Building the foundation for millennial engagement

    What do millennials want?

    As millennials look to assume over 50% of the global workforce by 2020 (PwC, 2011), you can safely assume that this question is top of mind for most business leaders. Perform a quick google search and you’ll find over 16 million, often conflicting, answers. Many reports will say that millennials are fundamentally different than the previous boomer and gen x employees – they are light on loyalty, place extreme value on work / life balance, and prefer communicating electronically then face to face (PwC, 2011). Some will say that there’s little difference between millennials and other generations – they have similar career goals, require similar feedback, and value crowdsourcing of opinions as much as everyone else (source IBM, 2015). No matter the view, the two things that everyone seems to agree on are that millennials will make up a large proportion of the workforce in the near future, and organizations must be well prepared to attract, engage, and retain the influx of new talent, ideas and leadership capability.

    Our belief is that the most critical component to engaging your millennials (or anyone else for that matter) is enhancing the manager-direct report relationship. Put simply, people are more inclined to commit to an organization when they have a great relationship with their boss. Our research and client experience has consistently shown that stronger managerial relationships result in stronger employee engagement. It’s often said an employee doesn’t leave an organization; they leave a manager – so if that’s the case, how best can we enhance the likelihood of building strong managerial relationships across the organization?

    It starts with the design. An organization can either be designed to enhance or inhibit strong manager-direct report working relationships. When people hear of workplace tensions; they’ll often attribute them to different personalities, work styles etc., but what we find with our clients is that they’re often the result of organization design flaws. When an organization is designed, ideally a manager should be one level (or strata) above their direct report in complexity of work done and capability to work at that level (measured based on time span and information processing capability, respectively).  Unfortunately, what we often see, is these positions are compressed or in a gap situation based on the complexity of work performed. Compression often results in micromanagement while gap situations often result in a lack of clear direction. These are all symptoms of poor organization design that can be improved by optimally aligning positions, which in turn leads to better manager-direct report relationships and stronger employee engagement.

    Once positions are optimally aligned, the manager is able to effectively delegate accountability and authority; meaning they’ll set the context for what’s expected of their employee, and prescribe the limits to which they should operate within. This limits micromanagement as employees will clearly understand what’s expected of them and they’ll have the authority and autonomy to get their work done. Managers will start to see employees working to their full capabilities while learning skills necessary to continue to progress through the organization.

    Improvements to the manager-direct report alignment also create the foundation for all kinds of workplace related improvements. Common changes to policies like flexible hours and remote working become easier to implement because everyone knows what they’re clearly accountable for and have the authority to perform independently.

    While this creates a great present, what about the future? We hear  that millennials want to climb the corporate ladder and take on bigger and more complex challenges. Whether this is truly a millennial trend or just human nature, we do believe it’s important to have someone accountable for an employee’s future development. This role, in our system, is the manager once removed (or your bosses boss). This position acts in a mentor role, where the manager-once removed is accountable for the future development of their employees. When you optimize this relationship the employee feels like they are being groomed for bigger and better things, and the manager once removed is able to develop a strong talent pool for future promotions – a win/win for the organization. This also gives the manager once removed a view as to who the high potential employees are, and allows them to proactively develop, promote, and incent them.

    In summary, yes, every generation seems to have unique differences – but so too does every employee. Creating an organization design that enhances the likelihood of optimal manager and manager once removed relationships provides the foundation for stronger engagement no matter the generation. From there you can layer on the benefits (work perks, compensation, etc.), technologies (feedback tools, etc.) and policies (flexible hours, remote working, etc.) that are being demanded by the modern workforce. Through optimizing your organization design you will be well positioned to attract, engage, and retain the influx of new talent, ideas and leadership capability.

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