Managing today’s workforce: Retaining and fostering talent

By Colby Jones on March 10, 2018

Millennials seem to be blamed for everything these days: The demise of department stores, the death of ‘the dinner date,’ poor sales on bars of soap…the list goes on. But, whether or not you think millennials are the worst generation ever, they likely make up most of your organization. And, in order for you to continue to succeed, understanding and motivating this group is critical.

The struggle for business leaders is that today’s workforce is pushing the boundaries. Motivations have changed in the workplace and leaders need to adapt their skillset to understand today’s workforce. We’re constantly being pushed to innovate in every sense of our businesses and leadership style is no exception.

So how can you embrace this generation to excel your business?

Give meaning to their job

Everyone wants to feel valued, no matter what their job function is. They want to know why they’re doing the job that they are and how it contributes to the overall goals of the business. It’s not always clear to someone just how important their job is to the overall success of the company. If the employee feels expendable and undervalued, what’s the motivation to stay with your organization?

For example, let’s take an account coordinator (AC) of a public relations agency as an example. Typically right out of college, the AC’s role is predominately supportive. Their tasks are developing media lists, drafting agendas, writing briefing books, etc. And it’s difficult for them to see how important these jobs are to the overall account. Explain how their job function and tasks contribute to the overall organization. For example, drafting an accurate agenda may seem like ‘busy work’ but if the agenda is inaccurate the client loses trust in the team. Lost trust means lost business. All of a sudden, that agenda becomes much more important.

Be human

Or, a better way to put it: show empathy. Similar to strict office dress codes, work has gotten a lot more casual and personal. That doesn’t mean it’s unprofessional but it does mean that when you’re managing a younger workforce you need to be prepared to show how you care about employees on a personal level. Kim Scott tackles this in her book Radical Candorreally well so I’m going to let her do the talking:

“Part of the reason why people fail to ‘care professionally’ is the injunction to ‘keep it professional.’ The phrase denies something essential. We are all human beings, with human feelings, and, even at work, we need to be seen as such. When that doesn’t happen, when we feel we must repress who we really are to earn a living, we become alienated”

Kim is talking more generally about managing employees at any age and at any stage of their careers but it rings especially true for millennials.

Embrace transparency

Similar to treating employees as humans, with human feelings, there’s a higher level of transparency needed in businesses today. Does this mean spilling company secrets? Or telling employees things to scare them? Absolutely not. But, there’s a balance between what’s ‘need to know’ and what should be shared.

Let’s use a real word example. At my last company, the office space we were leasing had been sold to a new owner and the new owner gave us notice that they wouldn’t be renewing our lease. Thankfully, they gave us plenty of notice – about 9 months – but it did mean we’d have to start the fairly long process of finding a new space. Before we were ready to tell the team, an employee had found out and told everyone. This caused us to speed up the announcement that we would be moving by about 6 months. It was great lesson in transparency because, as a leadership team, our thinking was there was no need to tell anyone right away because it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. But the team was anxious and excited and wanted to know sooner rather than later.

Transparency, at times, has to be a judgement call. Just because you can’t share everything, doesn’t mean you should share nothing.

Allow autonomy

Stop micromanaging. It’s a waste of your time and all it does is send the message that you don’t trust your team. “But I can’t trust my team!” Yes, I heard you. But I’m ignoring you because if you can’t trust your team, you might be the problem. Autonomy is not a fancy word for having people figure stuff out on their own or an excuse not to teach someone how to do their job.

Autonomy in the workforce simply means giving someone the tools to do their job – through training, software, guidance, support, etc. and letting them fly. Check-in, be available for questions, but ultimately let your team learn by doing. Similar to the above point about making the person’s job mean something, autonomy allows a level of ownership that diminishes once the person feels like they’re being babysat or micromanaging. If you feel like you can’t trust your team to work autonomously then it’s time to examine your team and evaluate whether or not you have right people.

Manage for results

If they haven’t already, millennials will soon make up the majority of your workforce. By better understanding today’s workforce expectations, you can better lead your team. This will drive retention in addition to business results. It’s time to stop complaining about this generation and embrace them.