Managing change for a millennial workforce

Posted by Abhay Raina, Divya Jyoti Behl, Vaqar Merchant, and Supriya Sawant on April 25, 2018.

By 2025, millennials (those born between 1982 and 2003) will make up 75 percent of the global workforce, and a significant portion will begin to assume managerial and leadership positions. Their values, expectations, and demands will continue to shape the future workplace. They are likely to cause change within an organization as well as crave to be part of it. As millennials’ dominance in the workforce grows, their voices, needs, and opinions have started to shape the way organizations manage change.

Over the years, marketers have learned that millennials are informed consumers who expect honest content1 that is tailored specifically to their needs.2 They are more likely to trust reviews from their friends, and strangers who are like them, over experts.3 This type of behavior extends beyond their personal choices and influences their professional ones. When it comes to a desired work environment, millennials tend to seek out an organization that exemplifies their values. They desire an employee experience that offers a blending of their work and personal lives.4 And they want to be a part of the solution and contribute to transformative success. This has fundamental implications for how an organization operates and how it communicates with and motivates its millennial workers.

Millennials and change management
The strategy for managing change for a millennial workforce remains true to change management principles, although there is no one-size-fits-all-approach. From our perspective, four areas could be key to the success of any change effort involving millennials.

Consistent and open communication during times of change can help reduce unrest and quiet the grapevine. As digital natives, millennials are particularly receptive to digital communications. Given that the average millennial globally touched his or her smart phone 43 times a day,6 the possibility of millennials reading these messages on their mobile phone is very high. A comprehensive mobile strategy can help ensure communications are mobile-friendly—meaning short, crisp, to-the-point and, of course, interactive!

Learning and development
Change is an opportunity to learn more and explore a new reality. Learning for millennials is not just limited to enhancing skills in their current role, but also includes acquiring new skills. Times of change can present new opportunities for organizations to encourage millennials to make lateral career moves and gain a variety of skills. A multinational computer storage company encouraged its employees to move within different functions and gain skill sets beyond their core working requirements. Front-end team members worked with the back-end team for six months to understand the production cycle. This also encouraged the younger workforce to gain a holistic perspective of various organizational units.

Training delivery
Many workplaces are moving away from traditional push methods of learning like classroom training or an instructor-led walk-through of a new system. Digital enablement of workplaces has opened the door for new and innovative ways of learning, such as nano-learning, to address millennials’ desire for developmental learning on the go.

For example, a financial services company undergoing a technology transformation wanted to share the findings of a change impact assessment with stakeholders. This could have been handled in a classroom session. However, considering the majority of younger workforce members, the company wanted to create something interactive and easy to access. So, role-based training packets were created and uploaded to an internal site. Users could simply visit the page and click on a role relevant to them to see what was changing and what their new responsibilities would be.

Employee engagement
The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey7 highlighted that millennials feel most influential and, in turn, accountable in the workplace. Yet, just over half of millennials surveyed (55 percent) do not feel engaged with work.8 This is an important point for businesses to acknowledge, as it offers a platform to build each employee’s sense of purpose and, ultimately, a more engaged workforce. Millennials, when involved, can bring their best ideas and suggestions to the table and contribute to a successful transition in times of change. While customized processes and policies can attract millennials, proactive engagement practices should be in place to motivate and retain them. Employee engagement needs to happen from the very beginning of a change journey.

For example, a data storage firm faced immense attrition, particularly among millennial employees, during merger & acquisition activities. Seeking ways to better engage employees to help avoid turnover, the company invested time in thinking through and evaluating its engagement policies, including capturing reactions, especially from millennials, to every engagement event conducted. The results helped the organization develop an engagement calendar for the following year using the tactics its research found to be most effective. This led to more informed and engaged employees, and reduced incorrect information circulating in the organization.

Tailored solutions: A case in point
It’s important to remember that a millennial audience doesn’t automatically require new change management solutions, but rather tailored solutions. Consider the case of a leading cloud computing company that was deploying new reporting capabilities to improve data-driven decision-making for 10,000 global users, over 40 percent of whom were millennials.

The change management team used traditional techniques, namely stakeholder analysis and audience assessment, to reveal that the organization thrived on using an internal social media platform for communication and collaboration. It also revealed a consensus-driven approach to problem solving and an open culture in terms of sharing information—both of which were driven significantly by its young workforce and the need to be in sync with it.

The stakeholder and audience research led to a tailored change management approach that shifted away from communicating via email and having users spend hours in a training classroom to providing bite-sized information and a platform for learners to interact and collaborate. The existing social media platform was pulled into service and became a key component of driving the change and generating excitement about the transformation. It was used to share not only top-down updates but also updates from employees themselves. Moreover, users shared not only status messages but also interesting pieces of information through pictures. This approach peaked during user acceptance testing of the solution, when employees were asked to upload pictures of themselves wearing the specific colors of their groups and to share key learnings. The approach generated a significant response from locations across the world, with groups trying to outdo each other. This broad acceptance and high level of engagement led the program to meet its stated goals and expected benefits.

This case demonstrates the continued value of the core tenets of change management, while demonstrating that tactics should be modified to meet the needs of the audience. Above all, millennials need information about changes their organization is undergoing, presented using an approach they can relate to. They want to be made partners in the journey and incentivized to make the trip.

Abhay Raina is a senior consultant in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, with experience in change management, communications, organizational alignment, organization design, process design, learning strategy and development, and talent strategies.

Divya Jyoti Behl is a senior consultant in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, with experience in change management, learning & development, and organization strategies. She is also a part of the Bersin Center of Excellence, which provides insights driven from robust and academically backed research.

Vaqar Merchant is a consultant in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP with experience in technology adoption, change management, learning solutions, and organization design. He has worked on a range of ERP and process implementations developing change and training strategies, and a variety of learning interventions.

Supriya Sawant is a consultant in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP with experience in technology adoption, change management, and learning solutions. She has primarily worked on design and development of training packages for ERP and process implementation projects.

Contributors: Sonal Deorha and Lynn Huang

1 Debbie Klein, “Welcome to advertising, the Millennials way,” Campaign, May 1, 2014.
2 Michael Fleischner, “5 Tips for Marketing to Millennials,” Business KnowHow, November 22, 2013.
3 Beth Wright, Five key takeaways for marketing to millennials, Just-Style, July 8, 2016.
4 Kenneth Olmstead, Cliff Lampe, and Nicole B. Ellison, ”Social Media and the Workplace,” Pew Research Center, June 22, 2016.
5 Stahl, Ashley, “Create This Sort of Work Environment If You Want To Retain”, Forbes, September 4, 2017, //
6 “How Will Millennials Transform Organizational Change,” Change Management Review, citing Ilya Skripnikov, “Customized processes and policies can attract Millennials; however, you need proactive engagement practices to motivate and retain them.” 2016.
7 The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Seeking stability and opportunities in an uncertain world, 2017.
8 How Millennials Want to Work and Live, Gallup, 2018.

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