(Note: this article is the second of a 4-part series based on interviews with baby boomer and Gen X business leaders and HR executives in the Denver area)
In the first article, we learned that millennials crave to understand our purpose on this planet and how working at your company will help us get there. In this article, we’ll explore what companies can do to fill that tall order.
Companies can take four actions that will directly show us how our work helps us achieve a purpose, which will indirectly help us figure out what that purpose is. Each step builds on the success of the previous one.
Clear company vision that aligns with our own
Explicit link to how the work we are doing RIGHT NOW helps achieve the company vision
Learning and development opportunities that give us tools and new skills to do our work better (i.e. help achieve company vision) and help our long-term career goals
An honest, transparent, and supportive culture where we can be ourselves, fail and be supported, and have real relationships.
Company vision: Leaders of the company need to have an existential conversation. Why does this company exist? What is its purpose in the world? How is this helping people? Then summarize in one sentence and get the word out. We are obsessed with impact. You might keep us for a few years without a solid vision, but a vision that aligns with our own is required for the long term. Some people might think, “How can my company have a compelling vision in X industry?” I talked with a telecommunications company who addressed that perfectly. They said “We are inspiring the world by enabling big companies to do awesome things.” They provide them with custom high speed internet solutions so they can get things done.
Link to impact: The job of a manager is to make sure his people are working on the things that will have the most impact on the business. Most managers clearly see how small pieces of work fit into the big picture (if they don’t, there is a different problem), but for people that are working in the weeds, this link needs to be consistently reinforced. Millennials are very results oriented, so start first with how the results of this project / process / client will help achieve the objectives of the company. Then, explain how the work they are doing contributes meaningfully to the success of that project / process / client. In order to have a meaningful contribution, there must be some risk to the business if they fail. If / when we do succeed, make sure to recognize and celebrate the success.
Learning and development: Now that we are doing meaningful work that impacts the company’s mission, we want to have as big of an impact as possible. Help us by continually teaching the skills and tools that we need to be effective. There are two ways, (1) formal training and (2) on the job learning. While formal training is good for some things (e.g. how to effectively manage stress), most of the training should occur on the job. Companies have done this successfully by frequently rotating people through roles, giving people responsibilities that are slightly above their perceived limit, and designing situations where people have the autonomy to fail with (small) consequences to the business.
Culture: Culture is defined by how people are communicating and interacting with each other. If you’ve got the first three steps right, then you’re likely already half way there with culture. Other things to focus on are increasing transparency and making people feel welcome to act themselves. Transparency means openly communicating as much as possible. This includes communicating thoroughly around what is happening with the company, how decisions are made, feedback about work content or interaction style, or anything that is on top of someone’s mind. There are some great software tools out there to take you the rest of the way, like CultureIQ or CultureAmp. You can’t improve what you don’t measure!
Check out part III: Overcoming 4 common millennial problems for the next article in the series.