Be millennial to attract millennials

Millennials are in the news again, and this time we really think we have a handle on them.

Despite many myths, this demographic cohort has similar desires to previous generations — including job security and stability.

At the same time, notes a talented millennial in my circles, they’re not afraid to jump ship if their employer should fail to provide a happy home for them. Such paradoxes make up the millennial mind.

What could make this hyper-connected generation leave is a failure on the part of their employer to provide digital tools that provide a connected work environment and allow them to unleash their creative ideas. Slack, a team communication and collaboration tool, currently has the work sphere abuzz with just such an experience.

It’s also a myth, notes the study, that millennials want constant acclaim and think everyone on the team should get a trophy. Asked to describe their perfect boss, they say they want a manager who’s ethical, fair and transparent more than one who recognizes their accomplishments. Turns out there’s an app for that too. EnterTeamedWith, a professional team networking tool that allows people to get noticed in a way that is productive and fair.

Hang on. Why do we care what millennials want?

What a question. We love millennials! Come 2020, they will make up nearly 50% of the workforce, which is reason enough in itself to care. Like it or not, Gen Y-ers are changing the workplace in their image.

As digital natives they’re introducing and demanding new collaborative working styles, powerful technology platforms that can do what they’re used to doing with technology, and a flexible, digitally-enabled work dispensation.

Our response as employers should be to provide a workplace that offers them all this to bring out the best in them. It’s not about a better espresso machine, a weekly office happy hour or a one-time corporate-sponsored concert. It’s about building the structures and providing the tools that support day-to-day collaboration and allow junior employees to help solve customer or client challenges.

In short, millennials want to be given the freedom to innovate and will remain loyal to employers for as long as they’re given that freedom. They’re attracted to a connected, innovative culture.

Beyond the spray-and-pray tactic of giving your employees Slack, how does one build innovation into the organization’s DNA?

The best way is to get good at employee engagement. Engagement in its purest form focuses the organization and its employees on what they can do better to deliver to customers.

So how do we build a culture of engagement?

The first step is to be a good listener. Create active, sustainable mechanisms to continually ask your employees — millennials and others — what can be done next.

Take time to decode what they say. Don’t worry about wasting time and making work for yourself. Actively sitting down to prod, discuss and even debate the real issues at hand helps focus limited resources on the things that matter.

Also empower your employees to help you fix the key issues. Ensuring they are actively involved in solution creation and own part of implementation creates a culture of accountability, and will keep you all grounded in the process.

Lastly, embed engagement activity into your business-as-usual processes, meetings and governance. Make sure the people plan sits at the top of the agenda in management meetings and your executives and teams are held accountable for outcomes. Replicate the structure within each business unit and ensure authority, budget and reward are aligned to engagement outcomes.

Of course, whereas most millennials enjoy creative freedom, not all have an entrepreneurial spirit. And when you have a true blue entrepreneur on your hands, you’re dealing with a restless spirt that is harder to satisfy, no matter how open or “entrepreneurial” the organization is.

Does a culture of engagement work to attract and retain entrepreneurs?

As I witnessed recently, when a very innovative young entrepreneur returned to his former employer after going on his own, openness can pay off in the end.

“I knew I could have spoken to my manager about my innovation at any point, and I’m sorry I didn’t have that conversation. I don’t know what they might have said to accommodate or support my idea before it was successful, but we would have had the conversation, and a plan could — and probably would have been made. It’s that sort of company.”

Have that conversation, sooner rather than later.

How do you promote — and, more importantly, sustain — a culture of engagement and innovation?