Five secrets for engaging and retaining Gen Y talent

Studies show that the current crop of Gen Y talent,  will have had up to 12 different jobs and the majority of Gen Y professional graduates  (doctors, engineers, architects lawyers etc.) will no longer be working in their chosen career of study having had up to three career changes. Overall ninety-one percent of Gen Y’s expect to stay in a job for less than three years

All this job hopping madness means big headaches for talent managers and heads of HR after all  losing an employee after a year or two, means wasting precious time and resources on training and development,  before that investment pays off. Our research at TomorrowToday has identified five things your company can do to attract and retain top Gen Y talent. Our work around the world and engagement with thousands of senior leaders every years enables us to gain an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of this job-hopping “slacker” generation and we always dive deep when we discover a company that is keeping both Gen Y and Gen X talent for seven years or more. Here are the secrets to keeping and engaging Gen Y talent:

1) Forget vision and mission. What is your quest?  Story-telling is increasingly important leadership skill and Gen Y want to know the story behind what your company really stands for.  If they are going to spend the majority of their waking lives working for you, what they do and what the company does has to be meaningful in a broader more societal context.

Now most businesses have a vision or mission that looks something like this:

To be the leader…selling the best…delivering   outstanding service… commitment to profit maximisation to our shareholders…being the most efficient in everyth… blah blah blah blah blah  YAWN!

At which stage you have bored every Gen Y employee to death and they have already redeployed their curriculum vitae. However,  If you want to capture the mind, heart and engagement of talented Gen Y you need to appeal to their sense of spirit, their sense of adventure and most importantly their cohort’s driving sense of contributing to causes that have meaning in the world.

As the French adventurer and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery said:

“If you want to build a flotilla of ships, you don’t sit around talking about carpentry. No, you need to set people’s souls ablaze with visions of exploring distant shores.”


What Gen Y want to know is what is the Raison d’être or  higher calling, what is the difference you make to society and ultimately what is the adventure your business is on? If it’s just profit maximisation for shareholders, cost reduction and some glib commitment to corporate social responsibility, you’ve already lost your Geny Y talent. Rather every great company (small or large) needs a quest, a story that inspires and makes people want to contribute and follow passionately. Can you imagine if JFK had launched the space race with a mission or vision that said “We need the biggest and most powerful rockets to beat the Russians” It’s what JFK and the Americans needed to win, but no he launched the space race by appealing to human emotions with a quest, an adventure and a dream  of going to the moon.

Nelson Mandela was also on a quest, for a free and democratic South Africa. It was a quest that inspired and motivated millions to oppose the Apartheid regime. IBM is on a quest to “Build a Smarter Planet” This quest launched by Sam Palimisano, the then IBM Chairman, aimed at tackling many of the worlds greatest challenges. Things like air and water pollution, gridlocked cities, more efficient use of electricity and smarter use of utilities and scarce resources. This quest releases the energy, creativity and imagination of IBM’s workforce because they know that each day when they wake up and go to work they are finding solutions for problems that will make the world a better place. Zappos, a online shoe retailer, is on a quest to provide the very best customer service of any company. It is a quest that inspires, empowers and releases the people at Zappos to make a difference for the lives of people they connect with.

Gen Y want to know what your quest is, what the difference you are making to society. If it’s just profit maximisation you won’t be around for long and you certainly will not attract the best talent long-term.

2) Sort out your technology

Technology is simply an enabler – they’re not impressed by it

When Baby Boomers and Gen X entered the workplace companies provided the best technology. Today’s Gen Y has better technology at home than  they have in the workplace. This has given rise to the term Bring Your Own Device or BYOD to work. However, many IT departments block this trend due to certain perceived risk factors. Gen Y doesn’t get this, they are tech savvy enough to get around any limitations the IT department might impose on them anyway, and shouldn’t IT be an enabler rather than the gamekeeper. They certainly think so.

The thing is you will never impress Gen Y with your tech so don’t bother trying rather focus on using IT as a means of helping Gen Y (and people from other generations) to connect, collaborate, contribute, interact and engage. Social media is important but again it’s not about facebook or twitter. If your company’s solution is to have a facebook page you are missing the point. Gen Y uses social media to connect and to share information and ideas. Internal social media tools like Yammer are a must. Video is crucial too, Zappos and accounting powerhouse Deloitte have both set up YouTube channels and encouraged their staff to post videos about themselves and their work. Hugely engaging.

Our recommendation is start with a blog and tell Gen Y what you are thinking, reveal the more human side of your business and its leaders

3) Mentor and reverse mentor

Gen Y knows they do not have the luxury of paying their dues and waiting to move up the corporate ladder. Knowledge has to be caught as well as taught. Baby Boomers and Gen X have considerable expertise and understanding of how business works that Gen Y know they can benefit from. In return Gen Y knows how the new digital world works and they can offer their insights to their older cohorts in return. Mentoring and reverse mentoring schemes offer win-win solutions.  Ray, a Gen Y employee at GE says:  “The reverse mentoring relationship I have with the general manager of our organisation has been the most rewarding experience for me at GE.”

 4) Tell them why, and if in doubt ask them.

Back in the good old days, the boss could tell his or her subordinates what to do simply on the basis of “because I am the boss and I said so”. Try that approach with Gen Y and you will very quickly be on the receiving end of their indifference followed quickly by a “speak to the hand” and “whatever”.

The solution is simple, adopt an approach of Humble Inquiry. Rather than telling Gen Y what to do explain the situation, engage by sharing why the situation is as it is and invite them to put forward solutions. One of Gen Y’s biggest complains is that they are told what to do and how to do it. Their advise: do one or the other but never both.

5) Have more fun

Their biggest criticism of older generations is that they are too serious. Life is too short, have fun and play hard. Work may be that, work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. Their advise  “Appoint a Minister of Fun”

 

 

 

 

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