The three things millennials want if they are going to work for you
Leadership expert Adam Kingl believes a new way of thinking is needed to retain and attract Generation Y talent.
Leadership expert Adam Kingl believes a new way of thinking is needed to retain and attract Generation Y talent.
Generation Y – or millennials – are likely to have between 15 or 16 employers during their career, as the dynamics of the working world changes rapidly.
But, how can employers make themselves attractive to this fast-growing cohort and, perhaps more importantly, how can they retain and develop new talent once they get it?
Speaking in the closing session of Citywire World of Boutiques Europe, Adam Kingl, a leadership expert and author, said there are three key components that any Gen Y candidate is looking for in a job.
‘I have asked them two important questions: what do you want from an employer, and what are the factors that would attract you? I gave them a bunch of options with a weighted ranking and there were tangible benefits and intangible benefits,’ he said.
Counting down his list, the third most attractive aspect, Kingl said, was development opportunities. He said many companies have complained about development being stymied by the lockdown, but Kingl refused to accept that excuse.
‘There is organic development in allowing people to join senior meetings, for example. I would also recommend coaching or mentoring – it doesn’t have to be any of your direct reports. Also consider reverse mentoring – if they are giving you something back.
‘When we come out of lockdown there are things like secondment, shadowing and international placements. Development can be anything as long as it involves constant growing.’
The second most important thing, he said, was that millennials want to know about the organisation’s culture. Kingl said they need to see what it takes and what it means to be successful within an organisation.
‘Allowing people to sit in on calls which show what success is. The best definition of culture is just two words “shared behaviours”, but you need to be involved to allow that to happen. When I asked people what one question they want to be asked, they said – I want to meet my team and see where my team would sit – so that isn’t macro, it is micro. It is culture.’
The leading demand, according to Kingl’s research, was work-life balance. He said this was a contentious issue, as Baby-boomers, those born between 1943 and 1960, tend to prioritise work against everything else and any demands to change this dynamic are viewed as selfish.
‘This was the most stunning finding I had, as there is semantic discord around this phrase, as different generations have different meanings when they talk about this statement.
‘Baby-boomers believe it refers to a “when statement” and it becomes something about the hours they put in. For Gen Ys it is a “where statement”, don’t chain me to my desk or only allow me to leave when the boss leaves, that’s face-time culture. This pandemic has shown we don’t need that.’
The fact many millennials change jobs multiple times does not mean that they may not return to an employer, Kingl said. ‘People think it is a closed door but it is not. If you can bring them back with more experience and more understanding, then surely that is a good thing?’
How to Develop Your Young People in Lockdown
One of the main conclusions I came to in researching my book, Next Generation Leadership, is that Generation Ys (Millennials) crave development more than almost anything else from their organisations. But the question I hear now that we are in lockdown under Covid is: How can we recreate the development that would have happened organically by our youngest colleagues’ observing how senior people go about doing business?
There are still at least a couple of things that we can do. First, even under lockdown, we can invite our young team members to senior stakeholder meetings, senior customers or strategic conversations, even if they are just observing. If we want to enhance a culture of development, one way to do that is to help our people observe desired behaviours. The best definition I’ve ever heard of ‘culture’ is so good because it is so simple. It’s just two words: ‘shared behaviours’. That’s it! But that definition implies that you have to give your people the opportunity to observe behaviours in action, and you can certainly still do that under lockdown.
The second piece of advice I would give is to consider mentoring your youngest employees. These don’t have to be your direct reports, but also make that a reverse mentoring opportunity. You can teach them about how to navigate your organization, advance their careers, serve more sophisticated customers, and they help you with issues such as leveraging social media, identifying new customer segments, and using skills and tools they have acquired which many of their older colleagues have not. It’s also an opportunity to find out for yourself what younger generations want from life, their career and their leaders. I think you’ll find it illuminating!
So how do you still organically develop your Millennial colleagues under lockdown, in ways that don’t cost you anything? First, invite them to senior virtual meetings, and ask them to observe and note behaviours. And second, consider mentoring and asking for reverse mentoring.
28 April 2020
The Covid-19 lockdown should be used to usher in a new era of more devolved decision making and put an end to control freakery, say experts.
Leaders have an opportunity to learn from the crisis by stamping out micromanagement and trusting more in the expertise of managers that have kept businesses running smoothly in unprecedented times.
Some firms have been taking the lockdown as an opportunity to streamline and speed up decision-making procedures that are too cumbersome.
Adam Kingl, author of Next Generation Leadership and keynote speaker, says: “Your people, customers and community are looking for transparency and quick answers. This is not the time for bureaucracy to encumber action.”
Having never run a business remotely before, leaders have been deferring more to specialists in their operational, technology and digital teams.
Chris Mills, a financial services expert at technology consultancy 6point6, says decisions about day-to-day issues, such as client reporting, are being taken “faster than ever”.
People in operations and technology teams at fund firms say getting authorisation to push ahead with existing projects has become much quicker, according to Mr Mills.
Typically, business leaders ask if everything is “as expected” and, if there are no problems, then they give the green light, he adds.
Increased levels of trust in IT and operations chiefs over the lockdown period may have lasting consequences, says Mr Mills.
Now that technology and digital strategy are being recognised as business critical, Mr Mills expects more chief technology and digital officers to be given seats on boards.
Remote working has, however, thrown up particular challenges for firms going through strategic change.
Tim McEwan, culture coach, and former head of leadership and development at Henderson Global Investors, says remote working has slowed down the pace of decision making at one firm going through a transaction.
In normal times, “corridor conversations” play an important role in allowing people to clarify points, where there might be a lack of understanding, he says.
Without these side conversations, people tend to have to go over the issues again in another round of Zoom calls, which may lead to better-quality decisions but it takes longer, says Mr McEwan.
The inability to micromanage the business at a time of crisis has been a real shock for some leaders, particularly traditional owner managers.
Mr McEwan says it has been “an uncomfortable time” for leaders who prefer “closer management” because they cannot “eyeball everyone”.
“Bosses don’t need this level of control,” says Mr McEwan.
“They need to be clear about who holds the decision rights. This must be discussed, agreed and signed off. Then they need to trust people.”
In a “shocking” attempt to retain control, one boss asked staff to wear jackets and ties on Zoom calls at the start of the lockdown, Mr McEwan says.
At another firm, managers wanted daily team gatherings at 5:15pm to talk about what had been done during the day.
The idea backfired because it was seen as a way of checking up on staff and an indication that managers did not trust them, he says.
The flaws that undermine effective decision making in physical meetings can be even worse in virtual meetings, say experts.
While meetings should be about “idea creation”, the reality is that people often sit around “waiting for the leader to say something”, says Mr Kingl.
“This dynamic risks being even worse when teams work remotely. It’s scarily easy for people to be even more silent in a virtual meeting,” he says.
Mr Kingl suggests that managers try holding team discussions on an online discussion board, where everyone is asked to contribute at least three ideas and comment constructively on at least two others.
This means that “introverts can reflect before answering, the less confident can reply thoughtfully and bravely”, says Mr Kingl.
Adding anonymity to contributions reduces the senior voices from owning the lion’s share of the conversation, he adds.
A virtual forum can then be used for part of the discussion or for teams that are particularly diverse.
This approach can help leaders to “bring out the best in everyone”.
Leaders need to be “much more aware of the composition of virtual meetings”, says Mr McEwan, who adds that 20 people on a Zoom call is a nightmare.
“The chair has to work really hard to control the discussion, which may mean they take their eye off the content,” he says.
It may be better for bosses to let someone else control the meeting so they can focus on “the meat” of the discussion.
Experts say the pandemic should not be used as an excuse for putting important decisions on hold, even if they involve a change in direction.
“The pandemic may very well have changed priorities or assumptions about our organisations’ business models, operations models, talent strategies, channels to market or customer segments,” says Mr Kingl.
“It might be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really take a moment to examine our organisations’ long-held beliefs and ask if they’re still fit for purpose,” he says.
In these times, virtual teamwork will be a critical function in the workforce. I have little doubt that mastering virtual teamwork in practical application will be a hallmark of the successful, next generation leader.
Putting “Virtual” to the Test
Even ten years ago, I thought that managing virtual teams would be a critical skill of the twenty-first century leader. I had hypotheses about how to do this well, but I needed data to test these. So while directing the Emerging Leaders Programme at London Business School, I added a simulation to the curriculum both to invite participants to reflect on their effectiveness at virtual teamwork and, for myself, to identify the critical success factors.
I invited participants to complete a competitive challenge, using both face-to-face and virtual methods. Before arriving to the program, I asked students to submit pressing dilemmas that their companies faced. I then identified two of these questions for the students to tackle in the competition; questions were easily comprehended, did not rely on technical or deep, industry-specific knowledge, and would have great impact on the business if these thorny issues were cracked. For example, in one cohort, the dilemmas were related to the news industry:
How can an international news division bring to life its new brand tagline, “Never Stop Asking?”
How can newspapers make money selling to a Google generation used to reading content for free?
Students were split into two teams that incorporated a diverse set of expertise, nationalities and industries. They had one week to brainstorm and refine solutions to each question. They were allowed—and encouraged—to take advantage of the “wisdom of crowds” by soliciting input from people outside the program too.
There was one catch: Team A had to answer question one using only face-to-face communications only and question two using solely virtual methods. For Team B, these requirements were reversed. When working virtually, students could use any tools or forums they wished, including video or teleconference, e-mail or social networking sites. We also constructed a simple website that allowed teams to post, categorize, rank, and discuss proposed solutions. The website was also accessible to people outside the course, if they were invited, who could then review and contribute to the online discussion.
