Standard corporate culture is in trouble because the younger generation just will not put up with the negatives of the status quo.

I’m flying back from San Diego after a whirlwind weekend of sailboat racing. As our youngest team member mentioned on the way to the airport after the regatta, I am old enough to be her mother! I wasn’t really thinking of our team in terms of ages. But it’s clear our two younger sailors were thinking about it; they were not ignoring generational differences.

When we debriefed, I didn’t have a “generational” lens on. (Which is something I need to examine – am I being empathetic enough of generational differences?) Now that I am (ahem) forced to see it, it’s clear that what I experienced in our teamwork, interactions, and conversations on and off the water was a front-row seat to the rewriting of the rules.

  • Self-Empathy: Self-awareness and self-value make it hard for people to compromise their personal life for their income. Loyalty is to self, not “the man” or the company.
  • Empathy: True empathy, what I call “superpower empathy,” the empathy for those most unlike us, is becoming more natural the more our global and local worlds become interconnected. When it is so much easier to meet and learn about those most unlike us, it’s harder to maintain barriers between and among us. For those who grew up with only three tv stations that turned to “snow” at midnight, it can be hard to understand how quickly the barriers are coming down.
  • Earned Respect: Automatic respect for titles, experience, or age is not a given. What is respected are the qualities that are supposed to come with them: leadership, communication, innovation, open-mindedness, and willingness to grow and change.
  • Technology: Technology is enabling communications, collaboration, efficiency, and productivity. Those that grew up with it don’t just tolerate it, they exploit it. Stale processes, limited options for working hours, rules and restrictions that don’t keep pace with modern lifestyles appear outdated and ignorant to those that see the world from a much fresher perspective.
  • Career Fluidity: As the gold watch has gone, so has the lifelong-employer and even the single career. Globalization, technology and creativity are spawning new careers all the time. And now, we are living healthier, longer. So why wait for a single retirement? Why not take a break at various times to explore something new, and then re-engage with an income? Why not?!
  • Morality: Greta Thunberg is not an outlier. Consequences matter. The ends matter. And so do the means. “Selling out” is not as attractive as it used to be.
  • Spirituality: While church attendance may be declining, spirituality is still important. Understanding and honoring that is essential. (As an aside, it always will be important – a new study with MRI imaging has proven that our drive for spirituality has a neurological basis.) 

The crazy thing is that “this” – this list, this trend, is not new. It’s been coming on for ages. But now it’s coming with force.

Millennials have been the dominant generation in the workforce since 2016, and will continue to be through at least 2030.

Habits, stickies, logos, taglines, or new rules are not going to create the kind of change that is needed. Leaders that want to attract and retain the best and the brightest need to walk the talk with integrity and do the personal work to lead and foster the amazing self-awareness of our younger talent. Companies that want to maintain their relevance, their competitive edge, their innovation, and their creativity need to engage with and empower the younger generations.

In a world with global brands and expectations of high-tech personalized customer experiences, efficient, effective and positive human interactions can have a profound impact on customer and employee loyalty. Corporate cultural transformation at the individual grassroots level will drive the highest impact customer experiences.

A shining example of our bright future? Our team won the Sportsmanship Award at the regatta this weekend. And not because of what the older generation on our team did. It was the leadership, generosity, thoughtfulness, and empathy of our younger team members.  

I really liked what I experienced this weekend. Looking forward, I cannot wait for more!