Subramanian Kalpathi (Subbu) is a millennial, and the author of The Millennials: Exploring The World Of The Largest Living Generation. Based in India, Subbu has lived and worked in cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi. He is a Senior Director at KNOLSKAPE, an end-to-end Learning and Assessments Platform. Subbu dabbles in Improv Theatre and enjoys playing the guitar. You can reach him here and here.
1. Two years ago you wrote and published the book “The Millennials,” which talks about the evolving nature of the workplace. What are some ways you believe millennials are defying conventional wisdom and helping to evolve business practices?
In the book The Millennials | Exploring the world of the largest living generation, I pointed out that analyzing or talking about millennials without a contextual understanding of the environment in which they operate may be asking for trouble. Too often, conversations on millennials are generalized without challenging some basic assumptions that people hold dear about the generation. For instance, take the very definition of the word millennials. An acquaintance of mine recently presented his observations on the likes and dislikes of the generation, and after passionately arguing his case, he pointed out that youngsters today are different, because they are after all, born in the new millennium. A classic folly – millennials came of age in the new millennium and were born between 1980 and 2000. By that definition, the youngest millennial turned 18 this year, so they may not be so young anymore. Or, consider another instance where a senior HR professional whom I recently met, routinely referred to millennials as ‘Gen Xers’.
The first step, therefore is to evolve a common language and understanding of the generation and enable constructive dialogue. Secondly, one must consider the significance of era. We live in a digital age where business models are routinely getting disrupted; every other day we hear of a new-age organization that is redefining a traditional industry. Not surprisingly, most of these companies are led by millennial founders who are at the forefront of exponential technology and have a nuanced appreciation of the millennial consumer. Take for instance, the world’s largest e-commerce deal so far – the recent acquisition of Flipkart by Walmart for USD 16 billion. Both founders of Flipkart – Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal – were born in 1981. It is a classic example of the next generation of business leaders building a new-age technology company and disrupting the retail industry through a deep understanding of the Indian consumer.
2. Why do you think it’s important for business leaders to understand this generation in order to grow their business?
Whether business leaders are ready or not, millennials will soon to become the single largest generation at the workplace. In many industries, particularly IT and e-commerce, millennials are already in majority. For business leaders, it is therefore imperative to inspire the next generation of their employees. A peep into the cultures of some new-age companies gives us a clue on how leaders are leveraging the vast potential of this generation to grow their businesses. Free gourmet food, Foosball tables, open-office workplace formats are just some of the peripheral, physical manifestations of this change. At a deeper level, organizations are clearly defining their raison d’être and inviting millennials to contribute to their vision. While hierarchies may still exist, these are loosely defined and millennials are given opportunities to speak up and contribute. In many cases, because these companies have millennial founders at the helm, the ‘generational disconnect’ between the top management, middle and bottom layers is minimal.
Among traditional, industrial-era companies there are early adopters who are naturally responding to this change by rapidly grooming their young leaders and giving them larger portfolios to manage. It is not uncommon to find 30-something heads-of-businesses among traditional organizations today.
3. As a Millennial yourself, how do you apply the research you showcase in your book to your professional life?
In the book, I’ve looked at the new world of work through seven lenses – motivation, culture, innovation, digital, collaboration, learning and leadership. If we were to pick one lens, say motivation, a neat framework to discuss this is the self-determination theory. There are three levers to this model – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Here’s how I look at applying this theory to real life – to motivate myself at work and beyond, I seek out meaningful opportunities where I can contribute – this gives me a sense of purpose. I strive to empty the proverbial cup and challenge myself as often as I can – this puts me on the path to new learning and mastery in specific domains. At work, I’m also provided with sufficient autonomy to accomplish critical tasks. Put together, these three levers can be a powerful way to think about motivation in the context of work and its application to real life. There are similar such models which have been discussed in the book, for each of the seven lenses.
4. What advice do you have for Millenials who are struggling to make a name for themselves because they take a contrary position then the majority of their workplace?
It is not always easy being a millennial. Especially when a large part of the discourse on pop media tends to be negative, one tends to disassociate oneself with the anchor. I’m not sure if I’m the right person to give advice, but I would probably recommend millennials to be patient, experiment with opportunities that come their way and work hard. In the new world of work, when change is the only constant, continuous learning is perhaps the most powerful tool in your arsenal. Therefore, do not shy away from learning, un-learning and re-learning. Lastly, while it is important to have mentors and seek advice from your network, it is also equally if not more important to listen to your own voice, invest in and take care of yourself.