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5 Tips for Retaining and Developing High-Potential Millennials

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Posted by Rick Lepsinger September 7, 2018

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Born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s, the millennial generation is already the largest generation in today’s workforce. Far from just beginning their careers, most millennials have been working professionally for a decade or more, which means many of them are entering leadership positions or are assessing where they can find the best opportunities.

One of the key challenges for today’s organizations is finding ways to retain and develop high-potential millennial employees. To maximize effectiveness, companies should take a holistic view of how millennials are engaged in the workplace from the moment they’re hired. Here are few steps that help create an environment that is suited to the needs and values of this generation.

1: Redefine Leadership

Millennials may be well-known for working in teams and collaborating with others, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t driven to assume leadership roles. A 2015 survey found that 91% of them aspire to be leaders. However, their reasons for seeking that role are a bit different from previous generations. Only 6% of respondents identified money or power as their biggest motivation, while 43% said their primary motivation was “empowering others.”

Organizations that restrict leadership opportunities to specific positions will have difficulty retaining these employees. Millennials are far less likely than their predecessors to wait around for those positions to become available, with over 90% rarely staying with a company for more than three years. But leadership opportunities don’t have to be tied to specific positions. With more work being carried out in a team context, employers can find ways to empower high-potential millennials by allowing them to lead initiatives, undertake special projects, and contribute to strategic initiatives.

2: Flatten the Organization

Millennials typically don’t respond well to overly rigid hierarchical structures. They prefer flatter organizations with fewer layers of management, which allows them to establish personal relationships throughout the company and take greater responsibility for their own work. Their comfort with technology allows them to easily work with project management software that eliminates management layers. This has the added benefit of empowering them to be innovative and propose creative solutions to shake up longstanding, inefficient practices.

Flattening out the organization also gives millennials a better picture of how processes work and why certain decisions are made. Since there are fewer intermediaries between new hires and senior leadership, it’s easier for them to make their concerns or suggestions heard. They are also exposed to people in other roles, which can have a major impact on their professional development. For example, a marketing strategist may work with a sales representative on a project and discover that they’re well-suited to a sales role. This flexibility benefits the organization because the transfer of knowledge between roles provides a good pool of high-potential leadership candidates who have a deep understanding of many aspects of the business.

3: Be Honest and Open

Millennials value and expect strong one-on-one relationships in the workplace. When they ask a question, they want a direct answer, whether they’re seeking clarification about organizational goals or soliciting feedback on their performance. Transparency and honesty are highly valued because millennials want to understand how and why decisions are made. They also want to know what expectations are being placed upon them. This can be jarring for managers accustomed to assigning tasks to employees without explanation, but it reflects the fact that millennials want to know why the work they’re doing is important and how it impacts the rest of the organization.

This openness extends to feedback as well. The old cliche “no news is good news” isn’t very appealing to millennials, who want to know that they’re meeting expectations and learn what they can do to grow professionally. They also want to have their successes recognized frequently. While some have dismissed this as selfish, millennials view recognition as validation that they’re contributing value to the organization. When millennials feel valued for the work they do, they’re more likely to be engaged and less likely to seek another position elsewhere.

4: Loosen Up

Millennial workers bring new attitudes to the workplace. They’re more likely to value maintaining a healthy work-life balance and push back against rigid schedules. Open or unlimited vacation time and work from home options are often far better incentives for them than pay increases. Restrictions on internet access or social media usage is a sure-fire way to turn millennials away from a company.

Workplaces that aren’t committed to diversity or cultural acceptance will also have a hard time retaining millennials, who understandably expect the attitudes of the workplace to match those of today’s society. Old-fashioned restrictions on attire, piercings, or tattoos can very quickly alienate high-potential employees who don’t feel like they can be themselves while they’re at work. Adjusting to these attitudes and tendencies is critical to getting millennials engaged in the workplace.

5: Be Responsible

Work culture is only one way that millennials judge their employers. They also put a great deal of value on an organization’s sense of social responsibility. Given that aspiring millennial leaders want to empower others, it shouldn’t be surprising that they want to work at companies that demonstrate a commitment to giving back to their communities and promoting social causes they value.

Since millennials are so tuned in to social media and have an innate understanding of branding, they tend to be hyper-aware of which companies are committed to charitable activity and environmental responsibility. It’s no accident that corporate advertising routinely highlights these values; with millennials making up a larger share of the buying public, they cannot afford to alienate them. The same holds true for employers. Implementing programs to facilitate charitable giving and volunteerism can create a culture that millennials want to be a part of for years to come.

For many years, organizations tried to find ways to adapt millennials to the workplace, but as the generational balance shifted, it was the organizations that ultimately evolved. Millennials may be likely to change jobs more quickly than previous generations, but they’ve also demonstrated a willingness to make long-term commitments to companies that offer them development opportunities and match their values. Understanding what these employees want is the first step in finding ways to retain them and helping them reach their full potential.

Identifying and Developing Future Leaders

Topics: culture fit, Millennials

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