Engaging the ‘Young & Restless’ Generation

Never before has the challenge of keeping our younger staff engaged greater that now. According to recent reports the population of India will be much younger than China’s in 2050. With more young people being part of its workforce (median age of 25), India is expected to enjoy a huge economic advantage. A recent study indicates that in the next five years more than 30% if the workforce in India will belong to the Net Generation. However unless companies, especially in India realize their worth the generation that leads will not have anyone to lead.

In a realistic representation of the impact Gen Ys are making in the corporate world Business Today’s cover story – ‘Brats at work, How twentysomethings are changing the workplace’ sums up steps companies are taking to listen, understand, involve and engage these youngsters.

Seems like the corporate world in India is feeling the heat managing the young workforce they fondly call ‘brats’.

Petal glow

I feel that the story is a ‘must read’ for all supervisors, human resources, communication and training professionals in the corporate world in India.

What struck me most is that the organizations featured aren’t all from the sunrise industries but ‘old world’ who are keen to evolve and get to the next level of innovation, knowledge management and success.

The key trends are – a focus on swifter recognition (in tune with the instant gratification needs of Gen Y), demand for greater acknowledgement of their life outside of work (social media, family expectations among others), greater emphasis on internal communications by human resources and the organization’s acceptance of their influence in the workplace’s future.

Among the expectations these youngsters seek are increased latitude, honest answers to questions, frequent and meaningful communication, option to choose their mentors and a life beyond work.

Here are some best practices that caught my attention –

Larsen & Toubro: redesigning employee benefits to give ‘cash in hand’, internal version of Facebook kind of social network

Maruti and Genpact: have overhauled their appraisals to ensure employees see near term action. They also get to experiment and are put on a leadership program

Adobe: begun their own social networking site on Yammer

Amex: has a reverse mentoring program where youngsters coach leaders

Ashok Leyland: created a program called Mission Yes aimed at Gen Y whereby including greater delegation and shared ownership

Apollo Tyres: has collapsed their performance system to give feedback every 3 months and has a mandatory, structured training program

Babaj Allianz: unique concept of having a two minute learning module instead of relevant themes such as time management and customer segmentation.  Guess it works for a generation with declining attention spans.

Bharti Airtel: has skits by trainees that allows better assimilation of messages and is used by the L&D team to engage employees. Also senior leadership is paired with top performers.

DLF Pramaerica Life Insurance: flexible work timings, allows for hobbies, higher studies.

While all these initiatives look like easy-to-replicate my recommendation is that leaders, human resources, training and internal communicators must first examine the business need and impact.

Here are pointers that can help you better engage your Gen Next.

Understand your young-gen: It seems only 1/3rd of companies have accurate data on employees (Managing Today’s Global Workforce – an Ernst & Young May 2010 study). Without a clear understanding of your employees’ interests and background it becomes difficult to manage expectations, let alone provide ample support. Your data should integrate knowledge and expertise that each individual brings to the table. This mapping gives every organization immense clout to internally manage resources and capacity.

Make your workplace’s technology current: Nothing appeals more to this generation to work for an organization that is moving with the times. Accenture’s study on Global Millenials (born in the 1990s) suggests that ‘state of the art’ technology is a differentiator for most Indians when they choose an employer.

Learning is multidimensional: Learning isn’t about instructor led courses, e-classes or structured programs – it is now everywhere. Tap the immense wealth of knowledge that the youth of your organization come with. Especially in areas such as marketing, technology, social media, environment and even crisis management. Enroll them as ‘experts’ who can give guidance, provide ideas and involve networks. During 26/11 (Terror attack in Mumbai) the young generation mostly provided real-time updates on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, much faster than the print or the television media.

Allow for internal networking: Youngsters expect to explore their environment in ways in which they feel comfortable. Keep your organization’s culture and systems flexible to allow for internal networking. The new generation will find their way around and they are known to seek their own mentors (people they respect and look for guidance).They are keen to innovate and help organizations they work for successful. Make them central to your core committees which create social media plans and take IT decisions.

Co-create communication: If you haven’t realized yet, Gen Y are light years ahead in finding information, creating and publishing real-time. In this world of instant communication it is foolhardy to package information that they can anyway get from their networks. By involving them as ‘internal communicators’ you can tap live stories in formats (for example, blogs, podcasts and videos) that appeal to their peers.

Succession planning at the start: It is important to show this generation how they can grow and prosper within the organization. Without a clear succession plan and career map they will lose interest or seem opportunities elsewhere. However don’t expect them to be loyal. They view it as a symbiotic relationship.

