We’re continuing to examine the current culture clash in the workplace. Over the past 2 weeks we’ve indulged the Millennial point of view and given the employers’ perspective. This week I want to suggest three simple actions that you as a leader can take to turn your organisation away from head-on internal conflict. These are based on very recent experience of reshaping company cultures in East Africa.
First up, East African Millennials don’t reject structure, they crave it. They want to feel part of a collaborative team with an open dialogue. Supplement your company’s vertical hierarchy with a transverse structure. Do this by looking at the middle of your company and organising those people into cross-disciplinary groups (the closest analogy is the traditional project team). Give these groups tasks to create new capabilities or to solve long-established problems in your business. Challenge them with solving ‘how can we market our brand better’ or ‘how should we redesign our training and development programme.’ Help them to define an agenda, and make them report directly to you on a regular basis for feedback, constructive criticism and support in removing obstacles to their progress. Make sure that they are publicly recognised for their achievements – Millennials put self-worth ahead of remuneration.
Secondly, capitalise on the informal leaders that emerge from your transverse structure. Those bright sparks whose ideas crack the problems. The determined souls who use persuasion rather than coercion to generate a positive group dynamic. The showmen and women who can dramatise a concept; bringing it to life in a way that generates enthusiasm in others. You should be looking to identify and promote young people with high levels of EQ and IQ. When you find them, set out a clear development path for them. Millennials need to see where their career is going and they want to know exactly what they must do to get there. Millennials await their next challenge – so make sure you look them in the eye; give them that challenge and tell them you believe in them. The results can be spectacular.Thirdly, we’ve all heard that Millennials are the most connected generation in history, so make use of that. Take advantage of their compulsion to network, because they’ll network their way right out of your business if you don’t. Challenge them to open up your company’s internal and external conversations.
Internally, they can teach more traditional employees to form WhatsApp groups around tasks; replacing the dread burden and nasty nature of email. Externally, encourage them to share good news about your company and brands. And use them to supplant your tired old recruitment methods. If Millennials add freshness to your company culture, enlist their help to attract more people like them.
Personally, I wouldn’t make the mistake of treating Millennials differently to anyone else. Instead, I would turn that around: apply your evolving leadership approach to everyone in the company. Because that’s just a much better way of doing things; and in five years’ time almost everyone in your business will be ‘one of them’.
Finally, don’t be fooled into thinking you must offer flexi-time; or sleep pods; or overseas sabbaticals. We may get to that, but not in the foreseeable future.
Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside