Follow On

I had the privilege in January and February to present some thought provoking research done by our company Skills Alpha on the art and science of motivating millennials in organizations. The IMA, led by Adit Jain and Radha Ahluwalia and possibly one of the most engaging forums for CEOs CFOs and CHROs in the country hosted three workshops with over a hundred heads of HR in Mumbai Delhi and Bengaluru to discuss the research and agree on methods to keep young recruits motivated and engaged in organizations. Some fascinating insights have emerged which is now finding its way into the skilling platforms we are building for key customers in India and abroad.

There are flaws in the approach that most of us over the age of forty or fifty take when we address the new needs of the millennials. The refrain is always “when I was your age” extolling the virtues of hard work with no distractions, loyalty to family and one’s first employers and respect for seniority and authority. And with a few exceptions, most parents of teenagers and new job entrants have a tendency to live out their own unfulfilled ambitions through their children. Many well-meaning and well-off parents are happy to write or at least enhance the college admission essays of their kids and willing to put them on flights to the US (Trump willing) for college and even high school to get them out of the rat race of competitive education in our country. And after doing all this, should they not, they feel, be entitled to feel aggrieved if their children want to deviate from the parental script and strike out on their own path of learning and discovery?

Our research shows that people below the age of thirty-five, the classical category we call millennials are quite happy to be just left alone and do what they really want to do rather than being cajoled, coaxed or coerced to do what somebody else in the family wants them to do. In fact, most elders today would happily praise their own millennial children, nephews and nieces and grandchildren for their bright spirit of questioning and multitude of interests but be unwilling to tolerate this in the office. We tend to forget that most millennials have been brought up in single child or small nuclear families, reasonable pampered and indulged at key points in their growing up. They have been encouraged to have a wide circle of friends, question the status quo in school and college and continually expand their interests and have a variety of experiences. All this leads them to develop a very YOLO view of life (You Only Live Once) and when they enter the work environment, to seek a strong work-life balance and continue to pursue multiple interests and possibly career options.

The experience that my wife Uma and I have had with our own millennial, our daughter Karuna bears out the value of giving the youth of today ample independence and being supportive rather than judgmental of their life and work decisions. Karuna grew up in Pondicherry, Nashik, Delhi and Pune and completed her ICSE from the Maneckji Cooper School in Mumbai. Deciding to pursue a dream to become a Physician Scientist in one of the top hospitals in the world, Karuna chose to excel in academics and extra-curricular pursuits and got into the IB program at the United World College in the US. With admissions in MIT, Yale Princeton and Cambridge, she chose to do a MB PhD at Cambridge UK, went back to the US to do a Post Doc in Harvard Medical and then did a Fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York where she has recently accepted a full-time appointment to be a physician scientist. Given our own backgrounds of having studied and worked in India most of our lives and specialized in IT and Education, it would have been well-nigh impossible for us to advise Karuna on the career path she chose, but by letting her follow her heart and choose a path that would enable very little supervision by us, we have been proud to see her blossom and achieve whatever success she has in her field of chosen endeavor.

Lest any reader of this column treat this as a sermon on how to bring up children today, let me haste to add that there is no magic formula for showing young people the path to success. Each millennial is unique and her life experiences and level of ambition would be completely different from others. At Skills Alpha, we recognize this as an imperative to build sensing and adaptable learning environments to suit the aspirations and learning style of each individual. The use of Smart Bots, deep learning, analytics and adaptive and cognitive technologies to customize career management and skilling recommendations enable the unique needs to be addressed. Similarly, at home and office we must celebrate the unique characteristics of the new generation and millennial job seekers. Give them the freedom of their own time and space, provide them the tools to customize the inputs they receive in their academic and corporate environment, and the results will astound you. Give the new millennials a chance!

Photo credits : iStock.