Bonus Content

Innovation + Millennials = A Competitive Advantage

By Jan Niehaus

Nuts and bolts. Debits and credits. Millennials and innovation. They go together.

Having known disruption their entire lives—9/11, wars, the recession, ubiquitous technology and its impact on every facet of our lives—change is second nature to Millennials. They embrace—actually seek—change, whether incremental or revolutionary, and have little fear of failure. For these reasons, Millennials are the perfect agents of innovation inside companies that seek to differentiate themselves in highly competitive markets.

In an employment experience, Millennials want flexibility, independence, communication, feedback, teamwork, diversity, inclusion, and autonomy. The electrical distributor with a culture that meets Millennials’ needs will reap the rewards: an enthusiastic and engaged workforce, cost-effective operational improvements, and new services that move the company above and beyond its competition.

• Flexibility. In survey after survey, flexibility emerges as one of Millennials’ top workplace requirements. In companies that encourage and capitalize on their employees’ creativity, managers grant their innovators the flexibility to meet with colleagues and external experts, attend classes, conduct independent research, and visit other branches and companies.

• Independence. Millennials have been criticized by employers for being too independent. Yet this is the exact characteristic that leads them to question the status quo and explore alternatives. Considering Millennials’ comparatively brief employment histories, they bring a fresh perspective to situations that long-term employees might be moving through on auto-pilot.

• Communication and feedback. Millennials require frequent, candid communication—a practice that dovetails perfectly with independent, team projects, especially if they are breaking new ground inside a company or consuming resources not typically associated with their positions. Astute managers also communicate with coworkers, paving the way for their innovative Millennials to explore in an environment of encouragement and support.

• Teamwork. Asked what they value in their work, Millennials frequently cite collaboration with co-workers and teamwork. Brainstorming is one of the surest ways to generate more and better ideas. By bouncing ideas off each other, teams bring their ideas into sharper focus, flesh them out, and identify resources for further refinement.

• Diversity and inclusion. According to a study by Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, “Millennials are more likely to define diversity as pertaining to the individual mix of unique experiences, identities, ideas, and opinions. Prior generations, on the other hand, frame diversity in terms of demographics, equal opportunity, and representation of identifiable demographic characteristics.” Both perspectives must be satisfied if a company is to maximize the creative potential of its people.

• Autonomy. In a culture where strict adherence to established policies and practices is required, Millennial tenure will be brief and innovation minimal or nonexistent. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” stifles their natural inclination to innovate. Inquisitive, creative employees need the latitude to explore and experiment.

It has been said of myriad inventors and innovative companies over the years, “They were young. They didn’t know it couldn’t be done. And so they did it,” Unleash the talent of your energetic, creative Millennials and see what they can do.

Niehaus, LEED GA, is the president and founder of Communication by Design. She can be reached at 314-644-4135 or


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