What Your Talent Pipeline Desperately Needs: Engaged Millennials
Children born in the 80s and 90s skipped home from preschool singing “Reduce, recycle and re-use” to the tune of “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.” At a young age, they were asked to write their thoughts on weighty topics like abortion, and were encouraged to generate ideas for saving the planet from the ravages of greed.
The upshot of this upbringing, combined with the technology eruption and greater demographic diversity, is a new generation of Americans that can be characterized as socially conscious, increasingly diverse and hyper-digital.
How well will this generation assimilate into companies and find their voice at the top? A 2015 Deloitte survey of over 3,300 executives and HR professionals found that companies do not feel confident that their current succession plan adequately primes the pump to prepare millennials for leadership. In fact, only 7 percent of respondents reported having strong programs for developing young leaders.
Causing or compounding the problem is the fact that so many millennials are opting out of corporate life. This threatens to leave many organizations lacking the talent pipeline they need and devoid of the insights and perspectives of a substantial and strategically important age group.
Engaging, developing and retaining millennial leaders
Recognizing the impact that millennials’ education and the time in which they grew up has had on them, here are the things I think companies need to address effectively if they hope to fill the pipeline with qualified future leaders.
1. The desire for meaningful work: A marriage of commerce with social justice and environmental stewardship is the new imperative for engaging many millennials’ interest in business.
What you can do:
- Champion what the company is doing to contribute to social causes such as sustainability or poverty alleviation.
In Unlocking Millennial Talent 2015, a white paper by the Center for Generational Kinetics and Barnum Financial Group, researchers found that 60 percent of millennials said a sense of purpose was instrumental in why they chose to work for their current employer.
- Encourage participation in meaningful missions, and make it social.
Consider providing paid time off for significant philanthropic endeavors related to the industry. Example: GE’s Power & Water business developed an initiative they called “Ecomagination nation,” which engaged more than 8,000 employees in community volunteer activities that reduced greenhouse gas emissions and water usage.
2. Skills-driven mobility trumping traditional hierarchies: To a far greater degree than with their elders, millennials rely on their toolbox of skills, instead of their employer, as a passport to security.
What you can do:
- Create career lattices vs. ladders
Even as millennials may seem obsessed with their personal brand, this generation was raised with team thinking and still leans toward group decisions and even group credit for decisions and accomplishments. Helping them build their skills by creating opportunities to grow “sideways,” to intermingle with new teams and to loop back to old ones, reinforces powerful bonds that millennials value.
- Cut the red tape
Wherever possible, avoid cumbersome rules, policies and other customs that impede millennials’ movement up and about the organization.
3. “Feedback” does not equate to a pat on the back or even a promotion: As professionals, they are looking less for a pat on the back and more for real information that tells them how they are progressing in building skill sets and pursuing goals. How do they want their feedback delivered? Frequently, objectively and preferably in digital format.
What you can do:
- Give them frequent, honest and informative feedback, and quantify where possible.
Most of all, millennials seek solid input for self-management and how to expand their toolkit.
- Rethink your performance evaluation system.
Companies are starting to rethink the age-old systems of performance reviews, focusing less on evaluation and more on agile goal-setting. Some are eliminating them altogether in favor of informal, unscheduled “check-ins.”
4. Flexibility for family and outside pursuits is an imperative: The basic things millennials and non-millennials want from life are not so different. But they expect their employers to cooperate as they try to achieve their goals and balance this with their home and personal lives.
What you can do:
- Without lowering the bar on performance expectations, provide flexible options for work hours, telecommuting and parental leaves of absence.
- Recognize that traditional policies and expectations may simply do more to encumber than incentivize. Revisit them often and revise accordingly.
Feeding the pipeline: Companies that provide early and meaningful immersion in the company culture
Companies like Raytheon and General Electric (which was a pioneer in this concept) have programs combining formal learning and development with rotating six-month assignments to groom millennials for leadership. Raytheon also offers YESnet: Young Employee’s Success Network, which connects young people who share age and career growth prospects across company locations and engages them in common company projects and volunteer activities.
Sodexo has an Emerging Leaders program in which participants work in partnership with senior leaders on high-visibility business situations, collaborating and developing critical thinking skills about real-life business challenges.
In 2009, Deloitte established regional Gen Y Councils (millennials) from its four business units to serve as a sounding board to senior leadership on major organizational initiatives. These councils and senior corporate leaders meet at an annual National Summit to share ideas about empowering Gen Y professionals and fostering a strong online Gen Y community.
Like everyone else, millennials are human beings seeking meaning in their family lives and in their work lives. They are, however, markedly different from their elders in that they have been educated to assume a general skepticism about capitalism and they are quick to judge organizations on their commitment to a better world or lack thereof.
As Nielsen reported, 73 percent of millennial consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainably produced goods. Certainly, they want to work for a company that embraces a socially responsible vision as well, and companies vying to lure the most talented millennials into their leadership and talent pipeline, will take serious stock of this reality.