Mind The Gaps

Surveying the Millennials
by Ben Dollar
Deloitte Consulting

According to the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey, business should focus on people and purpose, not just products and profits.

Millennials overwhelmingly believe that business needs a reset in terms of paying as much attention to people and purpose as it does products and profit. Seventy-five percent of millennials believe businesses are too fixated on their own agendas and not focused enough on helping to improve society.

Deloitte’s fourth annual Millennial Survey asked tomorrow’s leaders what they think of leadership today, how businesses operate and impact wider society, and which characteristics define effective leaders. The survey uncovered several noteworthy gaps between the ambitions of young professionals in emerging markets and developed markets, between male and female attitudes and aspirations toward business and leadership, and between millennials making the most and the least use of social media.

The study collected the views of more than 7,800 millennials representing 29 countries around the globe. All participants were born after 1982, have obtained a college or university degree, are employed full-time, and predominantly work in large (100+ employees), private-sector organizations.

The Purpose of Business
Globally, more than seven in 10 millennials (73 percent) believe businesses have a positive impact on wider society. When asked to identify the words or phrases that match their own ideals as to what business should try to achieve, millennials highlight “job creation,” “profit generation” and “improving society.” Millennials also look to businesses to drive innovation and enable progress. They expect business to be good for individuals by offering employment, and to have a positive impact on wider society.

But they also recognize (without judgment) that businesses exist to make money. Millennials, thus, have a “rounded” view about the purpose of business.

Business Leadership: Newly Defined
Millennials view leadership in a way that runs contrary to how they feel their current leadership teams operate, signaling a gap between what millennials would prioritize if they led their organizations and where they believe their senior leadership teams are currently focused. Millennials believe that an organization’s treatment of its employees is the most important consideration when deciding if it is a leader. They then consider its:

  • Overall impact on society;
  • Financial performance;
  • Record for creating innovative products or services; and
  • Whether it has a well-defined and meaningful purpose to which it is true.
  • When evaluating leadership, millennials give little regard to an organization’s scope or scale, its overt charitable activity, or the profiles of senior executives.

Overall, millennials regard businesses’ approach to leadership as too traditional or inward-looking. While they believe the pursuit of profit is important, that pursuit needs to be accompanied by a sense of purpose, efforts to create innovative products or services, and above all, the consideration of individuals as employees and members of society. These ideas are demonstrated by the organizations and sectors they recognize as being leaders.

Millennials’ socially-focused perception of leadership encompasses individuals, as well as organizations. The personality traits of individuals identified as “true leaders” include:

  • Strategic thinking (39 percent);
  • Being inspirational (37 percent);
  • Strong interpersonal skills (34 percent);
  • Vision (31 percent);
  • Passion and enthusiasm (30 percent); and
  • Decisiveness (30 percent).

A Millennial Gender Gap
In addition to evidence of a leadership gap, we also see a gap between men and women within the millennial generation, especially when it comes to their aspirations and attitudes around skills, the qualities that define leaders and leading organizations, and the desirability of specific industry sectors. Men are somewhat more likely than women (64 percent vs. 57 percent) to seek senior positions within their organizations. Further, in a finding that perpetuates the glass-ceiling debate, that gap grows significantly to 12 points when millennials are asked how likely they are to seek to become the leader/most senior executive in their organizations.

These gaps reflect how well millennials feel they were prepared for their careers when they graduated from college. Millennials were asked to rate how strong their various technical, analytical and leadership skills were when they left higher education. Women rated themselves on par with men in financial, economic and general business knowledge, and higher than men in academic knowledge and general business skills (professionalism, teaming, communication, etc.). However, when asked to rate their leadership skills, a significant gender gap of six points emerged: 27 percent of men vs. 21 percent of women rated this skill as strong.

In light of these findings, it’s not surprising that when asked to compare the priorities of senior leaders to what millennials would do if they were in charge, women would place more emphasis on employees’ well-being (+21 percent vs. +17 for men) and their general development (+17 vs. +12). In addition, millennial women leaders would focus less on short-term financial goals and their own personal rewards (-19 vs. -15 for men on both aspects).

