Articles // February 16,2021

Make Way for Millennials: Shadow Leadership

By Bhuvana Rajaram

The Shift: Millennials

The millennial culture is no longer somewhere out there, something that was a blink and miss topic. But NOW – its right here in the middle – the elephant in the room. Yes, the Millennial Age has arrived in Asia (millennials are those born between the early 1980s and 2000s). Interestingly, they represent 45% of the region’s population with 60% of the world millennial occupying homes in Asia.

And China has the greatest number of them when compared to other Asian countries and they are defining the trends in buyer consumption. Their choices and preferences are ruling the purchase patterns and sales. Another alarming dimension to this trend is that Asian millennials are extremely tech savvy with being digital an integral part of their lives. They are content to be home and digitally do almost everything online – chat, buy, shop, play and watch.

So how are you as organization leaders preparing to face this scenario? Are you ready enough? If not you better start taking some measures before you get dropped out.

Not just legacy and old-world companies but even some of the emerging players are looking for ways and means to reach millennials in a way that is close to their hearts. They are leveraging technology to lure them, some of them are launching digital ads, paperless entry forms, booking through apps and so on. But the fact remains that millennials are smart and discerning and do not fall prey to offers, they are cost conscious and spend wisely and only the most genuine offers get their attention.

Here’s a case of two organizations who countered this trend in different ways:
Gucci’s sales have grown 136% — from 3,497 million Euro (FY2014) to 8,285 million Euro (FY2018) —said CEO Mario Bizzarri and during the same period Prada’s sales went down by 11.5%, from 3,551 million Euro (FY2014) to 3,142 million Euro (FY2018).

So, what did Gucci get right and what did Prada do wrong, we may ask.

Prada failed to see the millennial digital wave coming and failed miserably, while Gucci quickly made amends to get the millennials onboarded as part of their executive team. And ushered in a smart concept called Shadow Leadership or Young Boardroom which paved new ways for quick growth. Gucci adopted a growth strategy driven predominantly by its internet and digital stratagems, while Prada overlooked this and was slow to react to this trend.

However, the reason being Gucci planned a coup of sorts to embrace this change. They created a shadow board which included people representing different functions; and obviously they were the most talented and creative minds of the organization — many of them very young. These select millennials were open, honest in their views and addressed company issues sans inhibitions with the executive committee. It is their new way of thinking that put Gucci on the road to digital success and get a firm foothold in the internet space.

Not just legacy and old-world companies but even some of the emerging players are looking for ways and means to reach millennials in a way that is close to their hearts. They are leveraging technology to lure them, some of them are launching digital ads, paperless entry forms, booking through apps and so on. But the fact . That said, the number of companies signing up for the Shadow Board style of management is growing. For organizations to maintain a competitive position in the market gaining the valued points of view of the younger generation is the new normal. Identifying the young and bright stars within your functions, giving them the voice to speak and decide is the technique for forward thinking organizations as they help them be in tune with times. After all, it is this generation that determines the market trends, purchasing behaviors and media consumption.

Without even knowing it they are steering the wheel of change in a new direction – that encompasses all the hot spots such as digital, technology (SMACISB), strategy and models.

While they are making waves as part of Executive Management some of the Asian millennials are moneyed and have very flourishing enterprises as well. So it is not just about them doing well at work but they also have an aggressive entrepreneurial streak that is taking them places.

But taking a step back to understand the making of a shadow board would be worthwhile, so here is a suite of steps that demystify it and help us understand what exactly works in millennial black box:

Ideation: Generation of ideas takes place actively, ideas that reflect the needs and trends of the market are brainstormed

Deliberation: Discussion of these ideas are done to threadbare state and only the best is taken forward

Incubation: The passed ideas are incubated, and their implications and impact are assessed from all angles

Evaluation: Once the ideas are brought to life and cost implications are evaluated and approvals are sought

Creation: After this the required department is involved and the ideas are actually translated into a deliverable and they go live.

The traditional family run organizations have launched several contemporary and people-friendly policies to change the image of a traditional company and attract millennial and Gen Z employees. The Shadow Board openly questions and criticizes the business strategies and offer radical changes which have catapulted the organizational success ratio.

What is the Future of Work amidst this Millennial mayhem?

The next generation of workers will only settle for a workplace that is high in technology and are adept at using some of the most emerging technologies as well. So organizations looking to attract and retain the best talent will need to invest sizably on workplace technologies and it goes without saying that Social Media availability will rank high as well.

While millennials do enjoy the face to face interactions, they have a penchant to leverage all forms of virtual working and communication tools. Their productivity is not hampered by working remote and video conferencing with a colleague in a different time zone.

An interesting aspect that needs to be acknowledged is that millennials will work for purpose, cause and communities rather than for fat paychecks. They are willing to engage right away with new startups where they can align to the vision rather than big brands where they are one of the many.

Point to note is that, they are drastically changing the performance review mechanism. They are unwilling to wait for the year end or half yearly interim check point to hear feedback. They want instant feedback, learn, course correct and keep evolving.

While the popular notion is that millennials look for free food, play area and such low-end benefits, the fact remains that they are largely driven by technology, role, and purpose. So organizations will have to heed the above directions which are shaping the future of work. If they strike the right balance between all these aspects, then they are sure to have an engaged workforce striving to achieve organization goals.

While this may be so – how do we endow these millennials with the necessary wisdom and experience that comes with age and service. And one sure shot way is to coach them be the change agents of their business. Imagine then the results! Their talent and passion and astounding brilliance tapped to include foresight and fortitude – the results will be mind-blowing.

Source: We thank the following information sources.
Deloitte, Forbes, Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review (HBR), CNBC, Management Today, The Economic Times, India Today, CIO, SeaPoint Center

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