How millennials are reshaping corporate culture

30 Jul 2019

How millennials are reshaping corporate culture

India’s fastest growing hospitality company OYO is among the businesses that have ditched tired old hierarchies writes Natasha D’Souza.

Right now, millennials represent a quarter of the world’s population, circa 1.8 billion individuals (Financial Times). And they are the largest segment of the US labour force (56 million in 2017 according to the Pew Research Center).

Unsurprisingly, the preferences of this influential labour class are dramatically redefining the essence of strong company culture. Millennials are challenging the archaic management systems and cultures that have always depended on hierarchy.

No doubt, the ‘exponentials’, those born in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, will have similar attitudes too.

Driven by millennials

OYO, India’s fastest growing hospitality company, embraces the fact that it is “driven by millennials”, reveals Dinesh Ramamurthi, CHRO at OYO Hotels and Homes.

Founded by college dropout Ritesh Agarwal at the age of 19, the company is valued at around $5 billion. They recently secured a reported $200 million in funding from Airbnb, the world’s largest hospitality platform.

“While building OYO, we learned that this generation seeks ownership to make decisions, be accountable and create impact,” explains Ramamurthi.“They’re not only working for two square meals a day but wish to be self-starters and trendsetters. They want the freedom to execute their ideas while seeking the organisation’s trust in their judgment.”

Ideas from anywhere

According to Brad Wolff, workforce optimisation expert and Managing Partner of PeopleMax, in the information age, ideas are the core currency for success. Importantly, companies realise that “brilliance and creativity are not relegated to people with lofty titles alone”.

“If a few twenty-somethings can take down entire corporations with hundreds of billions in market share or build completely new business models worth trillions, great ideas can, in theory, come from anywhere and anyone.”

At OYO, which currently boasts more than 16,000 employees globally, every individual is a partner in the company’s success and each of them is encouraged to ideate in ways big and small when it comes the company’s mission to create beautiful quality living spaces.

This kind of organisational culture is increasingly becoming the norm. “It’s about consultations and consensus over command and control,” explains Ramamurthi. Every employee is an “OYOpreneur” with complete ownership of their projects and it’s an ethos that Ramamurthi believes has led to “more employees not only proving their mettle and moving to more significant and different roles but also going beyond their comfort zone”.

Employees at the core

OYO’s approach towards its company culture is emblematic of a significant shift in businesses worldwide, as a growing cadre of companies recognise that the strongest cultures place employees’ needs front and centre.

It’s what Dan Lyons, former technology journalist at Newsweek and author of Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us, dubs “stakeholder capitalism”. This is a sorely-needed shift from the “existing toxic narrative of shareholder capitalism, where we see mega unprofitable enterprises pursue a grow-at-all-costs investors-take-all approach, to the detriment of their employees”.

Lyons argues that Silicon Valley giants have exported their damaging business culture into wider society, creating a wave of unprecedented worker unhappiness.“The larger these companies become, the louder their cultures creak and crack from the inside. We have a new work culture that celebrates overwork, exhaustion and stress.”

A viable way forward

His vision of a way forward? Companies seriously upholding their responsibility to treat their employees with the dignity, security, and respect and understanding that profit does not have to come at the expense of employee wellbeing.

“You don’t have to touch millions of lives or make billions of dollars to change the world. If you employ a handful of people, give them all health insurance and a decent wage, then you just made the world a better place.

“You do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. If that means the company makes a little less profit, the founder becomes a little less rich, and the investors receive a slightly smaller return, then so be it.”

As examples, he cites an on-demand office cleaning and maintenance company called Managed by Q that is redefining what it means to be a successful business and BaseCamp in Chicago.

“These companies don’t look to grow too fast, they place workers’ rights at the forefront, rather than an all-consuming focus on profit.”

This article is from the latest ‘Culture’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson global magazine, OBSERVE.

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