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It has been said that the only people who like change are wet babies. While it’s true that the average person can be resistant to change, there is one subset of the population that more often than not embraces and even welcomes change: Millennials. The generation born between 1981 and 2000 grew up in an era of fast-moving change. They have worked with every iteration of computer from the Apple II though smartphones and tablets. They have always been asked to multitask, and they seem to catch on to new advances in the blink of an eye.

When organizations are faced with change, one of the best things leaders can do to help mitigate against resistance in the workforce is to solicit the help of younger workers.

The Differing Experience of Baby Boomers and Millennials in the Workplace

Baby Boomers played outdoors, often from sunup to sundown, breaking only for lunch. They used rotary phones and grew up with black and white televisions. They were taught to respect authority, and accept directives, and they assume they are doing a good job when they don’t hear from their boss. Millennials, on the other hand, have witnessed mass changes of technology, played organized sports, and were the first generation to grow up with “helicopter parents.” They were taught to seek approval from their teachers and other leaders, and they assume that if they aren’t getting feedback, they must be doing something wrong.

When change comes about in the workplace, Boomers can often be resistant, especially when that change involves technology. However, they are far less likely than younger workers to speak up and ask questions. They may sit silently and wonder if they will lose their job after the adoption of the new system, or if they will be able to perform to management’s expectations. Millennials, on the other hand, will ask a litany of questions, seeking to gather as much information as they can to ensure that they deliver the results their managers seek.

Recruiting Millennials to Help Manage Change

These generational differences can be bridged through some creative change management techniques. Some ideas may include:

  • Hold Town Hall Meetings. Town Hall meetings give leadership the opportunity to share developments and changes with the workforce. Those meetings should end with an open Q&A session. While Baby Boomers may not raise their hands, Millennials surely will. They will want to know things like, “What does this mean for me?” “Will this affect my paycheck?” “Will we be trained? If so, how much training will we receive?” “How will we be measured after the change?” These are all questions that Boomers have, but may not ask. The forum allows them to get the answer without putting themselves on the spot.
  • Create a Mentorship Program. Pair Millennials with Boomers and members of Generation X. These relationships can function in two ways: Older generations can provide guidance for navigating the corporate workplace, and Millennials can help the others learn new technology and adapt to change. Pair them on projects that require the use of the new system or process, and encourage those teams to work out their questions and concerns on their own, before turning to management.
  • Implement Change With Millennials First. Test the waters of proposed changes with younger workers. Call them your “Beta Testers” and ask for their feedback throughout the process. When it comes time to incorporate the rest of the workforce, designate those “Beta Testers” as coaches for the rest of the team. Divide employees into teams, with the coach at the helm. Set goals for each team for the adoption of the new system. Managers can even develop contests or rewards systems for the fewest number of errors, the fastest implementation, etc.
  • Ask for Feedback. Millennials love feedback. They thrive on it. They also like to know that their opinions are heard and taken seriously. Through each stage of a change implementation, hold meetings where employees can offer feedback on the new programs. This is another situation where Boomers may or may not speak up, but Millennials can lead the way. Boomers may be more likely to participate once the ice has been broken.

Navigating organizational change is never easy, but sometimes all it takes is a creative approach. Leveraging Millennials as advocates and agents of change can help spread a positive feeling about the change, and gives Baby Boomers more resources to pull from when learning new technologies. With the right strategy in place, Millennials may just be the 'secret sauce' of change management.


Larry Hart

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