Give the next generation workforce what they need

Ever since they have been entering the workforce, there has been a lot a of talk about Generation Y or, as they are often referred to, the Millennials. As they take on different levels of responsibility, organizations pay close attention to how they can harness the preferences of the Gen Y-ers.
Like with every generation change that happened before, the older age groups who have been the dominant demographic in society and in organizations are struggling to decipher what the main motivators for the next generation are. What drives them? How can they be led most effectively? What does it take to inspire them? And: How do we turn Millennials into the leaders we need?

As a member of Generation X, the age group which will be working alongside Gen Y for the longest, I am experiencing this phenomenon consciously for the first time in my life and I’m not so sure if all the labels people stick on today’s 20- and 30-somethings are as accurate as they are stereotypical. Especially if we look at this generation from a cultural perspective. But more on that later.

First, let me draw your attention to survey data from around the world. A study of over 4,000 graduates in 75 countries revealed what tops the list of workplace benefits and perks. The front runner, the one thing that most millennials consider the most valuable working benefit, is training and development opportunities. For any employer this should be great news. Your new talent wants to improve themselves and, in return, will benefit more to your organization.


Add to that the readiness most Millennials display for opportunities to live and work in a different location. Among many Gen Y-ers there appears to be an unspoken expectation to be sent abroad for work as part of their professional development.

This has been changing how smart organizations attract, retain, and advance their new talent. As employers are competing for the most accomplished and skilled young professionals, they find themselves adjusting their workforce development strategies to this demographic reality.

For global business this increasingly means that cultural training initiatives for middle-aged senior managers who go on 2- to 4-year foreign assignments may not be enough any longer. In the past few years we have seen more and more expatriates in their 20s who go on 12- to 24-month assignments, and this is changing how we, as a service provider to the training & development departments, are communicating with our program participants.


While most young professionals value the opportunity of cultural training programs offered to them by their employer, many of them feel that a one-time delivery of information should only be the start of a continuous learning experience. A point of view I fully agree with and wrote about; for this reason we have been offering cultural coaching programs through The Culture Mastery.

I think the benefits of this generational change process can’t be overstated. We are now seeing people grow into leadership roles who come to the workplace with a much greater awareness of cultural dynamics and who are willing to learn and experiment how to harness diversity.
It’s important to let go of some of the Millennial stereotypes – e.g. they are entitled and have no desire to lead – which are still being perpetuated by the media. If you want to dig deeper into this topic, I encourage you to read “Understanding a misunderstood generation,” a survey by Universum, INSEAD’s Emerging Markets Institute and the HEAD Foundation. It’s the largest study of its kind. They surveyed 16,637 people between 18 and 30 years old, in 43 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America.

Here are some relevant highlights from this research. Debunking one of the most persistent myths, the survey found that Millennials are very much interested in becoming leaders. However, this interest isn’t always the same across cultures, as you can see in the graphic below.


What an ideal leader looks like to Generation Y varies even more around the world. While some value a manager who empowers them, others find technical or functional competency more important.


Of course these regional differences need to be taken into consideration. “What matters to a Brazilian Millennial might differ from what matters to a Singaporean Millennial, which differs from what matters to an American Millennial,” writes Henrik Bresman, the Academic Director of the HEAD Foundation. “But while it’s important to understand what’s valued in a particular culture, it’s also necessary to remember that people vary greatly within cultures.”

If we know one thing about this generation, it is that they view work not the same way their parents did. And as employers in the Western world are replacing huge numbers of retiring baby boomers with the significantly smaller Generation Y, traditional 9-5 exchanges of time for money do not suffice to win the race for top talent. Millennials want to be challenged and they want to know their work is for a cause – a mission – they can get behind.

Therefore, training and developing Millennials requires an approach which recognizes the different value sets across cultures. Can you see how cross-cultural training and coaching benefits your workforce development programs, as your young professionals grow with your organization?
We want to hear from you.


Christian Höferle and your team at The Culture Mastery


Learn how to motivate, inspire, and lead across cultures now!



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