In Defense Of Millennial MBAs


The Millennial generation has been on the receiving end of some brutal beatings by bloggers and columnists lately, and I cannot figure out why.

Simply put – I love working with Millennials, and there are some common perceptions of this cohort that are flat out wrong. It’s time to set the record straight.

Millennials are a generation which I have led, recruited, taught, coached, hired, and fired. By a conservative estimate, I have been in an ecosystem of more than 12,000 of them over the last five years alone. My reputation and that of my team has depended on their experiences and feedback, so it’s a group that I have taken a lot of time and energy to understand.

Within the more popular press there have emerged three myths about Millennials that are inconsistent with my experience and research. They’ve been labeled, “entitled,” “pie-in-the-sky idealists,” and “disloyal.” I’ll refute these one at a time:


Entitled implies a desire for authority, title, or responsibility without accountability. I will agree that they desire responsibility, but I haven’t seen an avoidance of accountability.

The reality is that Millennials are eager to contribute and have an amazing ability to learn quickly and be creative. It’s fair to say that they do want a seat at the table when decisions are being made or ideas are being crafted, but they’re not afraid of being held accountable for the results that get produced. Because they’re resourceful and well-connected they often have great ideas to share, too.

There are two things that employers should be doing to take advantage of these attributes. The first is to adopt a coaching mindset, instead of a management one. This is best illustrated using an equation: B = Q x C, where “B” is the benefit of an idea, “Q” is the quality of the idea, and “C” is the commitment to the idea. (The book, “The Extraordinary Coach” by John Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett explains this in great detail.) With older generations the focus of management has been on “Q” – helping new employees up the learning curve by teaching or advising them, thus raising the quality of their ideas. But with Millennials the focus needs to be on “C”; they are going to be more committed to an idea that’s their own.

So let them think, let them create, and let them build – and coach them to think about implementation and how to overcome barriers. Raise their commitment to getting things done, and then hold them accountable for doing it. If they have an idea that’s a “5”, but their commitment is a “10” then the benefit will be 50. If you try to get them to implement your idea, which is a “9” on quality, and their commitment is a “4”, then the benefit will only be 36. Capitalize on their eagerness and watch them go.

Of course over time you’d like to see the quality of their ideas go up, as well. The great thing about Millennials is that they’re not afraid of failure and they can learn quickly. So be a learning organization – after they implement their ideas and take time to learn from the experience with them. At the Kelley School of Business, we have a culture that has institutionalized the “After Action Review” (AAR), which is a debriefing exercise utilized by the Army. The AAR uses four questions to learn from an experience:

What did we set out to do?

What actually happened?

Why did it happen?

What are we going to do different next time?

In the AAR we see an incredible humility from our young leaders – honesty about what happened, why, and who was responsible. This humility breeds coachability, which allows them to learn and improve “quality” going forward. Humility and resourcefulness are phenomenal characteristics, and the opposite of entitlement.

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