Book Review: When Millennials Take Over and the Fluid Workplace | Beth's Blog

Book Review: When Millennials Take Over and the Fluid Workplace

Workplace Culture

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I am knee deep in developing a peer learning program for Millennial leadership development in nonprofit organizations that is designed based on the research out there.   The last few months have been a time of deep reading and thinking many reports, research, and books.     One book that resonated not only with this work, but my previous work on networked nonprofits is nonprofit technology colleague Maddie Grant’s  “When Millennials Take Over,” written with Jamie Notter.

When Millennials Take Over is a well-written and researched manifesto targeted to organizational leaders on why and how their organizations needs to change to be successful given this disruptive demographic shift in the workplace.    The book starts with an overview of trends behind the rise of Millennials in the work place and offers a framework on shaping a Millennial friendly workplace.  They’ve based their writing on an ongoing survey of Millennials in the workplace as well as an extensive research literature review.

The book discusses how management traditional approaches need to change due to three trends that are coming together in a perfect storm.  The  trends are analyzed from a historical perspective, backed by research, and illustrated with lots of anecdotes and stories in the book.   The trends are:

  • The decline of hierarchical management or the flattening of the organizational chart
  • The social internet revolution
  • The Millennial generation entering the workforce

The meat of the book is in the chapters dive into the framework with research and case studies.  The authors offer up principles for senior leaders and organizations to transform their organizations’ cultures to become Millennial friendly as follows:

  • DIGITAL: Embrace both the technology and the mindset that will free up your employees to innovate, be proactive, and increase your agility.
  • CLEAR: Share more to increase both the speed and quality of decisions, reducing the load on middle management.
  • FLUID: Empower employees at all levels to take ownership, lead change and continuously create new value.
  • FAST: Anticipate customer demands, identify and solve problems faster, and leap ahead of the competition.

My lens on this topic is from the leadership  and professional development perspective and what was most insightful about reading this book was the chapter on FLUID which includes a wonderful historical analysis of bureaucracy.  The authors argue that it isn’t about dumping bureaucracy, but moving towards a more fluid bureaucracy.    It reminds of Jon Husband’s thinking around wirearchy and organizations working more as networks than top down organizations (as Alison Fine and I wrote about the Networked Nonprofit) and Leadership for a New Era‘s work around networks and leadership.  The fluid chapter describes networked leadership.

While the book did not include a visual of this idea, I found the above visual from Ed Brenegar’s blog which illustrates the idea of fluid bureaucracy.   The visual is an excellent example of the convergence of the “ONA” or organizational network analysis from Rob Cross.

The authors make a strong case on why moving to a more fluid workplace is essential to supporting Millennials in the workplace  moving forward:

“A fluid hierarchy learns how to shift decision-making authority and action to the individuals and groups who are best equipped to be successful given the context. This often means shifting power to those who have best access to information or are closest to the customer, rather than always relying on senior managers at headquarters who have experience and tenure but maybe not the context-specific information or perspective necessary to take the right action at the right time. In traditional vertical  hierarchies,thinking and analysis is frequently separated from action.  Generally speaking,the managers do the thinking and the direct reports are expected to take the actions. This approach works only in a very  static environment. In other words, it does not work today and will never make sense to Millennials.”

Another recently published book, “The Talent Development Pipeline: Putting People First in Social Change Organizations” by Heather Carpenter and Tera Qualls go into detail about the change management processes that nonprofits need to adopt to nurture talent in their organizations or creating a fluid environment in their workplace.   (I’ll be writing a review of this book in more detail in an upcoming blog post)  The fluid workplace has also been described as the “corporate lattice” – a shift from “climbing the corporate ladder.”

So, rather than move up on one department or functional job, Millennials advance their careers by moving to different functional areas or organizations.  In other words, leadership development and career advancement is no longer about an organizational chart or direct reports. It’s all about relationships, networking, and developing others,regardless of titles. Leadership development is adaptive and must relate to the work effort, the person, or the circumstance.

In the book, the authors share an overview of the “soft leadership development skills” that should be developed in younger leaders that are essential to the success of a fluid workplace.

1:  Managing and Solving Conflict: Interest-based problem-solving skills, emotional intelligence, shared understanding (ladder of inference) and effective feedback.   I’d describe this cluster of “soft skills” as playing well with others.

2: Authenticity: In the book, this skills cluster is described as: “Authenticity involves moving through the world as your whole self, so that your external behavior and the way you engage with others is very closely aligned with your deeper identity, purpose, and even destiny.”  In the book, this includes self-awareness, life goals, and community.

Recently,  the Foundation Center blog published an infographic about Millennial disengagement at work and best practices for leadership development based on research and white paper from Virtuali about Engaging Millennials in Leadership Development.   It goes a little deeper into some design principles for a designing a program, answering questions beyond the content/topics, but also looking at learning styles.   Millennials preferred learning styles includes mentors and rotational assignments which means program design needs to be multi-generational and participants need action learning opportunities. According to Virtuali’s research, the preferred soft skills that Millennials want are: communications, ability to build relationships, and ability to develop others.

If you work on professional development that is targeted to Millennials or are working with this generation,   “When Millennials Take Over” is great read!  And you can grab a copy on for your Kindle for just 99 cents!

If you are a Millennial working a nonprofit workplace, what are the leadership development skills that you want and need most to succeed?  Is your workplace a fluid one?  If not, how does it need to change?

4 Responses

  1. Judy Nelson says:

    Extremely helpful review, Beth. Thanks!

  2. Heather McLeod Grant says:

    Great post Beth – I can’t wait to get and read this book. I love how the Millennials are embracing the network mindset, and bringing new and appropriately disruptive values to the nonprofit workplace. I just attended an “improv at work” workshop hosted Sat. by a group of millennials called Collective Capital. It completely validated many of the themes above. I’m eager to hear more about your leadership development work in this space as well.

  3. Amy DeVita says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Beth! I think the knowledge collected here will be really useful to those of us who want to bring Millennials into the fold, but need to more fully understand how best to relate!

  4. Lemaybrooks says:

    Hello Beth
    This book is a eye open to let me know what going on in the work force.I like the title of the book and when you talk about relationships and network also development
    Leadership development is adaptive and must relate to the work effort the person or the circumstance. I will be read more of your.
    Thank You


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