The Corporate Wake-Up Call: Millennials Are Now In Charge

05/21/2015 11:31 am ET | Updated May 19, 2016

Wake up and smell the coffee. The hierarchy of influentials inside corporations is fast changing.

Pew Research has now made it official: Millennials make up the largest single portion of our workforce in the United States.

In its most recent millennial report, just issued a week ago, Pew wrote:

"More than one-in-three American workers today are Millennials (adults ages 18 to 34 in 2015), and this year they surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce, according to new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data."

Just think about what has happened. Only last year, Baby Boomers bit the dust when Millennials started on their climb. And now, in the first quarter of this year, Gen Xers fell by the wayside as Millennials continued their rapid rise.

So, now this group of young people - for whom everything digital is everything in their lives - is poised to take its place as the dominate influence in companies.

In an interesting study published at www.reputationxchange.com by Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at the public relations firm Weber Shandwick, she asked respondents: "If your company had an election for its top leader, and your company's current top leader was one of the candidates, would you vote to keep your current top leader or would it be time for a change?"

According to Leslie, six out of ten would be re-elected. The remainder would have to go. That's four of ten CEOs who would be voted out of office. Pretty startling impact if employees had the chance to vote and their votes counted.

While many might view this as something of a tongue-in-cheek survey, the findings are something to think about.

Put the pieces together. Maybe it's time to think like a politician.

As Millennials become the largest voting bloc in corporations, how quickly will their influence start to force even more changes in the corporation, its products and its leadership?

How about their loyalty as employees and as customers? If they don't like what they experience and see, a "nay" vote has an immediate impact. They simply quit or don't buy.

And how loud and influential will their voices be as they weigh in on a corporation's reputation and long-term success?

From talking with my millennial children, there are three lessons in all this:

  • Engage -- Unless management genuinely engages with Millennials, they'll never know what is on their minds. Digital communications know no firewalls. Millennials talk incessantly with colleagues and friends on smartphones, those small screens that sit right there at their fingertips. The opportunity for management is to think differently and make yourself part of their world.
  • Listen - Millennials vote with their feet, more than any other generation. If they don't like what they hear and see, they move on to the next job. For business, this can only cause trouble and unnecessary costs, both in terms of financial and manpower resources. With most companies, retaining talent is one of the highest priorities and, when talent walks, troubles ensue. So ask for their views and listen to what they are saying.
  • Think Digital - Hardly a day goes by when another news or opinion website doesn't launch a scathing report or new insight about social change and trends in business. VICE may have kicked off this dramatic era of digital news, but there are more and more online sources now. Reading what they write provides the key to what's on the minds of Millennials.

There's no other way to stay ahead. Flipboard and other information aggregators on cell phone apps can help.

But even that's not enough. You have to look at digital news sources that are in-depth and climbing in popularity among Millennials. Quartz is worth a long, hard look - www.qz.com. It describes itself as a "digitally native news outlet, born in 2012, for business people in the new global economy. We publish bracingly creative and intelligent journalism with a broad worldview, built primarily for the devices closest at hand: tablets and mobile phones."

That kind of description sounds just like a direct pitch to reach all those Millennials who are getting in position to dominate business. And their influence is ramping up fast.