By Evan Hackel
After I gave a keynote talk a few weeks ago, a member of the audience came up to me and said something pretty remarkable . . .
“All kinds of people work in my company, but I have to admit that I relate best to people who are about my age and who are like me in background, age, experience and other traits. That might not be the best thing for a leader to say, but that’s how I feel.”
As you noticed, I didn’t say whether that person was a man or a woman, old or young, gay or straight, or anything else. My point is that executive, like all of us, has preferences and prejudices that we should strive to understand and overcome. Why? Because the job of a leader is to ingage everyone, not only certain groups of people.
In my article today, I would like to point out some areas where many leaders could do better in this regard.
Create a Company Where Millennial Workers Are Valued
Millennials are people who were born between 1982 and 2004. Many of the older members of this cohort are now starting their working careers, or even entering their mid-career phase. Yet many executives who were born before 1982 – like me – don’t know quite what to make of them. We see them using smartphones all the time, proposing technological solutions that other people might not see to business challenges, valuing non-work activities as much as they value their careers, and we shrug and say, “I just don’t get these employees.”
But no matter your age or outlook, you need to “get” millennials, because they are the future of your company.
- Welcome their drive to succeed – They don’t just want to know whether they can build a future in your company, they want to know exactly how. As early as during job interviews, it is important explain the behaviors, skills and outlooks that are valued in your company. Millennials want to know, and somebody should tell them.
- Find ways to let them can express their values through their work – To ingage them, ask them about their values and invite them to help discover ways to achieve them in partnership with your organization.
- Offer many chances to be heard – Be sure to solicit millennials’ ideas, use them when possible, and offer guidance and acknowledgement when you can’t.
- Provide autonomy – Too many rules stifle everybody’s ambition, but they seem to affect millennials’ satisfaction and performance worst of all.
Build a Team of People Who Are Different from You
Many executives like to build top executive teams of people who are just like they are. It’s a natural tendency, but it can quickly build the impression through the ranks that only certain types of people with certain outlooks “belong.” As you build your top team, try to include a cast of characters that includes some of the following players.
- People who come from major constituencies of people who work in your organization – Older, younger, LGBT, members of distinct ethnic or other groups, all deserve a seat at the table.
- People who have strengths that reflect everything that your organization does – Strive to include people whose abilities come from technology, sales, marketing, franchising, or other sectors.
- People who have a higher tolerance for risk than you do – Then let them try things that seem risky to you.
- Avoid the tendency to surround yourself with “yes people” – You need people who have the courage to challenge your ideas and introduce alternative points of view.
Create an Organization where Many People Belong
This is a tall order, but worth striving for. Any organization, after all, is home to many different kinds of people who can include college interns, veterans, single parents, people who are returning to the workforce after raising children and members of many other groups. How can you motivate them all to invest their time, hearts and emotions in working for you? There are no easy solutions, but I can suggest:
- Invest in excellent training – It will repay you many times over in improved performance, reduced turnover, and a healthier company culture.
- Make communications a top priority – Ideas and information need to flow freely throughout the ranks, not only up and down the organizational chart in a limited way. I have seen company intranets help break down barriers and help everyone develop a shared sense of purpose.
- Create forums where all employees will be heard – I suggest open meetings where everyone is equal and all ideas are captured on whiteboards and discussed and developed.
- Invite everyone to help define your company’s vision and what it stands for – It’s not up to the president or CEO to handle this alone. The more you invite everyone into the process, the more invested they become in your company.
- Invest in excellent benefits – If you’re not provided the best, your employees only begin to look for jobs at other companies that are doing a better job.
- Value and support your employees’ families – That can mean offering tuition assistance for employees and their children, flextime, on-site childcare and other extras. In many cases, the long-term benefits of having a stable employee base will outweigh the costs.
- Think about succession planning – Considering who will lead your company in the future is positive, not negative. The more you can encourage everyone who works for you to envision a bright future for themselves, the stronger and more successful you will become.