Finding your company’s A players in the new generation
By Lindsay Eney
Millennials — that nebulous generation with no generally accepted start and end dates — are taking the workforce by storm, and not everyone knows what to do about it. Fortunately, these insiders know the keys to finding and maintaining the “A players” in the new generation.
One thing is for sure: the millennial surge in offices worldwide has people talking about how to attract and retain talent more than ever before. Workplace cultures, employer-employee dynamics and benefits packages (flex schedules, vacation time and telecommuting — oh my!) are in the spotlight all the time. However, this doesn’t have to be an isolated conversation.
Find the right fit
Suzanne Kaplan, president of Talent Balance, focuses her work on finding common ground in the workplace. “Everything that I recommend to attract, retain and develop millennials actually applies to the entire workforce,” she says. “If CEOs would use the millennial strategy as a way of managing their whole workforce, engagement would go up, people would do a better job and the whole organization would be more productive.”
“We’re entering the most complex, dynamic and fast-moving business environment in history,” says Karyl Leggio, dean of the Sellinger School of Business and Management at Loyola University Maryland. “When I look at what businesses say they need today, other than technical requirements, they want problem solving, collaboration and critical thinking. If you look at [millennials], that’s the way they have been educated.”
Talent acquisition is just one piece of the pie in your business, but it is one of the biggest. “It’s its own unique beast,” says Colin Day, CEO of human capital management SaaS provider iCIMS. “The new generation of recruitment is to embrace social.” He points to data indicating that one in five applicants aren’t even applying with a resume anymore.
“They are applying, single sign-on, with their LinkedIn [and other social media] profiles. They want to find jobs on social sites,” Day says. “You’re missing an incredible amount of talent and almost an entire generation if you’re not embracing social job advertising and social recruitment.”
But remember that job candidates are search savvy today, too. While you’re checking their references, they are probably also checking yours to be sure that people like working there and don’t dread waking up in the morning. Susan Strayer Lamotte, founder and principal consultant at workforce consultancy Exaqueo, knows the importance of this. She says that all too often, a company’s perceived culture does not align with what its employees say the culture is. It needs to be solid all the way through the company to effectively attract the right people. If you can’t define your culture accurately, how can you expect someone new to understand it?
Marc Berman, president of IT and staff augmentation company Vector Technical Resources has noticed that people will leave a job for a dollar if they find somewhere that resonates better with them culturally. You need to sell your company to the candidate just as much as — if not more than — they need to sell their skills to you. “I can hire people for a third of what they’re making because of our reputation,” he says. “I am giving them the opportunity to make lots of money if they work really hard and smart.”
“The crux, I believe, in everything we do in business is relationships,” says Susan Hahn, Swan Consulting Group founder and president. “It’s all about the brain and how to learn, develop new connections and develop new habits or ways of behaving that become natural and more comfortable over time.”
Remember to focus on not just the high performers, but on every person in your workforce. Making the changes in the corner office won’t make a difference unless it’s echoed through the entire company. “The more the relationship with the direct manager can be built up, the better,” Hahn says. “In most cases, it’s people leaving the manager, not the job.”
Kaplan points out that millennials will leave a job at two or three times the rate of other generations. “I don’t think that’s just because they’re young. I think it’s because they will quit if they don’t think they’re contributing or that their job is important,” she says. “They’re loyal to their team but not to the company. They don’t think companies are loyal to employees anymore. Why should they? They saw their parents get pushed out the door, and they saw the pension plans go away. There’s no reason for loyalty.”
Perhaps that’s exactly the reason CEOs need to work even harder to prove to millennials — and every other generation in their offices — that they are deserving of loyalty.
Give employees chances to grow and develop
Once you’ve identified your ideal candidates, the long battle isn’t over. Now how do you get — and keep — them? Whether it’s millennials or anyone else, you cannot plan someone else’s career path. Hahn recalls work with a client where people were enrolled in high-potential leadership programs, but one candidate was always “hiding.” He loved what he did, he was good at it and he wanted to learn more, but he wasn’t interested in a promotion. “Allow the individual to be a ‘career’ where they’re performing phenomenally; they just don’t want to be the leader,” Hahn says. “They want to continue in that contributor role.”
