FIVE STEPS TO A HIGH-FUNCTIONING WORKFORCE
By Keeli Jernigan
Today’s workforce is teeming with Millennials – they are often are characterized as impatient for promotions and expecting continuous praise.
While that may be true in some cases, the fact is, Millennials are already the lifeblood of today’s corporations. They have become the largest portion of the U.S. population, take up the biggest share of the workforce and now hold about 20 percent of all management jobs, up from three percent in 2005.
Millennials are a force to be reckoned with and the savvy CEO would do well to address how best to attract, retain and promote them.
Developing the Strategy
There’s current research clearly showing what motivates Millennials. A 2015 Aon Hewitt study of 2,500 employees across generations identified the most important areas Millennials believe needs improving in the workplace. These include:
- Pay and Benefits – 51 percent
- Good Career or Development Opportunities – 39 percent
- Performance Recognition – 38 percent
- Open/complete Communications – 34 percent
- Flexible Work Environment – 33 percent
Today’s Gen X CEOs harken from a generation of people who worked hard to adapt to the corporate culture they felt lucky enough to inhabit. Yet now, in shaping and leading their own companies, they face an imperative to build the kind of culture Millennials will respond to while also serving to engage all employees.
Here are five ways the CEO can create such a culture – one that’s rich in opportunities to communicate, initiates and drives new projects, and gives Millennials the chance to try on different roles to achieve personal fulfillment.
Bring On Your Ideas. Listening to Millennials and taking their ideas seriously is the first and best way to motivate and retain them. It’s important to create processes and venues for them to be heard. Schedule “free exchange” brainstorming meetings at headquarters, or better yet, travel to meet them if they are in far-flung offices for half and full-day idea generation sessions. This also enables them to meet with other stakeholders in the company and become more visible and connected.
Millennials also like to have fun (number six on the Aon Hewitt list), so planning an icebreaker exercise at the start of the meeting is one way to lower the barriers and allow them to express some personal things about themselves: hobbies, travel, friends. With social media as a second skin, they are accustomed to sharing and will become more comfortable in the exchange.
Create Cross-Functional Career Paths. Tomorrow’s workplace will draw upon people’s skills as much as their functional experience. The Millennial reality that was born of the Great Recession is a “gig-to-gig” career that takes them from one opportunity to the next. Retaining Millennials requires identifying their passions and core skills, and then giving them the chance to use them in new ways.
Knowing the Millennial appetite for career and development opportunities, the strategic CEO should consider offering regular cross-training, ideally on a quarterly basis. HR can bring in professors or business coaches to offer sessions that prepare employees to understand the company’s strategic direction and organizational issues. Topics can include: operations and supply chain management, change management, or leadership and management fundamentals.
An important caveat: Millennials require authenticity and will expect real-life opportunities to use their newly-acquired knowledge. Forward-looking CEOs should be open to making new career options available. At the same time, they can put systems in place to make sure that any cross-pollination would work well for the company, such as allowing a promising employee to shadow a manager when considering a different function, and establishing clear performance expectations for the new role.
Pile on the Responsibility. Millennials don’t like waiting too long to move ahead – remember performance recognition is number three on their priority list. Instead of lamenting what may appear as impatience in being promoted, smart CEOs reward them with as much responsibility as they can handle. This is not to say that they shouldn’t be overseen – but don’t lose them by harnessing them too tightly.
Millennials also value open communication, so carve out time to be accessible with an open-door policy. When staffers raise constructive criticism, give them the chance to present a business solution and consider it fairly.
Finally, prepare them with persuasive “soft skills” to smooth the way for successful interactions with clients and colleagues: problem-solving, managing conflict and dealing with challenging customer interactions.
Be Fair to the Older Workers. While these strategies can benefit the younger staff, it’s crucial not to exclude the rest of the company. Collaboration and information-sharing are
essential in a world where employees must deliver a seamless flow of products and services with a consistently high level of quality. While older employees may not seek out or make changes as quickly, they must be engaged for the company as a whole to succeed.
One way to ensure this outcome is to place a trusted Strategic Relationship Manager on key strategy, quality control, HR and customer oversight committees. With a bird’s eye view of the company, that executive can help maintain compatibility among employees, customers and teams.
Follow the Same Playbook. The good news for the Gen X CEO is that motivating Millennials can infuse needed change and keep a company fresh and relevant. The watchword is consistency in culture and values. Who hasn’t had at least one experience where a person has all the right skill sets on paper but just doesn’t mesh with others in the office? Cultural fit is essential in sustaining a well-functioning team.
To help get everyone on board, there is a lot of power in developing a company’s purpose, values and vision and placing them in every office as a daily reminder of the company priorities. Regardless of generation and career path, everyone can agree on the goal.
Keeli Jernigan is President and CEO of Trans-Expedite, Inc., a global transportation and logistics company based in El Paso and whose Texas offices include Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin, Del Rio and San Antonio.