The millennial that I am referring to is the one that wrote ￼this article￼, but it also applies to those already in your organization. In the article, she talks about the reasons why a lot of companies struggle to retain people from her generation. It got me thinking about some of my experiences, both as an employee and as a manager. While I am just outside the age bracket for being a millennial, I definitely identify with them in a lot of areas.
One of the biggest things missing in the workplace today is real engagement with the employees. While it is a problem for millennials, I feel like it applies to everyone. If you want your employees to stick around, you have to give them a reason to not want to leave. Another way to think about it is that you should focus on getting your organization to a place where they want to stay, rather than working towards keeping them from leaving. That often goes far beyond just monetary compensation. Things like how much they are able to connect with their leadership and teammates, or what the actual office culture is (not the one espoused in the company handbook, but the real one people deal with every day...they are different, trust me). And here's the real kicker to all of this...it's not just millenials that feel this way! A lot of your employees feel this way, but the millennials are willing to say something because they were taught to not settle, or accept things as they have always been.
My approach to solving this was to very intentionally engage with those under me, and empowering them to take on new and exciting projects. I learned very early on that as a leader, my #1 job was to identify, train, and mentor those under me in such a way that showed I was expecting them to take over my role one day. One of the biggest frustrations I have run into as a member of an organization, whether as an employee or in a leadership position, is how the leaders grow and develop the people under them. In my entire career (20+ years), I have only had two leaders mentor me in such a way that I felt like I was growing as both an employee, as well as a person. Why there were not more people doing this, I will never understand. If you want to build an organization that is strong, it only makes sense to develop the next level of people below you in order to ensure that this happens consistently. This Harvard Business Review￼ article says it best:
Regardless of what else you expect from your managers, facilitating employee learning and development should be a non-negotiable competency.
So how do you do this? How do you become a manager or organization that people want to work for, and more importantly, how do you develop those people into the next wave of leaders in your organization? The first thing to realize is that there is no magic formula. There is no secret recipe for success that is 100% repeatable. Instead, there are some key principles that you should keep in mind, and strive to work towards.
People vs Resources
I’m not talking about using resources other than people, but rather how you look at the people you have. Do you treat them like a number that can easily be replaced, or do you treat them like a valued member of the team? Having the ability to recognize people for the unique individuals that they are is a lot tougher than it sounds, and takes deliberate and intentional effort. It is far easier to see them as a resource with skills that are defined by a job description, but that does not do anything to further the person, nor does it truly help further the organization. When you just throw resources at a problem, eventually you will run into a scaling problem.
When you connect with people on a personal level, they feel valued, and their desire for success, as well as their level of engagement, increases. In every position of authority I have ever been in, I have gotten the best results out of the people I was able to connect with on a personal level. This is not a simple matter, and it is likely that you will have people on your team that you just can’t connect with. This is one of the key reasons why cultural fit is such an important part of the hiring process. When you spend as much time with your co-workers as you do your own family, you naturally want to enjoy that time (and conversely, your employees want the same thing). Having this feeling of camaraderie and friendship will lead the members of your team to want to do better by each other, and will result in a much higher level of quality and efficiency.
The resources on your team, regardless of where they are at in their career, need to be treated as a plant would be. They need to be fed and nurtured on a regular basis in order to keep them healthy and productive. One of the ways I like to do this is by sitting down with each person and outlining where they want to go in their career, and then take that and work with them to put together a list of goals for them to work towards. These goals should be S.M.A.R.T., should be a mixture of individual and teams goals, and should be measured on a quarterly basis at a minimum (I like to review during monthly 1-on–1’s). By including the employee in the process of creating the goals, you enable them to take ownership of their career and thereby fostering better engagement on their part.
I know a lot of this seems pretty simple and basic on paper, but it is surprisingly difficult to accomplish in reality. The key is to make a deliberate choice with each and every employee to connect with them on their level and be genuine in your conversations with them. You won’t win them all, but trust me, word will get around, and you’ll find that people are wanting to come to your team or organization. You should train and mentor so that people can leave, but connect with them in such a way that they do not want to. It’s not easy, and there are definitely some bumps along the way, but you will find it all that much more rewarding!