As millennials start taking on greater leadership roles within organizations, their presence and influence is beginning to shift long-standing corporate cultures. Having been raised and come of age in a different era than previous generations, millennials bring novel perspectives, priorities, and ways of working that can significantly upgrade company culture and better position businesses for ongoing success.
Today we will explore how millennials as managers are helping to cultivate more collaborative, purpose-driven, and employee-centric environments.
Millennials Foster Increased Collaboration
Flatter Organizational Structures
One of the hallmarks of millennial management styles is a preference for more horizontal and collaborative organizational structures compared to top-down, siloed approaches of the past. As managers, millennials are less inclined to micromanage teams and hoard information/decision-making power. They promote the free flow of ideas across divisions and encourage employees to solve problems together.
For example, Marie Wilson, a millennial director at a major accounting firm, did away with separate new business development, marketing, and client solutions departments upon entering her role. She merged staff from these areas into cross-functional teams with the directive to jointly develop innovative services, campaign strategies, and tailored client proposals through collaboration. This flattened structure broke down barriers between functions and roles, facilitating greater cooperation, information-sharing, and innovation. Client satisfaction scores have risen steadily since the transition as collaborative efforts lead to truly integrated solutions.
Millennial managers also emphasize open, transparent communication within their organizations. They lead by example, readily sharing both positive and negative updates with their teams. This helps foster trust and psychological safety for others to do the same.
Susan Jones, a millennial vice president at a tech startup, holds "whole company" weekly check-ins where any employee can join a video call and hear a state of the business update directly from senior leadership as well as ask questions. She also regularly shares mistakes made and lessons learned from failed projects or initiatives to normalize the idea that setbacks happen and are part of the learning process. This level of transparency from the top has reportedly increased employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention at the company.
Purpose and Impact-Driven Culture
Social Mission-Oriented Goals
Many millennials view their jobs not just as a means to a paycheck but as an opportunity to make a positive difference in the world. As managers, they actively work to infuse their organizations with a stronger sense of purpose beyond profits.
Adam Greene, a millennial general manager at an outdoor equipment manufacturer, launched a bold new sustainability initiative after being promoted into his role. The initiative sets aggressive goals around using 100% recycled or renewable materials in products by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality in operations by 2025. He empowered cross-functional teams to outline strategies and pilot programs to hit these impactful targets. Employee volunteer days were also organized to clean up local hiking trails and waterways, deepening the company culture around environmental stewardship. Employee surveys show high morale and pride in now working for a brand making tangible progress on social and environmental issues.
Doing Well by Doing Good
Many millennials expect the companies they work for to give back. As managers, they champion corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts that create business value as well as societal value.
Sarah Thompson, a millennial director of marketing, led the charge to launch a CSR campaign for her financial services firm centered around financial literacy programs. Not only did the campaign strongly boost the company brand image, but it also identified a huge unmet need for their services. The financial literacy workshops run by employee volunteers unearthed common money management challenges within the local community. This sparked the development of new offerings like basic banking products and introductory investment options to help address those issues—greatly expanding the company's potential customer base and revenue streams.
Employee Experience-Centric Approach
Flexible & Family-Friendly Policies
Having come of age during a time when work-life balance is highly valued, millennial managers recognize happy employees are productive employees. As such, they implement flexible schedules, generous time-off policies, and family support programs to better accommodate individual life stages and responsibilities outside of work.
For example, Robert Smith, a millennial plant manager at a manufacturing facility, worked with HR to introduce flex time, compressed workweeks, and remote work options for all employees once he took over. Recognizing childcare as a major stress point, he also established an on-site daycare center. With these family-friendly policies, employee turnover plummeted as job satisfaction and commitment increased—even amongst warehouse and production staff. Absenteeism dropped, allowing for increased output and fewer delays.
Continuous Feedback Loops
Millennials had such an integrated experience with frequent communication and feedback as digital natives that they expect and facilitate the same in their organizations. As managers, they implement regular check-ins, surveys, and suggestion boxes to stay closely tuned into employee perspectives, concerns, and development needs.
Jessica Lee, a millennial director at a nonprofit, set up a system where staff have 1:1 check-ins with their managers every other week and anonymously score factors like work satisfaction, manager supportiveness, and team dynamics on a monthly survey. quantitative data and qualitative feedback are then analyzed and discussed at weekly leadership meetings. Changes are made transparently and iteratively based on employee input. Morale was reported to be sky-high given employees felt genuinely heard and that their opinions drove continuous improvements to work conditions.
The upcoming generation of managers is positively redefining corporate culture norms. With their natural predispositions towards collaboration, purpose, social responsibility, flexibility, and feedback, millennials are cultivating work environments that successfully attract and retain top talent while driving business performance. As these trailblazing leaders increasingly shape organizations, traditional companies would do well to learn from their employee-centric, progressive approaches to thriving in the future of work. Overall, millennial management styles are ushering in much-needed cultural evolution with great promise for building high-performing, values-aligned organizations of the future.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.