In the last few years there has been a lot of research on Millennials and how they’re different. But a new topic has now come up in many of my conversations with HR and business executives: What is their leadership style and how will they lead?

The answer to this question is important. Your ability to attract, develop, and retain young leaders will make or break your company in the coming years.

New global research by Deloitte and a similar study in India uncovered some very interesting findings. As you’ll see, nearly half of the millennials in this research are already in leadership positions… and as most companies are discovering, supporting and retaining this talent requires a new way of doing business.

(A millennial is often called Generation Y, people born in the 1980s to early 2000s. Click here for more research.)

Background: Deloitte Research on Millennials

Deloitte is embarked on a series of global studies to understand the role of millennials in business. In the first study, Deloitte India, in partnership with the Confederation of India Industry, looked at working and leading styles of millennials in India. A larger global study, which will be published later this year, looks at millennials around the world. More than 2,400 people responded to the global survey, and in this article we highlight some of the initial finding from the Indian group. The global findings, which are similar, will be launched in Q4.

(If you want to compare your working style with that of millennials, you can take the Pew Research assessment “How Millennial are you?“. “)



Fig 1: Deloitte Global Millennial Research

Some of the initial findings are very important to understand.

  1. Millennials Want Leadership and They Want it Their Way.

The first, and most striking finding, is that millennials want leadership, and they want it their way. In fact they are less interested in running your company than running their own.

Fig 2: Millennials in leadership and their leadership goals

It’s pretty clear why this has happened. These young people grew up in an economy where their parents and older peers went through a massive recession and may have been laid off. They’ve seen rapid growth in new internet companies and the struggles larger organizations have faced. If we want to motivate young leaders, we have to give them opportunities to build, innovate, and create.

  1. Millennials Know They Are Not Ready for Leadership, But They Want it Anyway

While these younger professionals have many opportunities in front of them, they don’t feel fully ready. As the data below shows, the millennials in our study are very aware that they need leadership skills.


Fig 3: Need for Leadership Skills

What this means is that organizatons must give young people new, exciting leadership assignments as well as the training and coaching they need.

The Flattened Organization: Let People MoveMOVE +1.34%

In the 1970s and 1980s, young people understood the need to patiently move up the corporate pyramid. Today the working world is different: companies like GE which used to have 16 layers of management now have only 7.

The flattening of organizations mean that moving “up” is not always as possible – so leadership opportunities must open up at all levels.

As Deloitte describes it, we must build a corporate lattice, not a corporate ladder. Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson’s groundbreaking book The Corporate Lattice is a must-read.

People in their 20s would like new jobs and new assignments every 12-24 months. The research shows they won’t necessarily wait three to five years for a promotion – so you have to create more talent mobility, special assignments, and job rotation programs.

  1. Millennials Value an Open, Transparent, Inclusive Leadership Style

Millennials grew up in glass houses. They are comfortable with transparency. They believe leadership should be the same.

When asked what they look for in their leaders, they look for openness, inclusion, and diversity.



Fig 4: Desire for Open, Inclusive Leadership

One of the ways to do this, of course, is through social media. This is why internal blogs and wikis and various corporate social networks are so widely used by younger people, and often not by boomers. If you want to attract and retain young people, you and your top leaders must be more open and transparent.

The word “inclusion” is vitally important. Late last year Deloitte Australia published a report entitled “Waiter, Is That Inclusion In My Soup?” which showed that work teams that feel highly included deliver 80% higher performance than those in which employees do not feel “included.”

Millennials grew up in a world where gender, race, sexual orientation, and age were widely diverse. They expect and will lead in an inclusive way.

  1. Millennials Demand Career Growth – And Lots of It

Millennials don’t only want to lead, they expect to grow rapidly in their career. The group surveyed in this study showed a particular difference in preferences over their older cohorts:



They want to move rapidly, they want global assignments, they are willing to embark on short term assignments, and they want development.

Older employees want many of the same things, but they are willing to focus on longer term growth and are willing to take growth at a slightly slower pace.

