There are many adjectives associated with Millennials. Just type "Millennials are" into Google, and you'll be treated to a host of suggestions: lazy, entitled, narcissistic, and drinking too much coffee (no, seriously).
But there is one phrase that describes many of the most successful Millennials that doesn't get thrown around frequently enough: impact-driven.
Again and again, in industry after industry, Millennials are disrupting the traditional ways of doing things to focus more on having a positive impact on their customers, their employees, and the world.
Zach Obront, co-founder of Book in a Box, is a prime example. Despite starting a publishing company, he decided not to locate his business in New York (it's 100 percent remote), doesn't have a dress code (Zach can often be found in his gym clothes), and doesn't have strict rules and regulations (the company has an unlimited vacation policy).
In other words, it's a new generation of company. And there's a lot that Gen-Xers like me can learn from their perspective.
1. It's a Team Game
The industrial era led to extreme hierarchies in the workplace. The gains went to the top of the pyramid, while the factory workers just scraped by.
Millennials see things differently. They see business as a team sport and are far more inclined to see the profits of a business as property of the team, rather than just the owners.
"We have an extensive profit share program." Zach explains to me, "Each quarter, 25 percent of all the company's earnings are distributed to the team. Not equity that will vest in 10 years or anything like that, just a share of profit, at the same terms that the owners take it."
"And it's not a bonus," he clarifies. "It's their piece of the pie that they've grown. They've earned it."
2. They're All Owners
There are costs to sharing profits, but there are also benefits. One of the principles at Book in a Box is that "Everyone acts like an invested owner."
And it isn't just acting. In a sense, they all are owners. This translates into their actions.
The company, like many companies of this generation, gives its employees exceptional freedom. There are no set hours, an unlimited vacation policy, no requirement to be in the office.
Zach explains: "The only way the team is judged is based on whether they're getting their work done. It doesn't mean that their jobs are easy--we expect a lot out of our people--only that we trust them to act like owners and accomplish their goals on their own terms."
3. Clients Are Partners
Pick up any old-school business book, and you're likely to see sections on negotiation, manipulation, and other tactics that see customers are adversaries.
The new generation sees things differently. Their purpose is to serve customers, and they stay aligned with that purpose through their decision making.
"The filter that we make every decision through is 'What's best for our authors?'" Zach says. "It's the reason why we don't take royalties, why we don't pay our salespeople on commission, and why we often do a lot more than our contract lays out."
"Our authors are the reason we exist--it'd seem crazy not to do everything we can for them."
4. Mission First
The common thread that brings the above pieces together? For Millennials, mission comes first.
Walk into any corporate office and you'll see their core values, usually on a large plaque in the lobby. But for the most part they don't affect action. Enron had "Integrity" among its three core values, which says more than I ever could.
It seems that the biggest thing we can learn from Millennials is how to truly live and make decisions in alignment with a company's mission.
It's easy to say that a company exists to serve its customers, its employees, and the world--Millennials do the hard part: They act accordingly.
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