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What business gets wrong with retaining millennial talent

Felicity Furey: the biggest problem is a lack of personalisation.

millennials, felicity furey

A recent report by Gallup reveals that one in five millennials have changed their job in the past year and two in five are currently looking for a new job.

Felicity Furey, a specialist in emerging leadership and Founder of the Professional Leaders Institute, said there is a reason for the high churn with the largest generation in our today’s workplace.

“The number one thing businesses get wrong is personalisation. It’s not because millennials are all ‘me, me, me’, it’s because they want to know there are options, feel like there is a choice and want to stop feeling guilty about everything they ‘should’ do,” Furey said.

“Personalisation for millennials in the workplace is about them seeing their work and organisation as a projection of themselves, and that drives loyalty.”

Furey, an award-winning business leader, engineer and entrepreneur, outlined how to retain the best of talented millennials.

Personalisation isn’t as hard as you think

“On first impression, personalisation sounds like a lot of work. It sounds like creating something unique for every single individual, but it isn’t as hard as you think,” she said.

“In our work training more than 2,000 next-generation leaders, we have adopted three simple strategies to create personalisation. They have been most effective for emerging leaders ready to forge their own path into leadership, and can also be adopted by organisations at a team leader level and owned by millennials for maximum impact.

“The strategy for personalisation is WOT: why, optional and transformational leadership.”

Start with creating ‘why’

“When interviewing a new team member for my business I always ask what their ‘why’ and what their goals are – the real ones, not the ones you should tell your boss in a performance review to tick the box. We make sure their personal goals and ambitions are aligned to their role and the organisation. If they didn’t align, they didn’t get the gig,” Furey revealed.

“Once they start in the role, their why and goals are a compass for both of us. Reviewing and reiterating the why and connection to the goal motivates each team member to see the bigger picture of the day-to-day, the importance of their role and how it connects them to their personal goals and purpose.

“I do my best to explain the why behind a task, especially the boring or menial work. ‘We need to enter in the survey data from our events to see the impact you had inspiring the next generation into engineering and find improvements to have an even bigger impact.’

Everything is optional

“When my husband ran his renewable energy business, they changed their approach and decided to have two systems as options available for customers, rather than dozens. The main feedback from the change was they felt it was really personal and they got to choose! We were surprised that with a limit of two options this was their experience,” noted Furey, who is a former BOSS Magazine Young Executive of the Year.

“It’s kind of like being on a flight when choosing your complimentary meal. You booked the flight, and you have a couple of options for food: the beef curry or the salmon salad. The airline still dictates the menu but you have two options for food, or you can choose no food.

“We took this menu approach to the Millennial Leadership Program and have been pleasantly surprised with the engagement, participation and results.

“At first everything was mandatory for the emerging leaders in the immersive leadership program. We began to get pushback, a few people were disengaged and one leader felt like he was ‘failing’ the program as he didn’t fit in with the rigid structure of the program.

“Ordinarily, I would have said this is the standard of the program, here is how high you must jump to be a leader. We quickly realised that this was an old-school approach and we had missed the mark on a program designed for millennials leading in today’s world.

“The program then changed to ‘everything is optional’ and a menu where they choose to do each element of the program, or not. It was up to the people in the program to say what they wanted and what they were committing to, and they designed it for themselves.

“What did the emerging leaders choose? Well, the majority chose the exact same program, but there were three key differences: they chose for themselves, they were empowered and they drove their leadership. They were a demand on us, rather than us on them. There were no longer guilty feelings that they ‘should’ do it.”

Transformational leadership for millennials

“Transformational leadership has been described as communicative and challenging, where the leader ‘transforms’ people to support each other and the entire organisation,” Furey said.

“Researcher Bernard M. Bass found established transformational leaders have four key characteristics: individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealised influence.

“This approach resonates with the millennial generation and gives personalisation from team leader to team member. It creates a clarity of vision and boundaries, provides much wanted autonomy and connects with the desire for purpose.”

What can businesses do to retain talent?

“To retain millennial talent, businesses must get personalisation right starting with WOT,” she said.

“How could you use this with your team tomorrow? You could start by asking these three questions:

  1. What do you want? Understand their why, vision and goals.
  2. What can I hold you accountable for? Find out what options they want.
  3. How can I challenge you? Discover what transformation are they seeking.

“That’s it – then get out of their way and let them personalise their own path.”

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