Manage performance often: If it needs to be everyday, it works even better! They expect to know how they fare with every task and if there isn’t a mechanism they will lose faith in the system of appraisal. Real-time feedback and course correction is the order of the day to keep this young bunch focused. Most importantly, you need to be a role model if you want them to believe and respect you.

Create policies that enable not deter: A shockingly large number of this young group routinely bypass IT barriers to get to sites they like to access. The following statistics indicate the growing trend: ‘a staggering 45 percent of employed Millennials globally use social networking sites at work, whether prohibited or not. Only 32 percent say that the social networks they use are supported by their IT department and meet their expectations’.

Join ‘em or lose ‘em:  Research points to India Millenials on e-mail, text, IM and social networks in that order.  As leaders and supervisors it is essential to understand their online behavior and engage them accordingly. Those who have lesser knowledge of their world are respected even lesser! Not surprisingly, where more than three in four Millennials use social networks more than half of the time when trying to learn more about peers or superiors.

All said and done this new generation can’t be ignored as they take over the reins in organizations in a few years from now. Unless they are groomed to lead, think long term and be inclusive in their communication we may see organizations struggle to know how to manage these ‘twentysomethings’.

Tackling ‘Payback Time’ With Effective Internal Communication

“It is payback time!” said one comment and “never treat professionals as commodities” voiced another as a reaction to the recent independently administered Regus survey which covered 15,000 business respondents from their global contacts database between February and March 2010.

Dearth of promotions, lack of communication and involvement in decision making and little or no visioning by companies were among the top reasons cited by respondents to look for opportunities.

Morning shade

At a time when the market is looking up and companies scramble for the best talent the finding is a wake-up call for those organizations that recent reduced compensation, did away with employee benefits and negotiated on work responsibilities during the slowdown.

However most organizations do take the knee-jerk approach of increasing salaries to retain employees even when the trend clearly indicates that their staff expects a better experience, lesser stress at work and opportunities that match their aspirations.

Interestingly, when asked what would help keep them back the role of their managers, getting recognized for their work and flexible work hours were ranked highly.

So what can organizations do to address these concerns and keep lines of communication open?

Understand and involve employees to solve their pain points: Very often, a lot is taken for granted when it comes to employee satisfaction. Conducting a survey annually or biannually may not work most often considering how moods and perceptions change internally. This current upward movement in business is a case in point. Managing attrition and perception isn’t also only the CEO’s responsibility. It begins with the manager. The manager needs to know the pulse on his or her team and surface concerns that may be showing up as a trend. If employees have an issue with their commute or their working experience rarely will they shoot an e-mail to the CEO. Rather they would talk to their immediate supervisor.  Invite employees to recommend ways to solve concerns that hamper their work.

Don’t make compensation your crutch: It isn’t about the money all the time. While compensation does influence decisions to stay, the stronger draws are inspiring work, a culture that encourages openness, leaders who know where they are heading and strong relationships with their supervisor. By focusing on salaries you are forgetting what truly got employees to join you in the first place – your organization’s purpose, the great work you do, the portfolio of clients you work with, the values you stand for and the ‘why’ of your existence.

Reinforce your culture, values and great wins: There is no better time than now to be revisiting your strong culture and what makes you different from the rest. So what can you do? Have your leaders talk of your excellent work, cool wins, core values and culture as an ongoing series of engagements with your employees. Recognize those who live these values; involve your employees in a contest that expresses what your culture stands for. Has your organization created a success story for a client? Is there an upcoming milestone or celebratory event that can rally your employees? Do you know of some recent win that will get them excited? How many employees really know of your benefits and practices? Share and involve your employees with these great achievements.

Address your employees’ top peeves; NOW: If you aren’t listening and responding soon to your employees’ concerns you are only building up pent up frustration. Make it a priority to demonstrate tangible actions on issues they have raised. You might even need to publish your plans so that it is transparent and open for review. Give them reasons to contribute even more to your success.

Empower your managers: I recently came across this relevant quote from the CEO of Zappos on the role of the manager. He says that ‘the role of the manager is to remove obstacle and enable his/her direct reports to succeed. This means the best leaders are servant-leaders. They serve those they lead’. Do your managers know this? Are they sufficiently empowered to remove bottlenecks that your employees are facing? What does it take for your managers and their reports to succeed? Here is an opportunity to communicate their roles and ownership more often.

Communicate often and directly: Ensure your employees hear from you often and consistently not just because you are losing a lot of your best talent but you are interested in their overall experience in the organization. Highlight those managers who communicate well. Make them your internal benchmarks.

