Many companies are their own worst enemies when it comes to retaining young talent. I’ve lost count of the number of managers I’ve met that have given up on this task. Many seem to believe that young people have some form of career ADD or commitment phobia that prevents them from staying in any one company for more than a few years. This is a myth. While there are undoubtedly some young people who have ants in their pants, it is an inaccurate and unfair description of an entire generation. It focuses attention on the supposed inadequacies of young talent while avoiding the real root cause of the problem – outmoded organizational designs and constrictive management practices.
There should be no mystery about why many companies have trouble holding on to young workers. Young people know the score. They understand that their employability and career is their complete responsibility. They recognize that a key to their success is constant learning. Because learning in many corporations today happens almost exclusively on-the-job, they depend on their work for continual growth and development. But most jobs, particularly entry level ones, are narrowly defined. Opportunities to take on new responsibilities or try new things are often scarce.
Growth and advancement through promotion into new positions is severely limited in many organizations as well. The downsizing of management has shrunk vertical advancement paths and few organizations have bothered to create any horizontal ones. Despite their rhetoric about constant change, managers, especially in large corporations, are notoriously reluctant to allow workers any real freedom to move into a different role or change their work. “Shut up and be thankful you have a job” seems to be the prevailing attitude of many managers when confronted with this situation by their young charges.
But mobility is exactly what many young people require most to stay with a company. Providing an environment that offers continuous opportunities to grow and learn through frequent changes in roles, responsibilities and projects is the ticket for building a sense of loyalty in young talent. Creating such an attractive environment for young workers is not easy. It requires organizational and management practices that make control-obsessed managers squirm in their Aeron chairs. Freedom to learn and grow through frequent change however is a fundamental part of the culture and way of operating of organizations that keep young talent consistently stoked. They frequently turn off the seat belt sign for jobs to let workers be free to move about the business. And once young talent settles back into a new seat in the organization, they have plenty of leg room to stretch out and grow.
SEI Investments, a leading global provider of asset management and investment technology solutions, has a stellar record of motivating and retaining its young workers. The company understands their deep need for challenges and learning. It organizes staff exclusively in teams to allow frequent changes of job assignment and cross learning and is not afraid to let younger team members take on new challenges. Young staffers are also encouraged to take advantage of the company’s mentor network to get direction and guidance as well as identify new learning opportunities and job assignments.
At W.L. Gore & Associates, the maker of Goretex®, continuous learning is expected of all staff. New hires joining the company take on a particular “commitment” not a job. The company believes that narrowly defined jobs and titles limit people. New staffers are assigned a sponsor - an associate who helps the newcomer get acclimated and rapidly productive. A key goal is to find a "quick win" – a project or idea that puts the person on a fast track to accomplishment and to moving on to new projects and responsibilities. Sponsors give the person a basic understanding of his or her commitments and what it will take to be successful in those commitments. Sponsors are motivated to nurture and mentor their charges. Helping others to grow and achieve is a key success criteria for all Gore associates.
Having trouble keeping young talent? Try challenging them, stretching them, stimulating them, letting them try new things, and allowing them to learn by doing and failing. Allow change to happen more frequently than every couple of years. If you can do these things you will not only keep the young talent you have but will become a magnet for the young stars of other organization.
Article by Tony DiRomualdo