Leading Millennials: Meaningful Experiences

The oldest of the Millennials is 30 now, and are beginning to enter middle management and/or professional positions. As the Millennials grow in prominence and influence in the workforce, leading them will require new and adapted strategies to harness their influence and talents.

Millennials want to join a crusade, not a company. They view organizational structure as a tapestry, not a hierarchy. Traditionally, employees asked “What role do I fulfill as I work in this company?” Millennials ask, “What role will the company play in my life story?” If the organization is willing to invest into their life story, then dedication to that company will follow. Dedication and engagement is earned, not a given.

Millennials may forego a higher salary to participate in an organization or endeavour that will be meaningful to them. After all, their social network will bail them out even if they do need help. They won’t stay a at a job for monetary reasons only. Values, history and mission are important to the Millennials. They are more than just words on a page. If they are truly lived, and are congruent with the person, it will make a difference.

Bottom line: Organizations that do not provide meaningful experiences to their Millennial employees will lose them. Organizations that provide those at their organization, or who support their employees to find them elsewhere (ie. volunteer opportunities), will be able to retain Millennials.

Over the next while I will be posting excerpts of a presentation on Millennials by David Burkus and myself at the April 2011 Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) Conference in Edmonton, Alberta.

Burkus, D. (2010). Developing the next generation of leaders: How to engage Millennials in the workplace. Leadership Advance Online, 14. Download here.


The Paradox of Commitment

Is employee retention overrated? It almost sounds heretical for an HR guy to write that, but do we sometimes worry too much about retaining our employees in organizations?

Hall et al (2001) describe the paradox of commitment where “people are most able to develop internal commitments and attachments when they have the free choice to leave and choose to stay. To paraphrase the late Fritz Perls: If you love someone, let them go. If they truly love you, they will return. And if they do not, it was not meant to be” (p. 344). So if this is true, do we sometimes disadvantage both our employees and our organizations by gripping too tight to our employees?

The difficulty of having world-class talent in your organization is that top talent will be recruited by other organizations. It is only a matter of time before that talent is wooed by other organizations. But just imagine the liberating feeling of being an employee who gets a job offer every couple months, but who chooses to stay at an organization? She isn’t there because she has to be; she is there because she wants to be. What an amazing employee to have working under you. She will not operate out of fear of losing her job and may actually tell her boss he is wrong when he is wrong. If his fragile ego can’t handle it, oh well. She can take another job offer anytime.

As leaders, we invest a lot in the people who follow us (if we don’t, that’s another issue). It can be disheartening to consider losing that investment to another organization, and so we consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) do everything possible to keep our followers. In doing so, we sometimes smother them, constrain them, and become a little paranoid of them leaving. Paradoxically, trying too hard to keep them will drive them away. Encouraging our top talent to pursue other options may actually keep them. No one said talent management was easy or logical, but leaders who understand this will keep their talent around them.

Hall, D.T., Zhu, G. & Yan, A. (2001). Developing global leaders: Hold on to them, let them go. In William Mobley & Morgan McCall (Eds.). Advances in global leadership. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.