Lamotte emphasizes the value of qualitative data about your workforce. “As organizations, we’re only paying attention to the surface value of our employees. We only measure work data,” Lamotte says. “We only pay attention to how engaged they say they are. Or things like if they have a best friend at work or the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. We don’t pay attention to how they feel, to who they are as people and how that impacts their work and the culture every day.”
Berman agrees that understanding your people is the only way to keep them. “In order to retain someone, you need to know their hot buttons,” he says. “What motivates this person? Is it money? Is it power? Is it BMWs, or is it time off?”
Leggio points out millennials they may end up doing something different than what you wanted when you hired them. “You have to be open to creating a position or allowing them to stretch into an area that wasn’t where you were thinking it was going but still adds value to the organization,” she says. Look into what they can provide that you’re not getting elsewhere
While millennials may appear to be impatient and eager to be the boss after a short period of time, everyone understands that there are only so many leadership positions available. If the opportunity for a promotion isn’t available, consider some lateral moves. Maybe there is another department an employee would be better in, or a project that could help develop new skills. Those unconventional moves could help an employee define a new path. “Folks will stay with an employer that they think cares about their development,” Kaplan says.
Establish that mindset among all your leadership levels, because after all, it isn’t about the positions; it’s about the people.
The expert advice sounds great in theory, but how does it translate to real-world talent management? We asked local leaders to share their approaches to hiring, retaining and creating a culture around the people they want.
“The relationships we build and our performance [attracts people]. Our performance levels are at such a high level that sometimes our employees go to work for our customers. I don’t stop that. If it’s a better opportunity for them, have at it. It’s a back and forth. We’ve hired people from our customer community, and our customers have hired some of our folks. We bring in the right people. I empower them to do their job. It’s all about making decisions and moving forward, not standing still. Let’s make a decision and move forward; if it’s wrong, we’ll figure it out and do it the right way. I have all the ideas, but I need people to go implement them. We have a lot of long-term people here. Our turnover last year was 9 percent; the industry is about 15 percent.”
“To be successful and effective in the work environment, the candidate needs the necessary skills, knowledge and experience and a good fit to the culture. If a culture includes doing things at a certain level of excellence, then the best candidate will be able to utilize hard skills in a culturally competent manner. I look for a demonstrated history of adaptive capacity and perseverance in candidates, flexibility and grit. My focus is on creating the opportunity and support for employees to be productive, to continue to develop and to feel that they are contributing to the success of the organization. For some employees, this means they will grow and spread their wings and leave for other opportunities; for others, it means they will grow and spread their wings and stay with the organization. I consider both outcomes a great success and believe they are the hallmarks of a resilient, vibrant and successful organization.”
“Happy employees are productive employees. [Culture] has to resonate from the top. One of the ways we attract top talent is a good benefits package … but the difference maker is the culture. In the Philadelphia area, there are many options in the life sciences industry. You have to assume that the top-level executives have options. The way you differentiate is to have a culture that appeals to people’s interests in being happy and productive at work. A lot of that has to come with work-life balance. Typically, the executives I’ve hired are fairly independent people who don’t want to be micromanaged. They want the leeway to do their jobs. You’re looking for a maturity level from your executives who are quick learners.”
“We look for talent that is bright and wants the ability to grow and is able to take on several different types of tasks. Their main job may be as a center manager, but they have a talent in marketing. I have several managers who also have other disciplines. People love the fact that they’re not pigeonholed into one specific role. The only way to make it work is to be really cognizant of what people are good at and what lights them up. From a cost standpoint, it’s great. You’re not biting into that corporate overhead unless it’s absolutely necessary. But you have to make sure you’re not overloading people.” CEO