Many workplaces are competitive environments, partly because of the desire for advancement and partly because of the traditional structure of most incentive plans. They encourage “friendly” competition, which can often not be too friendly. The promotion of only high performers based on incentive numbers creates a one-sided approach to the available talent in your organization. The real tragedy is how this affects morale, talent retention and the overall culture.

This approach has rewarded the “front line” people, but has left much of the support staff in the lurch. Anyone who has a significantly sized capacity for performance is almost always supported by a group of people around them. There are people who catch mistakes, encourage and brainstorm with them and a whole range of other areas that make things happen.

The Millennial generation has a very different world view and is greater in numbers than the Baby Boomers. To ignore this world view regarding the space you give them in your organization will only serve to frustrate both them and you…and the reality is, you’re outnumbered. Millennials don’t mind the competition, but they enjoy collaborating in a way that fosters healthy competition. To be blunt and seemingly uncaring, your opinion of that approach doesn’t really matter. It is the reality that has developed and so you have to respond to it in a healthy way in order to gain and retain the top talent if you want to be a serious player with staying power.

Millennials embrace the conversation. They thrive best when they have a voice, even if their idea isn’t ultimately implemented. It’s the process that makes a difference. Many Boomers and even Gen-Xers don’t mind the competitive atmosphere, but most organizations don’t just have those two generations represented in their talent pool. There are still many places who have 3 generations represented in the workplace. This puts companies in a place to communicate in a way that speaks to each of them.

The onus is on the employer to speak to the hot button issues of the generational differences…not the various generations to kowtow to what makes for the easiest way to manage for leadership. Don’t underestimate the skill and dedication of Millennials simply because it looks and feels different. When you embrace their world view by how you choose to engage them, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Blending cooperation (collaboration) with competition will bring you the best results. Create a culture of “coopetition” and you will see the Millennials settle much more readily into your organization.

  • I’d guess these behavioral differences cross generational lines — there are competitive Millennials and there are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who need to work in a collaborative environment. Still, a blending of these two styles can’t hurt, especially if there’s more collaboration within a workplace and more competitiveness with outsiders.

  • Very true, Gary. I hate using broad brushes, because it almost always comes back to bite me. I think coopetition is a great approach. It’s just quite handy to recognize and properly respond to those who fit the overall trend. Thanks for your contribution!