Harvard Business Review

By Judith E. Glaser & Ashley Blundetto
March 27, 2015

Millennials are often maligned for their constant technology use and obsession with the social approval signaled by likes, shares, and retweets. But organizations need to start recognizing the benefits of such behavior and harnessing it. This generational cohort will, by some estimates, account for nearly 75% of the workforce by 2025. And, according to a recent Deloitte survey of 7,800 people from 29 countries, only 28% of currently employed Millennials feel their companies are fully using their skills.

How can smart leaders better leverage the talents of these future leaders? As organizational consultants, we tell our clients to consider what makes them tick and to see the value in those interests. Two points are of particular note:

First, social sharing. Neuroscientists have shown that any kind of positive personal interaction lights up a part of the brain called the temporoparietal junction, which stimulates the production of oxytocin, “the feel-good hormone.” Millennials, who have grown up interacting online, are able to get that same high, more often, through technology, by posting, messaging, forwarding and favoriting multiple times a day. They crave that connection and are therefore natural team players.

Second, constant, complex data flow. Research tells us that multitasking is impossible: people can only do two things at once if one of those things is routine. Also, those who regularly use multiple forms of media are more prone to distraction than those who don’t. But, according to Nielson Neurofocus, EEG readings suggest that younger brains have higher multi-sensory processing capacity than older ones and are most stimulated – that its more engaged with and more likely to pay attention to and remember – dynamic messages. Millennials probably aren’t more effective multitaskers, in the strict sense of the world, but, in their current stage of brain development, they seem better able to tolerate and integrate multiple streams of information.

Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry, recognized that she could turn these two hallmarks of Millennial behavior into an asset for the fashion brand. In 2006, she hired a large number of “digital natives,” as she called them, to do what they do best: socialize through technology. As she explains in this video, they created an expansive digital platform, which transformed the company’s image and dramatically accelerated its growth. One highlight was “Tweet Walk,” which turned Burberry’s traditional runway show into a live web broadcast.

While Baby Boomers might see phones, tablets, and other devices as distractions, Millennials use them to collaborate and innovate in real time. While Gen-Xers may view aggressive social sharing as an unhealthy mix of the personal and professional, Millennials see it as a way to gather input and learn from others. Millennials understand, embrace and are evolving with our exponentially expanding digital world. Instead of judging their behavior, we need to better leverage it.

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