Getting to the heart of Millennials

Jo Youle, chief executive of Missing People, writes about her experience being ‘reverse mentored’ by a millennial member of the organisation’s fundraising team. She shares insights into millennial thinking and how charities need to adapt to different mindsets.

I just said to a millennial on my team, that I was about to write a blog about, well, millennials. With a look of trepidation, she asked what I was going to say. I replied, “that they’re fantastic”. And as an afterthought, “I wish I was one”.

Truth is I do think they’re fantastic. I admire the ‘speak up’ value. The confidence, the not waiting to be asked, the social justice purpose. A great match for mission-led charities. The white lie is that I don’t wish I was one. I think the world has got harder since I was doing my growing up. And aged 47 I’m some way off given the age range is from 20 to 35 (ish).

I think millennials have got a bit of a reputation. Let’s be honest: There are often knowing smiles and rolling eyes when they’re discussed. A dislike of their sense of entitlement. Which given it means having a right to something, is hardly bad at all. But at its worst means an expectation of undeserved privilege.

There are lots of leaders like me, grappling with how to respond to frequent demands for promotions and pay rises in what feels like double quick time: how to manage them, how to hang on to the good ones, how not to miss the quieter stars. Nevermind the strategic goals, alongside tight resources.

The day that Amy on the fundraising team told me we’d been buddied up as part of Missing People’s approach to development, with no hint of the tentativeness that some have when stepping over the CEO threshold, I was pleased. I happily trotted off for a coffee. We agreed that no question would be off the table. Honesty was top of the list. And full agreement to share a few nuggets of insight from our conversations with you in this blog.

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The first nugget is the big drive for success. There is a mindset driven early doors from the ‘means to an end’ culture in school where it’s all about the joy of the result. GCSE’s to get to A levels, A levels to get to Uni, Uni to get a good job. To the mantra: “you can do it, try hard, and just go go go”.

The ethos of all of this is another question entirely. But I imagined them arriving into the working world at that same pace, and with that mindset. It must sometimes feel like a slow road, with no way markers. Nevermind a destination.

The second nugget is that job titles and a plan for progression go a long way. I heard about the pub conversations. Comparing yourself to pals who have chosen to go into the stylish ‘corporate land with benefits’. Which must be kind of hard – looking over the wall from the frayed carpet of the charity world, even if the mission is inspiring. I was starting to see that a job title of suitably senior status tells a better story, not least to yourself. How you’re making this education pay off, saddled with student debt, flat sharing late into your twenties, and a dream house not even on a distant horizon (for more on this, have a read here).

The third nugget is that they’re running to a different clock. It’s that eight years in my world is two years in theirs. Though the long-thought through people development plans, (and at Missing People there’s a big commitment to this) with six-month reviews and a possible promotion in a year. Well, I realise now that represents four years of hard labour.

And the fourth nugget is that the all-pervasive imposter syndrome is alive and kicking. And now there’s something we have in common. It turns out after all that millennials are full of heart and trying to impress. Anxious about messing up. Questioning if they’re up to the job. Speaking up and out, yes, and worrying about how it will land. Struggling to learn the art of leading – of taking people where they wouldn’t have gone without you.

Well, this millennial has just done that: she has taken me to a place of new understanding I wouldn’t have arrived at without her. It’s given me a lot of ideas about how we must respond to an altogether good combo of hard work and ambition. Shake things up, speed things up, create opportunity, which is needed for a fast shifting world. With clear way markers, that work in millennial years too. Call that entitlement? It’s the least we must do.

Photo by Brannon Naito on Unsplash


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