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ISM 2016: Five Values You Share with Millennials

One of the hottest trends in supply management over the past year has been to discuss the rise of the Millennial Generation and how they are on deck, ready and able to replace the hordes of Baby Boomers that have already started to retire. Often, this discussion comes not-so-lightly peppered with the requisite stereotypes of Millennials being entitled, easily bored, always connected, and never staying in a job longer than a year or two. Like many stereotypes, there is a nugget of truth to these claims. But these nuggets are golden, and they radiate promise and professionalism that belie the harshest preconceived notions of this generation.

On Day 1 of the Institute for Supply Management (“ISM”) Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, ISM held a panel discussion featuring several finalists from this year’s 30-under-30 recognition program. The program, in its second year, is a partnership between ISM and ThomasNet that seeks to recognize exceptional professionals in the supply management industry that are 30 years of age or younger. Readers may recall that we covered the 30-under-30 program last year in a series of articles on CPO Rising (click herehere, and here to read them).

This year’s panel was another opportunity to hear directly from Millennials working in supply management and to dispel the myths regarding them that are frequently and unfairly bandied about. What we learned during this 30-minute discussion is that they value many of the same things that other, more senior supply management professionals and leaders value: flexibility, growth opportunities, modern technology, loyalty, and a support network. Here is a deeper breakdown into what Millennial supply management professionals value in their jobs and their employers:

  1. Flexible work schedules. Like many supply management professionals, Millennials do not necessarily adhere to being in the office 8-to-5. Like many of us, they get online earlier and later, often from their home office, and when they need personal or family time, they expect to be able to take off no questions asked.  This, according to this year’s 30-under-30 “Megawatt” star, Amy Georgi, supply chain program manager for acquisitions and integrations at Fluke Corporation, who has been with the same company for nine years. Flexibility is, in part, what has helped her stay so long.
  2. Opportunities to grow. One of the stereotypes of the millennial generation is that they get bored easily and job hop. However, one of the finalists on the 30-under-30 panel said that he stays in his job because it provides opportunities for constant engagement and learning. Another element that is important to the Millennial generation and that is key to retaining talent is having opportunities to grow – either within the role or the company. The learning that is required to keep millennials engaged with all of the stakeholders is a good example. Another is the opportunity to work towards and earn the Certified Professional in Supply Management (“CPSM”) certificate offered through his employer.
  3. Technology, especially connected systems. Other panelists spoke of the frustration of change management without modern tools, like supplier information management (“SIM”) and supplier relationship management (“SRM”) solutions. These make it easier for folks to transition roles because the information that they have collected in the meantime remains in a central, searchable location, and they are not searching around for it two years later when their protégé needs it to reengage with the supplier. Systems that “talk to each other” are especially helpful as they make it easier to share data and information from point to point. Having access to reliable data is another “want.” If you don’t have access to good, reliable data on processes, it makes it difficult to get to the root cause of a problem in a process, said one of the panelists. Sound familiar?
  4. Loyalty. After the global economic recession of 2007-2009, many Millennials saw the writing on the wall and realized that there is very little loyalty in the business world, and that they need to look out for themselves. In other cases, workers left jobs after one or two years because “it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be…. They learned that ‘the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.’” Now, in stronger, more stable financial times, companies are winning hearts and minds again by investing in their employees’ education (for example, by paying for their CPSM and MBA programs) and demonstrating that they intend to retain them long term. One panelist spoke of a 5-year succession plan from his manager, who has committed to him that he is being groomed for leadership positions within his organization. “They want you to improve and they want you to succeed.”
  5. Mentors. One of the most important things in the life of a professional – any professional – is having a support network of mentors and trusted colleagues that they can turn to for short- and long-term guidance. The Millennials are no different. Having a support network of current or former managers, professors, or more senior colleagues that can listen without judgement when they have a challenge and guide them when they “just don’t know” is invaluable. Millennials are not the first cohort to recognize when they need help and seek it out, and they will not be the last. Not only do they recognize it, they embrace their support network and are unafraid to take constructive criticism on their path to success. They know that sometimes, that is the only way that they can grow.

Like most things, once someone gets passed their preconceived notions of a person, idea, or class and they experience them firsthand, they usually find that they had them all wrong. That is not entirely the case with the Millennial Generation, as there is some truth to some of the things that have been said about them. But judging from the 30-under-30 panel at ISM last May, they have confirmed the best parts of their stereotypes and leave no doubt about the future of supply management.

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