Building a culture that supports Gen Y – 5 Essentials

Home / blog / Building a culture that supports Gen Y – 5 Essentials

Last weekend I did something I look forward to each year which is to work and play with a group of talented Generation Y university students who are the Management Committee team accountable for leading AIESEC[1] in Australia in 2015-16. This may seem odd to some as I am part of the baby boomer generation.

Their age cohort are often referred to as Millennials, Generation Tech or Digital, and frequently described as arrogant, self-centred, and having a strong sense of entitlement with a limited attention span. Having worked with and observed this student group over the last 15 years I don’t agree with these broad assertions.

Reflecting on last weekend I devoted time to thinking about the type of culture that will support bringing out the best in this generation. What follows is by no means definitive, rather it’s my view of the 5 essentials based on my practical experience of interacting with this generation.

As an overarching view this generation need to work within cultures that are constructive. The specifics they look for are:

  • A culture that offers a shared sense of purpose, a cause or belief, or put simply, a clear “why” for their work. Their work must have meaning and significance. They must be able to connect what they are doing to some larger common outcome that will make a difference.
  • Opportunities to learn. They require challenging goals that will stretch them not break them. Integral to supporting their learning they need cultures that:
    • Are tolerant of mistakes.
    • Leaders willing to coach as Noel Tichy author of the Leadership Engine described it; “leaders need to be able to find the teachable moment and the teachable point of view “. They need opportunities to ask questions; and yes, in asking questions they will challenge the status quo. But this behaviour more often than not produces better solutions and outcomes.
    • Regular constructive feedback is a must. This generation cannot go months without a review. Business leaders need to take a lead from the term “Snap Chat”. This group are more responsive to shorter, regular and consistent feedback.
  • Leaders as role models. The words “they walk what you walk” are real and true for this generation – they will not walk what you talk. Authenticity is what they look for from their leaders.
  • Connectedness. On the surface it’s clear they connect with each other differently using social media and text, however we need to look below the surface to ensure their work environment provides opportunities to genuinely connect with colleagues and with their business leaders.
  • Autonomy is a necessity. Gen Y is better educated than previous generations, they are tech savvy and independent in their thinking – dynamic, innovative and creative, they need flexibility not rigidity. They are more responsive when clear boundaries and accountabilities are set as it allows them to understand the limits which they cannot go beyond but at the same time allows them the latitude work out the best solution to solve the challenge within the agreed boundaries.

Every generation is different from generations before us. Gen Y’s grandparents valued hard work, their parents valued job security. For this generation I believe it is meaningful, purposeful work, so rather than waste time being overly concerned with their supposed short comings let’s invest time to shape cultures that allow us and Gen Y capitaliise on their talents.

Vivente Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes.


[1] What the acronym means is less important than what this organisation stands for. AIESEC, which began as an initiative following World War II has grown to be a global movement whose purpose is peace and the fulfilment of humankind’s potential. Today, with 100,000 members drawn from universities in 124 countries and territories, AIESEC generates income through their Global Internship Program which offers paid management and technical internships. Internships involve working on diverse business projects in organizations that span most industry and government sectors. Internship duration varies from 6 weeks to 18 months. Viventé Australia offers our services to AIESEC in Australia on a pro bono basis.