March 23, 2020

Millennials, according to imperious media pundits, are ruining the planet, destroying traditional family structures and breaking the social rules. But that’s not all. They are deemed to be entitled, narcissistic (with their obsession with social media, like posting self-absorbed videos on TikTok in a desperate bid to get attention) and utterly disengaged, with personalities that are as shallow as a baby’s bath.

With “Generation Me” receiving much flak for their behaviour, do they bring any value to the world? A few years back, millennials in the workforce were regarded with a suspicious eye by the older generation. But these recognition-craving individuals are starting to play a bigger role in multinational corporations, proving to society that they can positively reshape businesses by offering a fresh perspective on issues and all things technology. As they continue to flood the workforce, companies are scrambling to bridge the generational gap in the workplace, so that the entire organisation remains cohesive and has a strong sense of identity to navigate an increasingly digitalised world. With a younger generation of customers dominating the market, businesses have to engage more with their audience to retain brand loyalty.

One way for companies to prevent being disrupted is to create a “shadow board,” where a group of age-diverse, non-executive employees mirror the traditional board of directors. This concept gives young employees the opportunity to work closely with senior executives and attend board meetings to get an idea of how a company is being run. The benefits of this bottom-up approach are two-fold: younger employees are able to contribute to high-level decision-making processes, while the organisation is exposed to different outlooks that could open up new possibilities and ways of doing things. In the long run, this will allow the organisation to develop a strong talent pool and groom future leaders.

A shadow board is all about creating a strong connection with the next generation and driving digital transformation and innovation. By actively engaging millennials, they will be able to propose the best ideas from a digital native’s perspective, as opposed to a top-down approach. With more feedback and contribution, senior executives can spot the next big trend and generate new initiatives that could lead to increased market success by learning how to connect with Gen Z consumers.

Italian fashion powerhouse Gucci has seen resounding success with its own shadow board made up of millennials under 30, from different functional areas within the organisation. Since the implementation of a shadow board, Gucci’s sales have increased to 136 per cent, but before that, the business was stagnant with an inconsistent turnover. It was only when Alessandro Michele was made creative director in 2015 that things started to turn around in 2015. That same year, he revolutionised the entire luxury brand with his unique aesthetic, alongside Marco Bizzarri, ex-CEO of Bottega Veneta, who was brought in as Gucci’s chief executive to spearhead the transformation. Together, they created a shadow board of youths to help brainstorm new ideas on different processes to revive the brand. Their insights “served as a wakeup call for the executives.” Bizzarri, who believes in the importance of open communication, frequently lunches with young employees to ask them to provide novel and ingenious ideas on how to improve the brand.

Aside from Gucci, there are also other companies who recognise the value of having a shadow board. GroupM India, a data-centric, digitally charged marketing services conglomerate has their own shadow committee called the YCO—as part of the company’s three-year digital and cultural transformation plan. These youths have not only successfully converted GroupM’s ecosystem through increasing the number of partnerships with media owners and start-ups, but also created a social platform that supports conversations between leaders and lower-level employees. Stora Enso, a Finnish company that develops and produces renewable solutions based on wood and biomass, adopted a shadow board to help redesign workflow processes, resulting in greater efficiency.

All that talk about millennials may not hold water. More than just maladjusted, self-centred individuals, they are now the ones redefining the future of businesses and reviving sunset industries. While we don’t have to fully understand the inner workings of their minds, all we have to do is listen with an open mind.