Millennials: Managing Their Personal Brands

Perhaps one of the more lasting ways that Millennials will shape our culture is the way that they think about their lives, career and work.

Where Boomers thought of career in terms of one or two employers and a series of jobs with increasing responsibility and pay, Millennials think of their career as something more personal and proactive.

Employer reputation and work environment matter greatly to Millennials because it shapes their personal brand. They are focused more on the skills and mentoring they will receive than managerial responsibilities and career progression. As a result, they show an unwillingness to ‘settle’ for something less, even in this tough economic times. The New York Times controversially reported the case of Scott Nicholson, a 24-year old 2008 college grad who turned down a $40,000 a year insurance job that he felt would be a ‘dead end’ (“American Dream is Elusive for a New Generation“)

As far back as 2007, this new way of thinking was well described in an piece for NASA on the new Gen Y worker. After outlining the basic characteristics of Millennials’ upbringing and outlook, the author, a Microsoft consultant, reaches this conclusion: organizations need to adapt to Millennials new views rather than try to reorient them to ours.

These characteristics create new challenges for managers. Because of the magnitude of the shift from baby boomers to millennials, it is unlikely that organizations will successfully reorient the millennials to what has come to be considered a traditional work ethic; rather, the workplace will need to adapt to the attitudes and needs of this generation….Millennials consider their knowledge and skill more as a source of employment mobility than of career growth. Many see their knowledge as personal and portable, not organizational and collective. When it is communal, it is very communal, openly shared across their networks without regard to boundaries….

Top-down or command-and-control methods will prove less effective for the next generation, but millennials can be brought together for a mission they consider meaningful. Defining the mission, and remaining flexible enough to refine and redefine it, will create an environment in which leaders will emerge. Millennials with effective skills that include leadership abilities will emerge as leaders in projects despite aversion to a long-term commitment to management as a career.

About the same time, my research firm, Brand Amplitude conducted proprietary research among young professionals about their work lives and careers and reached similar conclusions. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

“Relationships and corporate cultures are especially important to Millennials. They want want to feel cared for as individuals — not just employees. In short, they want mentors, coaches and teammates – not just bosses. “The whole concept of ‘reporting’ to people is very parents’ generation… [we] are more team focused.” Participants expressed more loyalty to the people they work with than to their company. As one brand manager put it, “I feel connected to the people I work with, not necessarily the company.” Another said, “People make everything worth doing.””

A common perception about Millennials is that they aren’t very loyal. Yet when we probed about workplace loyalty, we heard many say they would like to be loyal, but only to companies that ‘earn’ their loyalty. Millennials feel their parents’ generation was loyal to a fault. Millennials believe they have more options, so they insist they will only stick with a company that earns their devotion. “My company doesn’t realize that their most qualified people can and will leave for a better work environment.”

Today, there are many consultants and speakers who specialize in helping firms attract and retain Millennial workers, manage multiple generational workforces and train employees to respect generational differences. No doubt this is necessary and helpful. Yet, how much of the disconnect could be resolved if companies took the advice of the Microsoft consultant and look at work the way Millennials do, as a means to shaping their personal brand?

Gen Y wants to manage their career proactively, in the same way a brand manager approaches a product, by determining the desired identity and carefully selecting associations and experiences that will allow them to reach their goals.

That goal increasingly means a ‘slash’ career or succession that combines different skills and abilities rather than becoming singularly focused on mastering just one thing. The metric is different, too. It’s not just about the money, it’s about meaning and pleasure and the intangible of  ‘brand value’.

I have written about  Rebecca Denison before in this blog, a young Gen Y marketer and member of our Super Consumer community. Rebecca helps companies measure their brands for Edelman in Chicago. Today she turns the tables and talks about how to measure a ‘personal brand’. Rather than rely on the usual metrics of Twitter followers, blog subscribers, or page views, Denison suggests these more “meaningful” goals and measures of personal brand strength.

Goal: Connect and build relationships with other PR professionals and those interested in measurement. Metrics:

  • Number of folks added to my “Measurement” list on Twitter
  • Number of LinkedIn connections made with others interested in measurements
  • Number of conversations per week about measurements

Goal: Find more ways to build friendships in Chicago. Metrics:

  • Number of friends added to my “Close Friends” list on Twitter.
  • Number of clubs and organizations discovered.
  • Number of people I know I can count on in a pinch.

Goal: Become a measurement resource for others. Metrics:

  • Number of recommendations received on Twitter.
  • Number of guest blog posts written about measurement.
  • Number of times per week I’m asked for advice about measurement.