The year was 2000. The start-up had outgrown the garage, relocating to a nondescript building in an office park. Outside that building, on an asphalt parking lot, employees played roller hockey. The games were full contact. Employees wore pads and would come back inside drenched in sweat and sometimes bloodied and bruised.
Inside the building, the game was also tough. Yes, there was free food for employees and a massage therapist and brightly colored couches everywhere. The tough part was the company’s founder, who would often provoke arguments with the staff over business and product decisions. He managed in a no-nonsense way, pushing his employees to develop their visions of future technologies.
A few years after the idea of ranking web pages by their inbound links came to Larry Page in a dream, the co-founder of Google wrote down his rules for management. That list included the following:
- Don’t get in the way if you’re not adding value.
- Don’t be a bureaucrat.
- Ideas are more important than age. Just because someone is junior doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect and cooperation.
Somewhere at the tail end of the 20th century—perhaps right in that asphalt parking lot where the first Googlers played roller hockey—a radical change occurred: the realization that young people have valuable skills and talents to offer and you could write your own rules for management.
Prior to this, shift work was a job, leadership was the equivalent of power and the prioritization of talent didn’t really exist.
In addition to the economic shift, a demographic shift also occurred. In 2015, Millennials (ages 22–35 in 2017) became the workforce majority. This transition marked the largest shift in human capital in history; for the first time in 34 years, the Baby Boomers weren’t the workforce majority.
Together, these massive shifts have caused big problems for many companies. Employee turnover is costing U.S. companies an estimated $30.5 billion per year, according to Gallup. As a result, Millennials have been typecasted as the most difficult workforce in history. But rather than criticizing this generation, it’s more productive to look at the macro trends in play.
Millennials, and the generations that follow, have little to no memory of Industrial Era or command-and-control methodologies and therefore no appreciation or understanding of processes and hierarchy. This is a generation that was born into and has only known a world powered by the trademarks of a Talent Economy: innovation, collaboration, globalization, instant gratification and learning. Anything else will seem foreign and irrelevant to them. They will struggle to comprehend why decisions can’t be made on the fly, why they can’t have a seat at the decision-making table and why it’s always been done “that way.”
In addition, Millennials came of age during the Great Recession—the worst economic decline the United States had experienced in 70 years—and they are the best-educated generation in history. These characteristics have shaped their career trajectory.
XYZ University’s research of U.S. Millennials reveals they have spent more time than other generations exploring careers and opportunities for advancement for two key reasons:
- They are searching for jobs that tap into their values for education and collaboration.
- They are still reeling from the recession, paying off student loans and seeking jobs that will allow them to support themselves financially.
The Deloitte Millennial Survey, which surveyed Millennials globally, revealed that 44 percent plan to leave their jobs within the next two years. Two factors contribute to this loyalty challenge:
- Young professionals feel most businesses have no ambition beyond profit.
- Their leadership skills are not being fully developed by their current employer. Clearly, the values and needs of this generation aren’t aligning with their employee experiences.
Solutions that work
There is a solution to the loyalty challenge. I mentioned Larry Page’s rules for management. Employees have always been drawn to Google because working there means something more than “just” working for an Internet service and product company. Google was built on the premise that people want meaningful work, knowledge of what’s happening in their environment and the opportunity to shape that environment.
Google embodies the two trademarks of a 21st-century organization: People First and Future-Focused.
Companies that put people first value people more than anything—even profits. Companies that are future-focused are visionary, successfully predict and plan for change and give younger generations an influential role in the development of the organization.
For several years I researched many of the nation’s most successful organizations for the content of my latest book, “Talent Generation,” and the people-first, future-focused traits are shared among all of them. These entities aren’t struggling to recruit and retain talent, and they are thriving in this era of disruption.
The manufacturing sector was hit hard by economic and demographic shifts. Millennials were pressured to pursue college degrees, and that left a void in the talent pipeline. While there may be some truth to this statement, it shouldn’t be an excuse. There are many companies out there grappling with recruitment and retention, but research proves it’s not due to a lack of workers. More often, it’s due to an organization’s inability to adapt.
Simply put, a 20th-century-managed organization will struggle to retain a 21st-century-raised workforce. When leaders take the appropriate actions to value people and focus on the future, that’s when they become successful and relevant to their employees and, as a result, turnover subsides.
We’re responsible for the future, and we need to be diligent about building it. People first. Future focused. That’s how we’ll solve the workforce crisis and engage talent.
Sarah Sladek is a best-selling author and CEO of XYZ University.