What can Millennials tell us about the future of business?


Posted by Amy Fuller on March 24, 2016

The following post, which first appeared on the Deloitte Digital blog, offers a Millennial’s-eye view into topics familiar here at HR Times: the importance of building a culture that engages employees, that culture’s role in talent attraction and retention, and the role executives play in leading and inspiring the workforce.

As always, the future of business will be defined by those that lead it. But what do we know about the ambitions, ideals, and values of these future leaders?

The world is already beginning to see the first phase of Millennial-led businesses. In the US, many of the tech starts-ups coming out of Silicon Valley are led by the next generation. Alongside arguably the most famous Millennial leader, Mark Zuckerberg, Instagram, Airbnb, and Theranos are all led by this generation.

But these exceptions will fast become the rule. The Deloitte 2016 Millennial Survey collected the views of nearly 7,700 Millennials representing 29 countries around the globe. It found that this generation is quickly moving into leadership positions and will take the reins at established businesses in the coming years.

In what direction can we expect these new leaders to take companies? Insights from our latest survey shed some light on how business could look under Millennial leadership. Three key findings are:

    • Businesses that look beyond the bottom line

Millennials are optimistic about the beneficial role companies can play. In fact, 73 percent of Millennials surveyed believe business has a positive impact on society. Yet Millennials do not see this as the result of active business policy coming from the top. The majority (64 percent) think that business leaders are too focused on their own agenda and do not consider wider society. And 54 percent think most business leaders have no ambition beyond wanting to turn a profit.

This new generation of business leaders will be looking to change that.

Millennials overwhelmingly believe that business has to be about more than profit. Nine out of 10 believe businesses need to be measured beyond the bottom line, and only five percent think that a focus on profits will create businesses that are sustainable over the long term.

Instead Millennials will be looking to create and run businesses that address social challenges and change the world for the better.

Airbnb, a Millennial tech firm, is already demonstrating this new style. They regularly report on the positive economic impact they have on the different countries they operate in.

    • A lack of celebrity CEOs

Given the media coverage and the intrigue surrounding the current crop of Millennial CEOs, you might think that the celebrity CEO is a trend that’s on the rise. Not so.

Our survey shows that Millennials are largely unimpressed by fame and fortune. When asked about their life priorities, fame–even a high profile on social media–was low on their list. Instead, their top two priorities are making a positive contribution to both their organization and the world they live in.

They have a similar attitude when it comes to business. When we asked Millennials how they judged the performance of a business, they ranked the “buzz” around a company as 14th out of 15 possible characteristics.

Instead of CEOs who are focused on celebrity, we can anticipate that the next generation of business leaders will be employee-centric. When asked which values a business should follow to have long-term success, Millennials list employee satisfaction as the most important value (26 percent).

    • Values-based business

Unsurprising perhaps, but in the wake of recent corporate scandals, concerns about ethical business behavior are front and center for Millennials.

Insights from our survey demonstrate that they are a take-your-values-to-work generation. Almost half (49 percent) of Millennials have chosen not to undertake a task at work because it was against their personal values or ethics. And this only increases as Millennials move into leadership roles: 61 percent of those in senior positions have refused to undertake a task for ethical reasons. An additional 56 percent of Millennials have ruled out working for a particular organization because of its perceived poor values.

This, and the fact that Millennials rank personal values as the most influential factor in their professional decision-making, shows that next-generation business leaders will likely ramp up their ethical focus.

Undoubtedly Millennials will face enormous challenges in their future, but perhaps their move into leadership will usher in a new age where business engages more actively in society. If the next generation of leaders follow their ideals, then business world-wide could look very different in a few years’ time.


Amy Fuller is Deloitte’s Global Head of Brand and Communications.

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