Can millennials work for baby boomers when it sometimes seems as if they don’t even speak the same language? What unique skills can millennials offer—and what are millennials looking for in return from their employers?


Joris Merks-Benjaminsen

These are the kind of questions that Joris Merks-Benjaminsen, Google’s European Head of Insights Communication, looks to answer in his new book, Think and Grow Digital: What the Net Generation Needs to Know to Survive and Thrive in Any Organization (McGraw-Hill Education, 2014). In the book, Merks-Benjaminsen shows how millennials can thrive in a digital corporate world still dominated by the older generation while retaining their own ideals and values.

Merk-Benjaminsen will be the guest of a #BTLiveChat on July 22 at 1 p.m. EDT. In the meantime, he offered this sneak preview on the topic of the digital world and how millennials and older generations can get along in it.

coverBookTrib: What special talents and abilities do millennials have that might give them a leg up in today’s job market?
Joris Merks-Benjaminsen:
The one big talent that all of them have is that they are digital-savvy by nature, since they grew up as digital natives. In my work for Google I speak to CEOs of big brands. All of them want their companies to grow more digital and all of them feel their companies are moving too slowly. The challenge of digital transformation is a hard one for big companies. They really need young digital natives to shake up ways of working, so there is a big career opportunity for those millennials who know how to make their digital skills meaningful to the broader organization around them.

BT: What should millennials do in terms of academic and work experience to prepare themselves for their careers? Are there any particular areas of study or work experience they should seek out?
First, make sure you build strong digital expertise. What expertise that is depends on the type of field you are in. In advertising for instance, this could be expertise in search engine marketing or deep knowledge of platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. In other fields, it could be the knowledge of running a digital shop or using any other kind of new technology to improve business results or processes. If you build the right digital expertise, that prepares you for becoming a strong digital specialist.

That alone, however, is not sufficient: a specialist doesn’t change a whole organization, so millennials will need to build broader skills as well. They’ll need to learn how other colleagues and company leaders think about the role of digital within company strategy, and they’ll need to learn what parts of the digital world that established professionals don’t understand. If millennials build that knowledge on top of their specialist knowledge they can help to bridge the old and new worlds. You can only change a company if you understand where it is coming from.

Finally, people skills are very important. Many people fear change, either for personal reasons or because they might feel their roles are diminishing. You can only get people on board for change if you understand what drives them or blocks them. I believe building people skills starts with having a sincere interest in the perspective of other people. If you enter a new company, try to spend your first months asking as many questions as possible. Ask people about their jobs, what accomplishments they are proud of, what gives them energy, what drains their energy, what they would still like to achieve, and what things they’ve tried achieving but that unfortunately failed. The information you get from these conversations is extremely valuable, and at the same time, you’re building the personal relationships that are important for you to be a driver of change.

BT: What do baby boomers and Gen X-ers have to understand about millennials in order to get the best job performance out of them?
My book covers 10 mismatches between the millennial mindset versus the way most companies are organized nowadays. One that I believe stands out most is the mismatch that millennials have versus the hierarchic nature in most companies. Millennials have grown up watching teenage nerds and kids with guitars and a talent for singing become billion-dollar CEOs or celebrities in just a few years’ time. To them, age and time are not measures of the potential for success. In many companies, some positions or promotions can be acquired only at a certain age or after being with a company for a certain amount of time. While previous generations patiently waited their turn, millennials are unlikely to do so. Millennials tend to feel everyone has an equal right to have an opinion and to have that opinion heard.

Hear more about Joris Merks-Benjaminsen’s insights into millennials and the digital corporate culture during his live chat on BookTrib on July 22 at 1 p.m. EDT.