By Mark Hurd

Reach a certain age or managerial level and you hear this a lot: “Those millennials…” It’s usually followed by a predictable and exasperating litany of grousing about generational entitlement, a lack of corporate loyalty, an outsized need for encouragement or a confounding communication style.

If that’s as far as the conversation goes, you’re missing one of the biggest and most important opportunities for the future of your business. Get beyond the clichés (and, frankly, your own biases) about the largest generation in US history, and what you see is a smart, driven and diverse workforce eager to make its mark on the professional world.

But unlocking that return requires investment – of capital, of time and, perhaps most importantly, of confidence. “Because I said so” is something managers occasionally mistake for leadership, but it’s not enough to unlock the rich potential of a skeptical generation that has more access to information than any before it.

A recent panel conversation between the millennial co-founders of Hearsay Social Mic and Reddit underscored that notion with several insights that resonated with me as Oracle undergoes a dual transformation in demographics and technology – a rapidly growing millennial workforce and a shift to cloud computing.

For example:

  • Every generation is defined by the technology of its time. An easy way to demonstrate this is to think of how you listened to your favorite song in high school: 45, LP, 8-track, cassette, CD, download or streaming? Today’s changes in communications are even more dramatic. If you don’t understand them, it’s difficult to appreciate a generation that not only grew up with them – but in many ways is creating and shaping these new ways of doing business.
  • In a world of infinite content, authenticity matters more than ever. The sheer amount of information available – not just to millennials, but they are particularly adept at navigating it in real time – can settle any bet, debunk any myth and expose any faker. It’s also much easier to catch companies saying one thing and doing another. In that way, millennials are just asking brands to walk the walk.
  • Companies that have the courage to stand for something earn loyalty. I view this as putting your money where your mouth is. In other words, if you want a return, you have to invest. At Oracle, I believe we’re doing this, in part, with our Class Of program, which recruits and trains hundreds of new college graduates a year. We invest in training. We invest in housing. We invest in mentoring. We give them the tools they need to create a career for themselves. By investing our confidence in them, Oracle is investing in the workforce of tomorrow to build and sell tools for the business leaders of tomorrow.

So the next time you hear a someone about to launch a screed that begins with “Those millennials…” help finish the sentence with:

“…are our customers…”

“…are our employees…”

“…are our future.”