What Associations Can Learn From Millennials

Written by Jamie Notter on April 19, 2016

For the last ten years or so, we have been complaining mightily about Millennials. It’s honestly one of the reasons I got involved in the whole topic of generational diversity in the first place- I was sick of all the complaining. They’re spoiled. They’re entitled. They wear flip flops too often. They got too many trophies. They’re impatient and want a raise six minutes after starting their job. I even remember hearing a speaker at ASAE’s Great Ideas conference circa 2004 getting a big laugh from the crowd when he explained that the Millennials in the workplace needed us to “cut their meat for them,” like they were children.


And what I can’t figure out is why all these complainers don’t remember when people complained about THEIR generation! Don’t you remember, Gen X managers, when we were the cynical slackers. And Boomers, do you not remember how society declared we were going to heck in a handbasket because of all the long-haired hipppie freaks?

How quickly we forget.

So let’s resolve to stop the complaining and focus on learning from the Millennials. Be curious. Explore their approach to see what can be learned. You don’t have to do everything the way they say to do it—they’re not the best generation ever (there is no best generation). But they have what every generation has—a perspective that was shaped by their unique time in history.That unique perspective can be really valuable.

For example, they helped Maddie and me identify the four organizational capacities that we wrote about in When Millennials Take Over:


Millennials are used to continuous improvement and innovation that is the norm in the digital world, so don’t bristle at their impatience with how long it takes your organization to change. Use it as an indicator that you need to grease those skids.


Millennials had instant access to every piece of information under the sun since they were little. They are expecting the senior management team to actually tell people what they do in those weekly meetings.


Millennials understand hierarchy, but they do expect to have access and influence on higher layers of the hierarchy—just like they had with the adults in their world growing up. If you can learn how to loosen things up inside your structure, you’ll tap into the power that comes with engaging them.


You know the crazy pace of change we have these days? Yeah, Millennials call that “normal”. They can model ways that we can create organizations that handle change better.

When we shift the conversation away from complaining and towards curiosity and learning, we just might stay ahead of the big changes in leadership and management that are already starting to happen.

What new processes or systems have you introduced in your association that were inspired by what you saw Millennials doing?

Recently, Jamie Notter hosted an all-Millennial panel that discussed ways to engage their generation: