Monday, 2 September 2019


When Simon Sineck talked about the millennials in 2017 he derided their sense of entitlement and said what they really wanted at work were “beanbags and free food”. It was very funny. The trouble is Simon casually set the so called “snowflake generation” on a pillar of ridicule.

It troubled me at the time. Today I think it was pernicious and just plain wrong. The millennial generation that I see has a number of admirable qualities. When Rachel Bell, my co-author, chaired a group of CEOs a while back she asked them what was on their mind and the difficulty of managing millennials  was mentioned with comments like “I can’t stand them, who do they think they are?” She told these so-called leaders they were “wrong” because if they couldn’t manage millennial talent what sort of leaders were they?

In our experience most millennials are energetic, smart, fair, collaborative, generous in friendship, thoughtful and highly skilled. They may have grown up faster than we’d like, tyrannised by the stress of an exam culture. They may be sometimes be rebellious (unlike us of course in the mid-1960s and ‘70s). Interestingly millennials are drinking much less than we did. Here’s what an NHS report of 2018 concluded:

“A study …of 10,000 young people in the UK found that … 16- to 24-year-olds who say they never drink alcohol rose from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015. …young people who did drink alcohol were drinking less nowadays and binge drinking rates were falling.”

But millennials are not natural employees. They resist old fashioned concepts of starting at the bottom and slowly working their way up. We may find this unreasonable arguing it did us no harm (although looking at the products of  more repressive past regimes in, for instance, contemporary politicians I’m not sure this is a persuasive point of view.)

Instead however they are ideally preparing themselves to be creators of new businesses. They are the “Start-Up-Generation” which is why 70% of them say they want to create their own businesses rather than become a “wage slave”.

Vicki Harrocks, of Edge Hill University, teaches performance arts at Formby High School and says she spots the spirit of enterprise and latent entrepreneurialism in the year six pupils who are deemed most naughty and disruptive by her peers. She says they’re the ones who are quicker on the uptake, share ideas, talk in class, get restless and are never happier than when on their feet “showing off” (or, as we in business, call it “presenting ideas”).

These are our future. As they learn real business skills playing Fortnite, FIFA 19 and Restaurant Tycoon and create huge and powerful networks of diverse talents (not the antiquated “old boys’ network”) we’re looking at great team players, people who have real values and who want to create enjoyable workplaces.

They may be hard for us to manage but that’s a reflection on our own limitations rather than theirs. It’s time to give them their head. They will not let us down.

These are the millennial militants and they are winners.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.

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