At the end of the week, the teams presented their conclusions to a panel who scored the merits of each solution without knowing whether students used face-to-face or virtual methods.[i] After the panel gave its feedback, we discussed what the students found to be the advantages and pitfalls of virtual teamwork, as well as the key differences between working virtually and working face-to-face. This exercise brought to light many dynamics about the nature and requirements of leading and working in a virtual team.
What Works, What Doesn’t
Virtual teams that set too many rules or were too rigid about how and when participants contributed were not as successful as those that were more flexible. Different time zones, for instance, required that teams set slightly longer deadlines. Allowing for asynchronous discussion versus requiring real-time “chat” generated higher quality ideas and responses to colleagues’ suggestions.
Virtual teams that collaborated using customized, online team rooms produced final ideas and presentations that the panel scored better than those teams who used social networking sites such as Facebook. These sites often offer little functionality to organize activities effectively, search information, engage in complex discussions, or rank ideas. Teams using Facebook, for instance, either did not participate in brainstorming activities or did so unproductively, perhaps because interactions on the site tend to be largely superficial. Users weren’t used to using the site for this exercise’s purpose.
Although virtual teamwork isn’t necessarily more effective than face-to-face teamwork, we concluded that virtual teamwork that is well-facilitated and well-supported by a platform that is more fit for the purpose can actually be superior to face-to-face interaction, particularly for large or geographically dispersed teams. We encouraged students returning to work to have conversations with their IT departments about creating customized team rooms rather than relying on existing sites with pre-determined features.
A Different Set of Skills
The program’s participants consistently converged on at least two realizations about virtual teamwork:
First, charisma, a traditional leadership trait, is usually disintermediated in a virtual environment. Therefore, team members could not rely on force of personality, but on clarity and the ability to delegate. “Leading” in these interactions was less about exhibiting authority and more about emphasizing team accountability, reaching consensus, and being open to challenge.
Second, merit has more power than personality or hierarchy in virtual teams. Introverts or those who are working in a second language may actually thrive in a virtual team. We have all experienced how factors such as introversion/extraversion, cultural norms, gender, career level, and reporting lines contribute to only a few voices, sometimes only one voice, dominating.
At its worst, an overly hierarchical dynamic can not only ruin engagement, or even careers, it can aggravate catastrophic decisions. The story of the tragic 2009 crash of Air France flight 447, which killed 228 people, is the cautionary tale. On that flight, the crew came up through both a national and industry culture (though the latter is changing) where the captain is always right, who brooks no “interference” from his subordinates. In turn, the captain’s co-pilots, such as those on that fateful day, do not feel it is their place to disagree with their superior officer whether it is a command, a suggestion or an opinion.
On May 31st, 2009, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, storms lay in the way of the planned flight path, and a rare but not unheard-of mechanical fault occurred when ice crystals at high altitude clogged the airplane’s air pressure probes, causing altitude measures to read less accurately. The co-pilots chose not to alert the captain to the storms that lay ahead, deferring to him to identify the bad weather and plot a course to avoid it, which did not happen. The flight crew made a series of poor decisions and even worse communications that ultimately drove the plane into the Atlantic Ocean.[ii] The Air France case illustrates the all-too-common dynamic that occurs in so many offices, factories and stores around the world, where initiative, productive dialogue, challenge and imagination are preemptively suppressed.
Most of our organizations’ architectures are predicated on a pyramidal hierarchy, which for centuries has suggested a tacit dogma of the manager’s infallibility. This canon has ruined many millions of meetings, where idea creation gives way to waiting for the leader to say something, and agreeing or remaining silent, where the extrovert jumps in with their contribution first and often, while the introvert is still processing options and responses.
In a virtual, asynchronous environment, introverts can reflect before answering, the less confident can reply thoughtfully and bravely. Adding anonymity to contributions reduces the senior voices from owning the lion’s share of the conversation. The best ideas rise to the top instead of those which happen to be from the most senior. Therefore, if an important objective of any leader is to bring out the best in everyone, then he or she should utilize a virtual forum for at least some discussion and particularly on very diverse teams. Two important points to remember when considering virtual teamwork:
First, technology does not solve every problem. Virtual teamwork can fail if leaders do not attend to the fundamental problems of coordinating, engaging, and motivating individuals across time zones. It’s easy for team members to disengage when they’re not face-to-face, so the leader must convey a high degree of enthusiasm and clarity, and agree on who is accountable for what from the start.
Second, assumptions are dangerous. If team members are from different cultures, countries, and time zones, leaders cannot assume that everyone shares the same understanding of how the team will work. For example, will everyone be in one virtual “place” at the same time, or will they contribute on their own time? Our students’ most important takeaway is that to lead a virtual team, they must focus on team maintenance (How are we going to work together?) before task maintenance (What is the problem we are trying to solve?).
[i] I’m grateful to Moti Shahani for his collaboration with this exercise.
[ii] William Langewiesche, “The Human Factor,” Vanity Fair, October 2014.