Millennials are the largest generation working today, by some estimates comprising 40% of the workforce. That's leading CFOs to evaluate whether their work processes need to be updated to leverage the skills these young workers bring to the mix.
“Millennials have grown up with technology and are empowered to accept change," says Elizabeth Salomon, CFO of Xactly Corp., which helps companies structure incentive compensation for their employees.
That attribute is a positive for CFOs who see millennials as an asset to help them drive automation of the finance department. But it's a challenge to get a clear picture of the millennial way of doing things.
Frank Fiorille, a finance department executive at Paychex Inc., has observed a trend in millennial device preferences. “They are more mobile-centric, less desktop-centric, than previous generations,” he says.
According to an employee survey Paychex conducted five years ago, 74% of employees used a desktop computer exclusively, while 14% used both a desktop and mobile device.
Today, the number of employees using a desktop exclusively has dropped to 51%, while the number using both devices has jumped to 43%. Fiorille attributes the shift to younger workers' preference for mobile solutions.
Fiorille has also observed a different array of skills in this group. “Millennials tend to have more versatile business and tech skills, and they can maneuver around many types of software, not just Excel.”
As an example of this difference, Fiorille recalls his experience leading predictive analytics groups. “Ten years ago, those tasks were handled by PhDs. In today’s world, a young MBA can do regression analysis,” he says.
Heath Eskalyo, CFO of law firm Kelley Kronenberg, describes his organization as a high-tech enterprise committed to the automation of its core processes. For testing of new technologies, he said, millennials are vital players in pushing transitions forward. “If we have to beta test a software, we put them on the transition committee,” Eskalyo said. “Millennials are incredible adapters of new technologies.”
Salomon also views millennials as important players in implementing process and transactional improvements. “Businesses are expected to be efficient,” she says. “This idea plays well with the millennial workforce; they get frustrated when things aren’t efficient.”
“That’s where executive leadership can step in to remove transactional and operational bottlenecks,” Salomon continues. “It’s my job to ensure that millennials have the tools they need to do their jobs more efficiently.”
In his time as CFO, Eskalyo has found that millennials have a different mindset about many traditional workplace practices. It starts with a distinctive approach to organizational values and goals. “When I was growing up, you played on a team where one guy won and got the trophy,” he says, “Millennials are playing a different game. Now, there are many winners. They have a collaborative approach, and it’s much less competitive than it used to be.”
Millennials also embrace alternative work schemes that depart from conventional day job culture. “They have a unique style,” Eskalyo says, “And that has compelled us to change workplace culture by adding job flexibility, work at home options and to offer them more transparency.”
There was once a time when senior employees would mentor young novices on best practices and competencies. Now, according to Eskalyo, it’s the reverse. “We’re encouraging baby boomers to adapt to the millennial way.”
Fiorille reports that millennial values have even influenced strategic workspace planning at his company. “We keep millennials in mind when we design these spaces,” he says. A recent office space plan was designed with a campus atmosphere, abundant green spaces and geothermal heating. Office configurations were designed to encourage open collaboration and interactivity, he says.
Millennials are also prompting CFOs to modify career development practices for finance department employees. “Millennials want to advance faster and see progress in their careers sooner, not just in five or 10 years, but in one to two years,’ Salomon says. “So I must be more intentional in how I plan their tasks.”
For example, 20 years ago, Salomon did not typically discuss career advancement with early stage employees. New millennial attitudes have changed that. “Now, I have these discussions much sooner,” she says.
Fiorille has had a similar experience. He says that the younger group wants more immediate feedback on their career progress. Performance reviews at his company used to be once a year, but to accommodate the millennial preference for quicker feedback, Fiorille says the organization has adapted. “Now, the review process is more frequent,” he says.