Lead From the Front to Build Leadership Credibility

It isn’t easy these days being a leader. With trust, confidence levels and credibility dropping rapidly among employees leaders face an uphill task to rally staff, convey messages and move forward on the organization’s goals.


Trust in Leaders is Eroding

The usual grouse is that leaders don’t show up, are not putting value on communication, aren’t straightforward, don’t listen, don’t recognize enough and don’t take feedback seriously.

Take for instance the recent Korn/Ferry 2010 Confidence in Leadership Index survey that’s shows that Asia Pacific leaders got the highest drop with the questions – ‘our leaders are models of ethical business conduct’ and ‘leaders are quick to admit mistakes and accept responsibility’.

Other research reports such as the  Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer, an annual global opinion leaders study and The Great Place to Work study indicate that trust among CEOs and leaders is eroding. People tend to believe experts and people like them (peers) instead of leaders.

Challenges Leaders Face Today

With the average age of staffers in India and especially in sunrise industries such as  IT are in the 23-25 age bracket and they expect leaders to be ‘hands-on’, open to feedback and take direct responsibility for actions. This workforce question authority, keenly observe actions and want more empowerment in changing elements within their purview.

It is not enough anymore for leaders to take decisions among themselves as employees are seeking inclusion and transparent methods of decision making. They aren’t convinced if leaders are only visionaries and strategists but expect them to gain their trust and walk the talk.

Building leadership credibility is also about being available, wearing multiple hats for the varied scenarios that exist within the organization and expectations of the role. To substaitnate that point the 2010 Great Place to Work Survey indicates that two-way communication, managers’ competence and integrity and reliability of management are key to employees viewing the organization as trustworthy.

Leading from the Front

So what can leaders and internal communicators do to buck the trend, build credibility and leverage shifting mindsets among employees?

Make communication your mantra: Often communication is the last resort when it comes to reviving flagging morale or addressing a crisis. Employees are not only expecting to get clarity on a host of topics such as revenue and growth but they also want to know what leaders are doing about attrition, engagement and social responsibility. Their interest is about the honest, transparent practices within the organization, how we treat our people, how leaders listen and engage with stakeholders.

Be available: At a recent conference on great workplaces most representatives shared how their leaders were approachable via chat shows, e-mail and face to face sessions. It seemed like a privilege for employees to meet with their leaders. It shouldn’t be. Rather than hear ‘the leader only shows up in a crisis’ or ‘never seen the leader around’ all leaders must be available when your employees want them to.

Have your voice: Employees appreciate hierarchy but are open to see it is as a structure for better governance rather than a platform for manipulating people. As a leader you are expected to communicate line of sight, be future focused, articulate personal opinions and vision.

By being future focused you are also setting an expectation for your employees to look ahead rather than the downsides. Cultivate your personal voice that is valued through periodic internal communication, be it a monthly report, a weekly blog or a daily tweet.

Align your managers: Research points to your middle managers as key to the success of any initiative or organizational goal. Getting managers to walk the floors is the most effective way cited to engage and gain trust. Be it a change in policy or a crisis scenario it is important for leaders to be present to address concerns. In reality everyone is a leader and your employees must see their immediate supervisors as leaders. However you must set expectations on what they can approach you with and what they must front-end themselves. Every level of the organization needs to add value to the information you are sharing. Hold managers accountable for the communication they do or don’t do.

Check in on your organization’s health periodically: While the annual engagement survey will give you a sense of how the morale of your organization is it helps to keep a regular tab via direct feedback mechanisms and by face to face connections.

Solve problems directly: Your employees expect to see you taking action on bottlenecks or concerns that impact their lives daily. Host a page with all the feedback and the actions you are taking and that goes a long way in building transparency and trust. Solve problems through direct communication at the lowest equivalent level: yourself and peers; yourself and your direct manager and yourself and the last person on the frontline. Acknowledge if there is a gap, show intent and talk of the risk of failure. Then address the issue with your honest opinion. Discuss the pros and cons of the issue, air the solution and seek an amicable resolution.

Tap experts and well known personalities: Do you have personalities within your organization who are experts and respected? Leverage their support as communication champions and change agents. Work through these personalities to reinforce messages and empower them with information they can use.

Understanding culture and diversity: Leaders must also respect cultural nuances such as hierarchy in regions such as India and the differences in mind-sets among staffers. Such leaders will be viewed as sensitive and concerned individuals.

To summarize, credibility for leaders comes with proving competence, being consistent and acknowledging that it is like a bank balance which depletes or grows as you manage your resources effectively.