they pioneer new styles of leadership, push for greater equality and diversity in the workplace, and have an increasingly holistic view on business performance?

My journey to purpose:

I am Anna Johnson, Thought Leadership Researcher at Business Fights Poverty. After graduating from my MSc in January 2018 and with my 30th birthday looming large, I re-evaluated what I wanted from the next phase of my career and my life. This exercise transformed into a research project, which led me into conversation with fellow millennials on the same or similar journeys. During the process I observed a recurring theme; our generations’ insatiable appetite to go against the grain, change the status quo, and derive greater meaning from the work we do. You could argue this has happened before, but I don’t think  this ambition is rooted in hippy love, or running the rat race. Instead, it is about believing we have the power to do things differently, working with the system to make it fit for the future and a positive force; to be ‘purpose-driven’.

But what does it mean to be ‘purpose-driven’? In a world moving at breakneck speed, where the pace of life has changed unrecognisably within the last 20 years – what millennials want in terms of career fulfilment is being shaped somewhat differently to the generations that have come before. Speaking from

personal experience, I do not get my thrills from promises of hefty paychecks and promotions for hitting targets, and I have come to the conclusion that this is because these things do not resonate with my core values and immediate concerns.

There are many businesses putting their brand and their money behind behaving ethically, committing to improving society and moving beyond simply delivering shareholder return, yet “only a minority (of millennials) now believe that corporations behave ethically (48% versus 65% last year) and that business leaders are committed to helping improve society (47% versus 62%). Three-quarters see businesses around the world focusing on their own agendas rather than considering the wider society (up from 59%), and nearly two-thirds say companies have no ambition beyond wanting to make money (up from 50%)” (Deloitte, 2018).

Business and the war on millennial talent:

The relationship between millennials and business is evolving. Therefore, to successfully navigate this change, companies must do more to understand the values of the next generation of business leaders. As career-related aspirations are changing, and increasingly, the focus is on people working with purpose – how are the leading businesses responding to this enormous opportunity?

“Companies that understand the increasing emphasis of purpose in today’s professional landscape improve their ability to attract such employees and also their ability to retain them for longer periods of time.” (Reid Hoffman Executive Chairman and co-founder LinkedIn, 2016)

What businesses can do to address the situation:

Recent evidence serves as a signal to businesses that are on a mission to attract, hire and retain the best talent which so often means proactively responding to the drive for purpose should perhaps consider:

  1. Demonstrating how business leaders ‘walk the walk, and talk the talk’; leadership which positively defines company culture and articulates business social purpose.
  2. Acknowledging millennial potential and proactively supporting millennial perspectives, ideas and innovations.
  3. Sharing their understanding of their business’ transformative capacity, societal impact and responsibility.
  4. Authenticity; no window-dressing, greenwashing, or purpose-washing.
  5. Transparency; a company that is willing to say ‘This is where we’re at, we know we can do better, so this is what we are going to do about it.’

Simple on paper and tough in practice, these five considerations do of course need support from joined up recruitment and onboarding practices, that enable candidates and new recruits to demonstrate their vision and ambition. However, “One-half of organizations cite factors such as a low number of applicants (51%), lack of the needed work experience among candidates (50%) and competition from other employers (49%) as reasons for difficulty finding candidates for their open positions” (SHRM, 2016) As global businesses continue to report that it is tough to find and retain the talent they need for their future, how can businesses rethink Generation Purpose?

The business millennial challenge:

In our mission to support businesses to find social solutions, I, in my role within Business Fights Poverty and as a millennial, would like to deepen the understanding of success of Generation Purpose engagement.

Therefore, if your business is grappling with the millennial question or has a story you would like to share,

I am inviting you to engage with Business Fights Poverty and:

  • Deepen understanding of what really matters to millennials in terms of career fulfillment and purpose.
  • Find solutions to bridging the gap between company purpose and millennial recruitment, retention and performance.
  • Develop enabling processes that support business and millennial ambitions.

I look forward to hearing from you and to continuing this conversation, please contact an**@bu*******************.org

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