Of course much of this is the “impatience of youth,” but the findings are actually more profound. The millennials we interviewed told us that they don’t expect to work for a single employer for decades so they will go wherever they can find the growth they need.

What this means is that larger, older organizations have to create a more dynamic, “assignment-based” career model to develop young high-potentials.

In many ways this contradicts much of our research which shows that “time in job” is one of the best predictors of high-performance. What we have to do now is create a series of assignments, each of which help a young leader improve their skills in their chosen career.

Why don’t we run our companies more like consulting firms, where we let high potentials take 3-6 month assignments in the company as part of their career? This type of change will alter our talent management process, but it creates the dynamic type of organization we need today.

(We are doing research on this topic by the way, so if you’ve developed a particularly unique and dynamic career model please contact us directly.)


  1. Millennials Thrive on Fairness and Performance-Based Appraisal, not Tenure

There is a massive conversation going on in business about changing the process for performance appraisals. Without discussing the whole debate here, it is clear to me that much of this pressure is coming from millennials’ desire to be treated fairly.



If you look at this chart, a few things are clear. First, of course we all want fair appraisal – but millennials more than ever believe in evaluating people based on performance, not tenure. If your company is still rewarding people for “time in role” its time for that to change.

Second, notice how little millennials care about “defined succession and career plans.” This further reinforces the point above: young people today want to “work the lattice” and move around – they don’t want a five-year development plan to become a first line leader.

Third, note that “role clarity” is less important for young people than it may be for us. We boomers grew up in hierarchies where role and structure defined who we are. Millennials grew up in the world of social networking, where everyone is unique and special. We need a little less “role boundaries” and a lot more “project based roles” to help millennials grow.

In consulting firms people change roles and take on management responsibilities in a highly dynamic way (every year or two). This type of dynamic, “project-based succession” is what organizations need to embrace.


  1. Millennials Are Comfortable with Less Role Clarity and Less of a Manager-Led Career

This data takes the career progression topic even further. It shows that millennials don’t only want less structured jobs, they also feel less committed to a strong relationship with one manager.

Again think about how millennials were raised: they had access to their peers and friends online all the time. Rather than have to go to one manager for help, they want to build a whole network of peers and compatriots to work with.

This is not to say that leadership and management is not important: young people want open, honest managers more than ever. But they are happy to operate in a culture where they get support from many mentors, not just “the man in the corner office.”


  1. Millennials Thrive on Innovation and Change

Finally (and there are many more findings in the research, which will be published soon), millennials enjoy working in organizations that are innovative, changing, and dynamic.



I distinctly remember that my goals early in my career were to work for a company I could grow with – so I worked for some pretty well established employers to gain access to training and experience (Exxon, IBM).

Today these powerful, large organizations have become highly dynamic, and they must continue to be that way to compete for talent.

Notice how little these millennials value “stability and job security.” Today’s young people grew up in a world where companies had layoffs – so they don’t always expect a lifelong career.

This is not to say career employment is not of value, but you should position your organization as a great place to learn every day, experience new things, and see opportunities to work on lots of exciting projects during a career.

Bottom Line: Tomorrow’s Leaders Will Change Our Organizations

It’s clear from our work with many companies that things need to change. The way we move people around, the way we appraise people, the types of rewards we provide (millennials thrive on recognition, not just pay), and how we think about careers all need to change.

Many of these changes throw sand in the gears of HR. Many HR organizations have built linear models for progression, career ladders, articulated job descriptions with competency models, and lots of practices for succession management. While all this work is valuable, we need to make it all more dynamic today.

The word we like to use is “continuous.” Today’s organization must provide continuous feedback, continuous recognition, continuous opportunity to new assignments, and continuous focus on customer needs. If you rethink your organization along the lines of transparency, the lattice, and continuous career development, you’ll be headed in the right direction.

Today’s millennials will definitely rule the world. Our job now is to make our organizations ready, so they can slip right into place and help us lead our businesses in their own special way.

You can follow me to stay up to date on trends, research, and news in all areas of HR, leadership, and talent management on twitter at @josh_bersin.

For more information on Bersin by Deloitte, please visit https://www.bersin.com .
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