Interview Dino Beerli

Where millennials have got some catching up to do

Millennials place different demands on the professional environment Dino Beerli, Innovation and Leadership Consultant for Impact Hub Bern, knows how companies can capitalise on this generation’s potential and where they have some catching up to do.

Text: Andreas Heer,

Who are these millennials?

Dino Beerli: For me, the term ‘millennials’ is not really a question of age. I understand the term to mean people who have grown up with digital technology and have a different mindset from the older generation. These ‘digital natives’ are familiar with the opportunities offered by digitalisation. They bear the societal change that these technologies involve. Millennials recognise the opportunities in all directions. This is precisely why this millennial phenomenon is so exciting!

What does this mean for professional life?

Millennials must be prepared to shape the future of the economy themselves. This requires self-competence as well as social responsibility. This also includes self-confidence learnt from the experience that it’s worth sticking with something. Millennials often have some catching up to do in this respect. When it comes to networking with work colleagues and customers, empathy is important in order to be able to understand your counterpart. There is also the traditional methodological knowledge, e.g. when it comes to project management or design thinking. Last but not least, companies should value millennials.

There is therefore ground to be made up when it comes to ‘soft skills’. How can millennials contribute their digital technology skills to the professional world?

Digital natives challenge the older generations, both managers and employees alike. This is because millennials are looking for meaningfulness at work, which goes beyond material things. They have had their material needs met from an early age.

At the same time, we are seeing a change in the professional world. Traditional full‑time working as we know it is an out‑of‑date model. A recent study has shown that 35% of the working population in the USA are freelancers. This approach suits millennials. They are intelligent, powerful individuals. They are keen to contribute, but not to subordinate.

Dino Beerli, Impact Hub Bern.

So is self-employment the working model of the future then?

Not necessarily. Self-employment is hard graft. If companies were to offer millennials conditions under which they could contribute their power, then this would be a win-win situation. Unfortunately, many companies are not quite so progressive. They have a hierarchical structure rather than a role model system. A role model system would allow millennials to contribute their talents.

How should companies be structured?

Companies are faced with a choice of whether or not their structures are fit for the future. It is these highly educated millennials who will move on if they dislike the working conditions or, principally, their manager’s attitude. Managing millennials involves enabling them to contribute their talents and promoting networking with other experts. This involves creating spaces where employees can develop and take decisions. An approach using purely hierarchical decision‑making channels is outdated.

What would these spaces look like?

Large companies in particular often work in a project‑oriented manner. A project is simply a network of experts working together in a defined space. In an ideal world, management would act as a kind of butler, removing organisational and administrative obstacles from the path of the experts to allow them to continue working. This approach is ideal for millennials.

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«An approach using purely hierarchical decision‑making channels is outdated.»

The desire for personal development at work is not a new concept. Why does this requirement keep surfacing in connection with millennials?

It is true that the demands of millennials and also of the ‘Generation Y’ have a deep psychological essence that exists within us all. This involves working together to achieve ambitious goals, with each person being deployed according to his/her talents and enjoying individual freedom. I hope that this approach will now finally be able to take hold in the professional world. Young people are demanding this of management. When you look at successful companies, traditional hierarchical management is an out‑of‑date model.

So what distinguishes modern management?

Modern management is distinguished by the ability to delegate responsibility downward, thereby promoting individual responsibility. Where required, the ‘subordinates’ can also perform managerial duties. Modern management does not operate on a hierarchical basis; instead, it makes use of roles in which everyone has their own duties and responsibilities. A very prominent example of this is the holacracy model.

How can a large enterprise achieve such a transformation?

Personally, I’m not a believer in the big bang theory. Instead, a transformation of this kind starts with small networks, for example at a project level. This allows management to delegate power to employees, so that they can make their own decisions. This allows everyone involved to slowly acquaint themselves with a role model. Management’s job is to create free spaces of this kind on the basis of their organisational skills.

What are the prerequisites for this?

There needs to be a cultural change. Learning takes place through experience: when a concept has proven itself in practice, it will also be used in the future. On the one hand, this requires exchanges through which employees can share knowledge and network with one another. On the other hand, managers must also receive appropriate training and undergo continuous development in the context of a learning organisation. It is important that employees’ freedoms are not limited by a ‘lid’ at management level. This also requires a new mindset among managers. The company’s development is controlled by experiences. The transformation thus involves supplementing and adapting tried and tested approaches by way of new models.

The call for more individual responsibility often comes from highly educated individuals. Are these models only suited to graduates?

Working with individual responsibility is less about educational level and more about experience gained from individual responsibility. A childhood spent in a ‘feathered nest’ can also be a disadvantage. Someone who has never learnt to take responsibility cannot compensate for this by way of a good education alone.

It's about going along with millennials, integrating them into a project, for example, and gradually giving them additional skills and responsibility.

When it comes to millennials, I think that companies should employ a similar approach to that taken by parents when a child is learning to walk: start off by holding their hand, but when the child is able to walk, then let them walk rather than providing a safety net.

Dino Beerli

Dino Beerli is responsible for Corporate Programs & Consulting at Impact Hub Bern. He is an industrial psychologist, management consultant and avid climber who advises companies on promoting innovation and a sustainable management culture; he works with start‑up companies as well as established enterprises.

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