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’ve received. Thus, here are three more things that you may not have known about Millennials.
1. Millennials are Highly Collaborative – with Everyone
As it turns out, Millennials are not so self-involved after all. To the contrary, one of the things we heard the most about this cohort is that they are highly collaborative and team-oriented, a trait that carries them well within supply management. They are not afraid to pick up the phone and talk to a supplier, or an internal stakeholder in the next department, and understand everyone’s pains and challenges before moving forward with a plan. In fact, one of the most rewarding parts of the job for one finalist was getting all of the stakeholders together in one room to get on the same page and make a decision.
For Erin Clancy, a Customer Supply Chain Manager at Mars Confectionary and a 2014 30-under-30 finalist, collaboration is not a nice-to-have, it is a must-have. “If you don’t work with and support every function…at least to touch base, to update, or to see how it looks from their perspective, things won’t work,” she said. “Or they’ll be executed inefficiently and then you’ll have all kinds of problems. The worst thing is that you won’t be able to deliver your product to your customer.”
This collaborative spirit sometimes goes beyond consensus building and getting it right. “At the end of the day, that’s your team,” said Sarah Klemsz, a Supply Chain Analyst at Boeing and another 30-under-30 finalist. “They might not work for the same company that you do; they might not work in your factory. But they are your team and you need to take care of them.”
2. They are Tech Savvy, Sometimes to a Fault
There is a nugget of truth within the Millennial stereotype, which is that most are tech savvy. “I do think that technology is a strength, and it’s the same for anyone in my age category,” said Clancy. “We’ve grown up with it. In college, I used Excel, and it’s second nature to me,” whereas her peers who didn’t learn it in school “are constantly trying to stay ahead of it.” It’s not just Excel – it is all of the systems that they use that are integrated across their enterprise. “We have so many systems that talk to each other, and the ability to understand how those work” is something that Millennials have an advantage over their predecessors.
But being tech savvy can also complicate things, particularly now that Big Data and smart, connected devices are flooding enterprise procurement shops with streams of data. There is such a focus on Big Data to improve operations and drive efficiency that enterprise procurement teams, even those manned by Millennials, still have to sift through data “noise” to find value and solutions. The noise can be deafening. And even though Millennials have mastered data management tools, it doesn’t replace good old fashioned communication. In fact, Klemsz points out that her predecessors just need a phone and a pad of paper to problem solve. To her credit, Clancy avoids the Big Data trap by picking up the phone, hopping on her instant messenger account, or walking across the hall to get an answer for a fast-burning question.
3. Not all Millennials are Happy with the Label
In speaking with the 30-under-30 finalists, not all are happy with the Millennial label or stereotypes, nor do some even know what the label means. Some think it is unfair to make wide generalizations that they are entitled job-hoppers that only care about themselves. There are good and bad examples in every group, adds one 30-under-30 finalist at ISM. Some do not even use the term, Millennial, to refer to themselves and prefer that others do not, as well. Others, like Klemsz, laugh it off, saying, “I don’t think I have a choice.” Regardless of the label, Klemsz and Clancy embrace the positive connotations that they are tech savvy, communicative, collaborative, and driven to get things done as quickly as possible.
Every generation has their labels and reputations. The Greatest Generation was selfless, resilient, and saved the world from the tyrannies of evil. The Baby Boomers defied social conventions and struggled to live up to their parents’ achievements. The Slacker Generation (also known as Generation X) lacked direction and motivation, and further defied social norms. Regardless of the generation or the stereotype, one thing is true across them all: it is not that simple. People are individuals, and you can learn more from a person by talking with them rather than reading about them in an internet forum. We learned a lot about the Millennials in supply management by talking with them, listening to their stories, and hearing what drives them in their professional and personal lives. Although there are some nuggets of truth in their stereotype (they are restless, and they are tech savvy), they are so much more than their reputation. They are the future of supply management, and they should be taken seriously.