An Underdeveloped Skillset
Regardless of gender or geography, only 28 percent of millennials feel their organizations are making full use of the skills they currently have. The good news is the majority say they now have—or will be able to obtain within their current organization—the skills and experience that will allow them to meet their career ambitions. Fewer than half (43 percent) believe they will have to work elsewhere in order to do so. That points to businesses’ successful ability to train and develop young people who didn’t express great confidence in their abilities upon graduation.

When asked to estimate the contributions that skills gained in higher education made to achievement of their organizations’ goals, millennials’ average figure is 37 percent. Two-thirds of the skills required to meet the needs of their organizations have been gained while in employment, meaning that employers are required to invest large amounts in training and development so raw recruits can make meaningful contributions to organizational objectives. Other findings suggest that skills gained in higher education contribute only 40 percent to the fulfilment of day-to-day roles and responsibilities, and 42 percent towards meeting longer-term career aspirations.

This apparent gulf between the skills presented upon graduation and those required by modern business can be partly explained by an assessment of the qualities millennials believe they brought to the table upon graduation. With the obvious exceptions of academic knowledge or intellectual ability, millennials say they were stronger on “soft” attributes, such as being professional, hard-working, flexible, and in possession of integrity and maturity. They were not as confident in their technical or specific business skills, including financial, economic and general business knowledge; the ability to challenge or disrupt current thinking; the ability to create opportunity; sales and marketing; and similar talents.

Gaps were similarly stark when comparing their greatest strengths at graduation to the value of those characteristics to business. For instance, “Personal traits such as integrity” rated 17 points higher as a personal strength versus its business value. Other gaps were apparent in “flexibility/team working” (+11), “professionalism” (+8), “analytical skills” (+9) and “academic knowledge” (+14). It’s possible these qualities are perceived to be of lesser value to business because they are “hygiene factors” that fail to differentiate the competent from the exceptional.

A question raised by these findings is the extent to which commerce and academia are aware of these gaps and whether they will come to together to help close them. This would obviously benefit businesses, which would be presented with a larger pool of graduates possessing business acumen. Universities and colleges would also benefit by attracting students seeking marketable life skills and relevant academic knowledge.

It is interesting to observe where millennials would place emphasis in hiring if they headed large businesses and wished to ensure their long-term success. In this scenario, they would actually focus on softer and personal skills similar to those they possessed upon graduation. So, despite their acknowledgement that this may not be what businesses currently value, millennials would overstate the merits of “personal traits such as integrity” (+19 percent), “flexibility and team working” (+18), “professionalism” (+16) and “creative thinking” (+11). No more than two in 10 would look to hire on the basis of “sales and marketing” skills, “financial and economic” skills, or “knowledge of specific ideas or techniques.” Perhaps the greatest surprise in this particular set of findings is that, in looking to ensure their businesses’ long-term success, no more than 22 percent would focus on hiring people with strong IT and technology skills—this from the “Internet generation.”

There is an apparent disconnect between millennials’ beliefs as to what business values and the skills and attributes they would look to bring in. Perhaps a broader conversation needs to take place, one in which businesses, academics and others better convey what they need in order to be successful—not just in terms of financial success, but also in terms of enhancing the lives of those they employ and members of our wider society.

Connectivity is a Differentiator
The survey suggests that “super-connected” millennials—those who are significantly more likely than average to use social media in a personal and business context—feel more strongly than their less-connected peers that businesses have a positive impact on wider society and that the purpose of business is to “improve society/protect the environment.” They are more optimistic about general economic conditions, more likely to say their company’s purpose is part of the reason they chose to work there, and generally far more positive about businesses’ motivations and behavior. “Super-connected” millennials also consider themselves to have been better prepared for their working lives upon leaving higher education, including have a significantly higher self-rating on leadership (32 percent vs. 16 percent).

Given these findings, businesses around the world may want to be more diligent in identifying the “super-connecteds” in their presence and harnessing their potential. iBi

Ben Dollar is a partner at Deloitte Consulting and the Human Capital Leader for Consumer & Industrial Products. For more information, visit deloitte.com.

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