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My generation of supply chain professionals will eventually move out of the business and retire, leaving Millennials in charge. I, for one, am excited about that. I believe Millennials represent an inspirational group of people who bring a different, highly valuable perspective to bear on the supply chain industry. But we need to actively prepare them to move up and take leadership roles, and we need in the meantime to work side by side in ways that give great, collaborative results now and in the future.
First, my generation of supply chain executives needs to be open to what Millennials have to teach us. This is especially true when it comes to utilizing new technologies. Millennials grew up with devices and capabilities that I and my contemporaries only dreamed of when we were young. For precisely this reason, they are not intimidated or befuddled by gadgets, and have a willingness to use technology to achieve innovation that’s hard to find in the over-40s. Millennials know better than their elders that technology allows entirely new processes, scenarios and solutions to happen.
Another important factor is data. The reality of doing business today is that we’re awash with incredible amounts of information. It flows all around us, unseen, like radio waves. Those of us not used to being constantly bombarded with data can end up feeling swamped. Millennials, by contrast, are used to being in the information flow every minute of every day. They know how to get it, send it and — perhaps most crucial of all — how to make distinctions between what’s important and what’s just noise.
Of course, it cuts both ways. There is plenty of wisdom and insight held collectively by my generation of supply chain professionals, and we need to make sure it doesn’t disappear with us. Millennials tend to have weak spots when it comes to avoiding face-to-face and “live” interactions, such as on the telephone. Because supply chain and logistics operations are just too complicated to run without encountering regular hitches and challenges, our business will always require close attention to maintaining good relationships. There’s a huge difference between proactively phoning a customer to tell him or her that something went wrong but it’s already in the process of being fixed, and letting them open an email Monday morning to discover their cargo’s been stuck in Customs for three days. Millennials do not seem to grasp this naturally. I have encountered younger colleagues whose idea of eliciting an immediate response is to mark an email as “high priority,” rather than picking up the phone.
Part of the problem is Millennials’ awareness that a phone call can be intrusive. Especially with mobile phones, you have no idea where the other party is or what they’re doing at that moment. Text is not only immediate, but can be received and responded to according to the recipient’s convenience. However, it has a reputation of not being the best way of maintaining relationships. Technology providers are currently in catch-up mode, trying to figure out how to maximize the potential of instant communication. I’m confident that Millennials are going to figure out how to communicate with a truck driver or Customs broker or receiving dock manager quickly and personably without picking up the phone. If we can maintain and improve the relationship side of business while boosting the information content of communication, then we will begin to have an ideal mix of influences to drive innovation for the industry and the future of supply chain excellence.
And, mark my words; Millennials are extremely interested in excellence. Sometimes, however, traditional managers fail to recognize this, because Millennials bring a very broad sense of energy and passion and purpose in life to the workplace. Purpose for my generation was all about making the business prosperous and succeed. Millennials want the world to succeed. They want people to be successful as a whole, not just within the context of an organization. Whatever we do in our working lives has an impact on the rest of the world that has traditionally often remained unexamined. I think it’s very healthy that we’re thinking more deeply about how all the moving parts fit together.
I hope I’ve convinced you that you should welcome Millennials into your organization. The question then becomes: how do you attract and retain them?
Red Classic was selected two years in a row — this year and last year — as a “Top 5 Workplace in the Charlotte Region.” So we know we’re doing something right. We’ve found that engaging that high sense of purpose I mentioned above really pays off, so we have a robust stewardship and community outreach program. We have also found that, once you have happy Millennials settled into a work-life balance they appreciate, they bring their friends on board, too. We’re still very careful that we choose people who are a good cultural fit, but a lot of new employees, especially in this age range, are coming to us via word of mouth.
In terms of ongoing management, our experience at Red Classic is that Millennials respond best to a message that runs along the lines of: “Nobody knows your job better than you do. We want to free you to be part of growth and change in the company.” It’s not a manager’s job to tell them how to do what they do; it’s the manager’s job to encourage them to find ways of doing it better. I find Millennials, more than other demographic groups, are constantly evaluating their own performance and asking themselves and others how they could improve.
Sometimes, we come up against inter-generational friction, where enthusiasm, or the desire to work without micro-management, can look like insubordination. We are solidly in favor of empowering our younger workers. On the whole, our older managers are cautiously optimistic and learning to work with the new way.
But you can’t change everything at once. We need to maintain sensible boundaries and figure out how to empower Millennials without losing control. It’s also crucial to allow things to change slowly, and let inter-generational differences works themselves out over time.
The negative portrayal of Millennials in the media as lazy, entitled and selfish is, in my opinion, grossly unfair. There’s a wonderful saying: “If youth knew; if age could.” I believe that, with a healthy mix of generations in every division in a company, youth gets knowledge and age gets plenty of ability.
Source: Red Classic
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