Want to Keep Your Best Millennials? Drop This Misconception (And Pick Up This Approach Instead)

by Scott Mautz
Republished from Inc, November 2, 2017

Who doesn’t want to keep their best young talent? (other than *insert your favorite sports team here* who just traded away youth for a chance to “Win Now!”)

Finding talent in the first place is hard, but losing it is hard to take.

The problem is that we’re making this too difficult. There are countless articles piling up on solving the “puzzle” of millennials. Having conducted research among countless of these misunderstood youth, having had many work for me, and having read much of the research seeking to crack the code, I think we’re overthinking this.

Yes, millennials job hop a lot. Research shows that’s a fact. But what’s not a fact is the misperception that millennials feel entitled. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this accusation tossed around.

Millennials don’t feel entitled. They feel empowered.

There are more tools than ever before at their fingertips. The need for energetic leadership has never been greater. Self-expectations are sky high. (somebody’s gotta fix this planet after all).

They want to put their skills to use right now. Not tomorrow. Now. And time and tenure as the precursor for development opportunities just doesn’t sit well.

I admit I’ve had to get used to this myself, having grown up in a generation of “good things come to those who wait and put in the time”. But I’ve learned that I need to evolve or risk losing some of my most promising young managers.

It doesn’t matter if this mindset is tinged with impatience or not. Millennials want to be challenged, learning, and growing, right now. Research shows that opportunities to learn and grow are the only aspect of retention that separates millennials needs from non-millennials.

And managers that don’t provide real opportunities (as opposed to no effort or worse yet, placating efforts) will watch these young workers bolt.

Important to note, if you’re watching job satisfaction levels as a sign that the talented youth may be packing their bags, you’re missing the point. Gallup researcher Ryan Pendell supports this:

“If you are trying to retain millennials by tracking their “job satisfaction,” you might be looking at the issue exactly backward. For millennials who want to learn and grow, satisfaction can soon lead to boredom and disengagement if they aren’t challenged with new opportunities to develop. When this happens, they start looking for a new job — and that nearly always means looking for a new organization.”

Now, I don’t want to add to the mix of over-generalizations out there. There are other nuances of the millennial workforce that need to be thought through.

I’m focusing on the single biggest leverage item that I can for you–stop thinking entitled, start thinking empowered, and have a plan to keep them learning and growing.

Here’s how:

1. Care about their development and show it.

Let them know you have a development plan for them (beyond just titles and promotions) — let them know they have a future in the company. Show them the development plan and discuss. Be aggressive with the responsibility you give them. Take their input seriously.  Check regularly on progress. Have a marketing plan for their career development–who do they need exposure to with what message at what time? Give them the opportunities to shine.

2. Replace performance reviews with profound reviews.

Evolve your performance discussions to go beyond the typical conversation of “You had goal A, you delivered result B”, discuss. Include questions that track if the work is truly meaningful and deeply matters to the employee and whether or not they’re fulfilled–topics that touch on the profundity of one’s job and can produce rich discussion.

Such reviews should include questions like:

  • Do you feel appropriately challenged?
  • Are you learning and growing at a pinnacle rate for your career to date?
  • Have you identified the purpose of your work and the desired legacy you want to leave behind through your work?
  • Do you feel like you have the autonomy you need to do your job at its best level?

You get the idea.

3. Leverage mistakes as learning opportunities.

Turning mistakes into a teachable moment is a powerful way to show you care and are investing deeply in them, you have their back, and that failure is nothing to fear. Helping them overcome a fear failure is a gift you can give them that will produce developmental fruit throughout their lives.

So bottom line, think empowerment, not entitlement. Do so and you’ll be entitled to a celebration dinner over next year’s retention results.

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