Lessons from the street: How to engage Millennials
16 November 2015
The more I think about it, the more I feel street art can teach employers a thing or two. I am lucky
enough to work in the middle of one of the world’s best outdoor galleries: Spitalfields, and
yesterday I went to check out some new pieces creating a stir. On my way I noticed, to my horror,
that a couple of my favourites were no more. For months they had paraded high on the side of a partially demolished building but on this day they had made way for the steel and hoardings that will undoubtedly become futuristic office space. I was devastated. Torn down. Why? It was nothing short of thuggery to reduce beautiful art, and I truly mean beautiful art, to no more than rubble.
Real street art is transient. It is here today to be viewed, appraised, detested – whatever emotion it stirs up in you. It can’t be preserved in glass or traded on the open market (unless you happen to be Banksy). It’s about the now, and it’s gone tomorrow.
That got me thinking about Millennials (pretty much anyone who grew up in the digital age). I’ve always been fascinated by how this generation can walk out of a job without another to go to because it’s not what they want. Call me old-fashioned (or not from Generation X or Y), but I would think carefully about a career move, and wouldn’t expect my job to deliver on the satisfaction scales immediately or all of the time. But this doesn’t appear to be how many Millennials think. It’s about the now. It’s about appreciating and valuing the present, and the future will take care of itself. This is why this generation are doing things that have never been done before. Orthodoxy anchors their aspirations. They are not going to wait for a job to deliver when the world is full of possibilities.
So how does an employer engage with this highly connected cohort who are not motivated in the same way, and whose measures of attainment are more about happiness and the quality of life than success? I have no doubt that the answer to this question is complex and multi-layered, and way too big for me. That said, my guess is that Millennials will gravitate towards businesses that value their opinion enough to ask them what they want. I imagine they will want to be immersed in the strategic journey of the business, so that their direction has purpose and possibility.
Where street art can teach us something is in reframing the question on engagement. Like street art, are Millennials, transient? Should employers shift the focus to the now, and really make the most of their talents while they are there, rather than seeing them as an asset in the pipeline for the future? Perhaps change is the new constant. Perhaps we should embrace all that change has to offer, rather than trying to reshape it into something different.