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August 10, 2017

Rise of the Millennial VP

Rise of the Millennial VP

It seems like we’ve been talking for years about the impact that Millennial employees “are going to have” in the workplace. While we were discussing and theorizing, they have been learning, building, growing and working their way up the org chart. According to Wikipedia, the Millennial generation includes people born from the early 1980s through the mid 1990s and early 2000s. If we assume a birth year window of 1982-2002, the oldest millennials are turning 35 this year.

By the age of 35, Millennials who attended a traditional four-year college will have accrued 13 years of work experience. Many of them will have earned graduate degrees. According to CNN Money, they will also have worked at an average of five companies. This means that while Boomers and Gen Xers were worrying about the invasion of the next generation, Millennials were moving into position to become the next corporate vice presidents. And, having grown up with a trust of and reliance on technology, they’re bringing their critical fluency as tech natives with them.

Unless you are working at a highly progressive company, chances are there aren’t any Millennial VPs… yet. But you can be sure that they are coming. The good news is, research into the leadership priorities and attitudes of Millennial professionals reveals that their ascension to executive leadership may be a very good thing, especially for procurement.

The Conference Board recently published a brief report titled “Divergent Views, Common Ground” focused on the leadership differences between Millennials and the other generations in the workplace. Of their findings, three differences have particular relevance for procurement and supply chain teams:

  1. Interpersonal skills are highly important to Millennials, even more than technical skills
  2. Millennials are risk averse despite their willingness to speak out on issues of importance to them
  3. Millennials emphasize outcome-based accountability in their definition of success

Given the collaborative, value-driven nature of procurement’s current objectives, these tendencies are perfectly timed and very much in demand – especially in leadership roles.

The Importance of Interpersonal Skills

Anyone who thinks of Millennials as having their eyes glued to a device while on the go should think again. According to The Conference Board, they prize interpersonal skills and relationships. This benefits procurement in two ways: with stakeholders and suppliers. Many of the roadblocks and preconceived notions that procurement faces on a regular basis could be overcome with better interpersonal dynamics. Internal stakeholders want procurement to spend more time listening to their needs than dictating processes, and suppliers just want to have a relationship they can bank on before investing in innovation on the behalf of procurement. These same interpersonal skills will likely come in useful when Millennials find themselves to be among the youngest participants in meetings, trying to introduce new ideas to an audience that may or may not be receptive to them.

Frankness + Risk Aversion = Preparedness

Risk is inescapable in supply management, and the fact that Millennials are risk averse while having strong beliefs is a good sign for risk mitigation planning. This finding directly contradicts the notion that Millennials prefer to run things “fast and loose.” They may also be better positioned to raise awareness about risk potential with the rest of the enterprise, so that a cooperative solution can be achieved. In fact, given how collaborative and tech-savvy Millennials are, in their pursuit of minimized risk they may be quick to embrace technology without losing their personal grasp on the inputs and outputs of the systems they use.

Outcome-based Accountability

For years, procurement has taken hits (especially from finance) for claiming “projected” or “estimated” savings figures that are impossible to trace to the bottom line. If Millennials are outcome focused, they will have a natural drive to see the impact of actual realized savings reach the bottom line. This is a very big deal from a procurement perspective. Better still, Millennials may be able to finally achieve best of both worlds status, tracking and reconciling both projected and realized savings through real-time access to data and the required reporting and analytics.

The other advantage of an accountability driven model is that it aligns well with objective-driven models for supplier performance, especially in service categories. Rather than specifying, measuring and compensating supplier activities/transactions, Millennials will lean towards emphasizing suppliers’ impact on the business over time, leaving it to them to determine precisely how suppliers will achieve their goals.

Millennials may be poised to break into the VP tier of major organizations, but their likely management style may also position them for earlier-than-average entrance to the C-suite. First and foremost, their emphasis on interpersonal skills will smooth the transition to roles such as CEO and CFO. As Boris Groysberg wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Once people reach the C-suite, technical and functional expertise matters less than leadership skills and a strong grasp of business fundamentals.” The rest of us may point out that Millennials don’t have enough direct experience to successfully fill executive roles, but they may already have exactly what they need.

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