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3 Things the Oklahoma City Thunder Can Teach Us About Our Youngest Employees

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the Oklahoma City Thunder are hot, hot, hot right now!

The Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs four games to two to win a seven-game series in the 2012 NBA Western Conference Final. The Thunder won despite the fact that they’re the seventh youngest team in the league with an average player age of 25.8.

According to Time.com, there are about 80 million millennials and by the year 2025, three out of every four workers globally will be Gen Y.

As this generational shift takes place in the workplace, there’s a lot a lessons that can be applied from the rise of the Thunder on the courts.

1. Mentorship: help us grow

You get old when you stop learning. Age isn’t a function of time—it’s a function of one’s willingness to learn. Millennials, it seems, have an undying love for learning.

According to Pew Research Center, the Millennial generation is on track to become the most highly educated generation ever, with 19% done with college, 39% still in college, and 30% planning to earn postsecondary degrees. This desire for learning doesn’t end at college graduation. Millennials want professional growth opportunities on the job.

Scott Brooks, the Thunder’s head coach who turned the team around from a 22-47 record to a 47-19 record in the last four years, says, “You learn from playing against the best players and the best teams, and we’re going to keep fighting and figuring out ways to beat them.” And this year, they did that by beating the Mavericks, Lakers, and Spurs to make it to the NBA Finals. Thunder players’ appetite for greatness is also satisfied by learning from more experienced athletes. For example, Kevin Durant has been mentored by Lebron James since entering the league.

This is exactly what we, Millennials, want in the office. Challenges to help us grow and mentors who will help us get there.

2. Teamwork: know your role

The Thunder didn’t buy stars like many teams do—instead they created the conditions of success for stars to rise. OKC is a team of role players. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do, who is best at what, and when to rely on a certain player. Kevin Durant, 23, has already won three NBA scoring titles. Russell Westbrook, 23, has had NBA All-Star appearances in the last two seasons. This year, James Harden, 22, won the 6th Man of the Year award and Serge Ibaka, 22, led the league in blocks.

Work should be a place where people are also clear on their roles and specialties. When Millennials join a new team, we don’t want boring titles that fit neatly on an org chart. It’s not just the title — we want unique responsibilities too. We want a role that speaks to our value within the company, and we want our job title to reflects that.

3. Passion: the secret sauce

For OKC, the bells and the whistles don’t matter. What matters is playing basketball. A recent Forbes article shows that OKC is the 2nd most cost-efficient team at $1.02 million per regular season win. When it comes to money ball, those are real results.

Similarly, big brands aren’t what give young professionals meaning. According to research by Millennial Branding, only 7% of Millennials work for Fortune 500 companies. We want managers and leaders who can keep the eye on the big picture and draw the passion out of their employees. We want to know that our work creates value for others.

What other lessons can we learn from the Thunder’s success?

Jullien Gordon is a Founding Partner at New Higher, a high performance consultancy that works with top Gen Y employers to hire, retain, and train young professionals. Visit www.performhigher.com to join New Higher’s free Sunday night professional development webinars.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1507017 Danny Rubin

    Well said, Jullien. Great post!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=218193 Jullien Gordon

      Thanks Danny. I appreciate your readership and affirmation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=82095877369 LaSalle Network

    I work with millennials every day. They are smart, driven and dedicated individuals who are constantly craving more. I’ve found that they thrive in their roles when they are given more autonomy and more responsibility.

    The key to getting the most out of your millennials is to know how to manage them. Here are some tips I’ve found helpful….

    http://pastfive.typepad.com/pastfive/2007/07/managing-millen.html

    -Tom Gimbel
    http://www.pastfive.typepad.com
    http://www.lasallenetwork.com

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=218193 Jullien Gordon

      Thanks for sharing Tom. I agree.

      FYI. The link the American Management Association article was broken.

      Take care,

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=82095877369 LaSalle Network

      Hi Jullien,

      Thanks so much for pointing that out to me! Here’s a similar post in case you wanted to check it out. http://www.pastfive.typepad.com/pastfive/page/13/ Thanks for reading!

      -Tom

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=42410589 Andrew Childers

    As a Millennial who has intensively studied my own generation, I can tell you that this article got it right: “This is exactly what we, Millennials, want in the office. Challenges to help us grow and mentors who will help us get there.”

    Day in and day out, my company help other companies adjust to embrace, work with, and sell to, a world of millennials and social buyers. It’s interesting to learn how my generation craves “meaning” and how it impacts our sense of urgency, how we buy, communicate, etc. http://bit.ly/GreenParkGlobal

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=218193 Jullien Gordon

      Hey Andrew, Thank you for your comment. The OKC Thunder have accomplished a lot in a little time and I think our generation is positioned to do the same if/when given the chance.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=42410589 Andrew Childers

      Jullien PurposeFinder Gordon It’ll be really interesting to see how Millennials shift the world – by 2020 we’ll have FIVE generations working together and Millennials will make up a big part of the workforce, and have, hopefully, taken on major leadership roles. Jullien, would you message me your email address? I’d like to share a project with you I’m working on that considers a “new” consumer behavior model for our generation. I’d love to get your thoughts. :)

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