Millennials, Employee Engagement, and Leadership Fails

It is interesting to watch both the behavior of the Millennial generation and all of the energy and dialogue they are creating.

I think the dialogue is good. Millennials make up 50% of the workforce today and that number will increase to 75% over the next ten years. It is amusing however to see our desire to lump them all together with sweeping statements about who they are and are not.

The last couple of weeks there have been two different situations involving Millennials and leadership opportunities that have played out over social media.

The first was the young woman from Yelp who was frustrated with her living situation and lifestyle opportunities given her economic situation living in the Bay area and not making a lot of money. She chose to use social media to address her concerns in an open letter to the CEO. Didn’t work out well, she lost her job for “policy violations”.

There was a lot of discussion about whether or not she was a victim or overly entitled. That has been debated ad naseum so I won’t cover it here.

I will say that her being hired by Yelp was a management failure. I encourage my clients to build congruency into their hiring process.

Congruency includes things like- the job is consistent with my values, I believe in the product or service, I am willing to do the work to be proficient, I see the activity as being something meaningful and engaging.

When I read her list of concerns I don’t think that was covered in her interview.

I don’t want to confuse anyone by stating I believe in lifetime employment, but even in the tour of duty or gig economy I advise employer and employed to have that congruency discussion.

When you look at what happened and how she handled her issues from the beginning I am going to go out on a limb and say that didn’t happen in her hiring process.

The second story is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

A young woman was hired to work in a retail store. She was so excited and committed to the product and the brand that she posted pictures of her wearing the company’s garments on social media as an encouragement to her network to share her enthusiasm and purchase and wear the clothes as well.

She did that until she received a post on Instagram from the CEO that she didn’t fit the image of the models he wanted representing the brand- essentially she was the wrong body type.

WTF- you tell a committed employee it is okay for you to sell our product, but essentially please don’t wear it or god forbid if you wear it don’t promote it and identify it as our product.

Epic leadership fail. The average employee unless they are working in a very small organization has very few personal interactions with the CEO or any senior manager. How awesome that this interaction is telling an employee they aren’t suitable to represent our brand!

No surprise the young woman has terminated her association with the company. Her story has also been shared over social media.

There are these related concepts called employee engagement and employment brand.

Employee engagement is what Ken Matejka in his book, Why This Horse Won’t Drink, calls being physically, psychologically and emotionally impelled. Employees willing give up other choices to align with your organization. That translates into higher levels of productivity, higher profitability, higher retention and a bunch of other things that CFO’s drool over and human resources professionals wring their hands over trying to create.

It is a good thing. Organizations with high engagement outperform their less engaged counterparts on every key performance metric. The tough part is that it isn’t a survey or a program, it is a culture. You never get done reinforcing it.

That is where employment brand comes in. Employment brand how your employees, alums and potential employees see you and describe you to others. It is very important and it isn’t just about your recruiting brochures and Linked In and Facebook profiles.

Every organization has an employment brand. The smart ones manage their employment brand to ensure they are top of mind with the talent they have and want to acquire.

Engagement starts with that brand. Being able to recruit and manage people who are preconditioned to be supportive of your organization and goals – physically, psychologically, and emotionally impelled so to speak, makes it way easier to manage those folks and get high performance from them. Changing people is really hard, especially since we are so poor at it.

The emerging generations talk with and share perspectives much more than previous generations. Just as executives have old boy’s clubs (and hopefully soon old girl’s clubs) that they tap into to attract and retain candidates these people talk to each other.

Not only do they talk to each other, but they trust each other way more than they trust us. (For more on why read my blogs and articles on the Social Contract.)

So here are my thoughts-

·        Manage whole people, not just their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

·        Hire individuals. Don’t get caught up in group think and treat them all the same whether that is based on gender, age, nationality, sexual preference, or any of the other stupid labels we dream up.

·        Lose the expression human capital from your business vocabulary. If you have to call them something call them people or talent.

·        Don’t expect any more loyalty and commitment than you are willing to provide.

·        Never, never pee on employees who are committed and passionate about your brand and your company. They are incredibly valuable.

·        Do the work to create and sustain employee engagement. It is better, period.

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