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The Crisis of Meaning in the Millenial Workforce

Roger Martin: There is a crisis of meaning in the world of business, especially for millenials.  They’re asking the question, "Why am I doing this?"  And I think businesses are not providing great answers to those questions, and I think that’s why you’re getting more and more talented millenials picking a career that is non-business or quasi-business in part for foundation or some NGO.  And I think it’s partially tied into this whole shareholder value maximization theory. 

It simply is not inspiring to tell a millennial, "You’re coming to our company, and you know what our company’s goal is?  To maximize shareholder value."  And the millennial will ask, "Well, who are these shareholders?"  And if the company is answering truthfully they’ll say, "Actually we have no clue.  Most of our shareholders are people like Fidelity and California State Pension Plan, CalPERS, and actually they’re just representing somebody else that we don’t even know."  And then the millenial might ask, "Well, you know, how long do these shareholders stay around?"  And again, the company would have to truthfully answer, "Well, actually they don’t.  They trade their shares numerous times.  Our share register turns over kind of at least once a year if not more often, so we actually don’t know who they are, and they don’t stay around for long."  And the millennial might ask, "Well, so do we have discussions with these shareholders?  Do we have conversations about kind of what they want?"  "Well, no, we don’t actually.  We have conversations with the analysts who report to represent the shareholders in some fashion or provide advice to them, but we actually don’t actually talk to the shareholders either." 

And so the millennial says, “Okay, so let me get this straight.  I'm supposed to come to work for you and work every day with the singular goal of maximizing the value of faceless, nameless people who can blow us off in a nanosecond if they had a bad hair day?  Am I right thus far?”  The truthful answer is, yes.  And the millenials are just saying, “Like, you got to be kidding me.  Seriously? . . . Now if you told me you want to make better products in an environmentally responsible way that make the consumers' lives better off, that I could get excited about.  But you’ve told me something that's ridiculous, that’s absolutely ridiculous.  How could you possibly be motivated by that?”  And I think the answer is, nobody is motivated by that.

Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd

It’s simply not inspiring to tell a millennial, "You’re coming to our company. You know what our company’s goal is? To maximize shareholder value," says Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management.

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