November 18, 2008

Welcoming the Millennials

At some point, most of us realize that fighting the tide is an exercise in futility. The wise among us look for ways to work with and harness the tide. In that spirit, I offer this post on why law firm knowledge management should welcome the Millennials. However, this is NOT about the technological improvements many KM folks have been hoping Millennials will force on our firms. This is about more fundamental improvements in the way we operate.

If reports about Millennials are correct, they are a group of people focused on and motivated by issues and goals that are quite different from those of Gen X and Boomer employees. The latter two groups could be managed by dangling the brass ring in front of them and then reinforcing performance through a strong command and control structure. The boss made the decisions and the Gen X and Boomer employees executed those decisions. Simple and straightforward. By contrast, Millennials are looking for something other than the brass ring. They want opportunities for learning and growth. They want to engage in projects and activities that are personally meaningful. And, they want to maintain a reasonable perspective on work -- as children of workaholics, they want a life with better balance.

What's so crazy about their aspirations? Perhaps the truth is that we're just jealous.

The challenge for Gen X and Boomer knowledge managers is to harness this Millennial energy in a constructive way as Millennial aspirations and methods come up against established ways of doing things. Rather than forcing them into existing rigid structures, consider how a focus on growth and learning might change for the good the types of projects we tackle and the way we carry them out. By giving every member of the staff an opportunity to contribute creatively to the work of your knowledge management department you elevate them from mere worker bees to co-creators and, in one fell swoop, you finally achieve intellectual and creative leverage (which is the basis of any successful law firm).

In making these recommendations, I don't mean to minimize the stress this approach will place on traditional or authoritarian knowledge managers who know what they know and are just looking for employees who will carry out assigned tasks with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency. This is a warning that managers like that will soon be facing a supply problem -- they may find it difficult to find Millennials willing to work on these terms. Then those managers have the choice of either fighting the tide or surfing it. It will be interesting to see what they choose.

4 comments:

Daniel J. Pritchett said...

Thanks for writing this! As a non-managing member of Gen Y it's nice to read about how other people see us and what they're doing to get along.

Mary Abraham said...

Thanks, Daniel.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I tend to be a glass half full person. That said, I do see lots of good in the Millennial/Gen Y approach to life and hope that more "ancient" (i.e., Boomer/Gen X) managers start to see the light soon as well.

- Mary

Anonymous said...

Gee, given your description, I must be a Millennial - even though I was born in 1956!

Mary Abraham said...

If the shoe fits, enjoy it!

- Mary