A couple of months ago, we published an article, The Next Generation of Procurement: The Millennials Have Shown Up to Work, in which we discussed a joint venture between the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) and ThomasNet that highlighted 30 supply management leaders under the age of 30 who have been making waves within the industry (“30-under-30”). We had the chance to speak with a couple of last year’s 30-under-30 finalists, as well as sit in on a panel discussion featuring several finalists at ISM’s 100th annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona. During the course of our involvement, we learned quite a bit about this cohort – some that confirms the stereotypes of this generation, but others that defy the labels that they have been given. Thus, here are three things that you may not have known about Millennials.
1. They are Ambitious, Often Restless
One of the overarching themes of our conversations with 30-under-30 finalists is that they are talented, ambitious upstarts eager to improve processes, and drive efficiency and performance within their organizations. They have to be to make a “30-under-30” list. It is one thing to read about it in an article or hear about it around the water cooler; it is another to hear it directly from a millennial. “Companies don’t necessarily like this, but people our age want to move around,” said Erin Clancy, a Customer Supply Chain Manager at Mars Confectionary and a 2014 30-under-30 finalist. “We’re hungry for the next role or opportunity, and learning. I just want to learn as much as I can and see how much I can influence within the different areas of the business.”
This hunger and ambition has caused many in the workforce, whether they are Millennials or workers from other generations, to either “move up or move out.” Clancy recently moved up from her previous role as Commercial Manager, but many of her peers have decided to move out. “A lot of my friends feel that if there are no opportunities where they work, they are going to go to the next company.” But while this can hurt staffing and disrupt operations in the short term, it has its benefits in the long term. “As a company, you can get people with varied backgrounds because they are hungry to move on, learn, influence, and make a difference.”
Still, other 30-under-30 finalists admit that many of them have been too quick to move on to the next challenge, and that this restlessness and transience have hurt their reputation.
2. More Millennials are Studying Supply Management, Rather than “Falling into It”
Another thing readers may not know about this next generation of procurement leaders is that many of them earned college degrees in supply management, and have earned or are earning advanced degrees in the field. Indeed, many Millennials are coming into supply management intent on making it a career, rather than “falling into it” like so many who came before them. As a result, this cohort shows up knowing basic terms, definitions, and concepts, and has some pretty valuable ideas for process improvement.
Although having an academic background in supply management makes for a quicker, smoother onboarding process, much of it is still theoretical and needs to be operationalized. “When you study it, all of these concepts seem awesome,” said Clancy. “But when you actually try to [implement them], even with small groups…it takes so many people, so many groups, and so long. It’s much bigger than when you’re studying it.”
3. But Nothing Beats Real-World Experience
This was a lesson that Sarah Klemsz, a Supply Chain Analyst at Boeing and a fellow 30-under-30 finalist, quickly learned on the job. When she began her job with Boeing, she had lots of great ideas for process improvement and often felt frustrated because her more experienced teammates were critical of them and resistant to change. But after a while, Klemsz began to understand that her teammates had decades of experience implementing process improvements and driving efficiencies, and that their resistance was justified. There are many factors that must be considered before making a company-wide or division-wide process change; some may not be learned in the classroom, and may only be learned by having 20 or more years on the job.
Klemsz’s teammates were not being obstinate; they were being good mentors. Her more experienced peers and supervisors have a vested interest in her success, as one day she and her peers will lead supply management when the “Old Guard” retires. At the end of the day, Klemsz’s teammates did not want to see her fail by implementing a well-intended but ultimately flawed process change. The experience has forced Klemsz to builder tighter, more holistic business cases for process improvement – a valuable lesson that will serve her and her team well, now and into the future.
Ambition, a strong education, and how that education can often clash with experience are just three of the things we learned from Erin, Sarah, and several other 30-under-30 finalists this spring. But we did not stop there. Tune into CPO Rising for Part Two of our series and learn more.