Last week, I experienced an interesting connection at my monthly Vistage meeting. Vistage is a group of business leaders (about 15 in our group) that meet once per month to listen to an outside speaker and then discuss business issues that group members face. This month’s speaker, Gustavo Grodnitzky, spoke on the topic of recruiting and retaining “Millennials”, or “Gen Y” folks (people born between 1982-2000, currently ages 14-32). Gustavo presented an interesting summary of the four generations that are currently in the workforce, and then made a compelling case that the future success of businesses and other organizations will depend largely on their ability to recruit and retain Millennials. At the end of his talk, Gustavo recommended two books, one of which was Drive by Daniel Pink. As you may remember, in my last blog I wrote about Drive, focusing in particular on Pink’s theory of what motivates people. Gustavo told us that while Pink’s theory of motivation applies to people of all ages, it applies especially to Gen Yers. This captured my attention, and I thought you might find this connection between Drive and what motivates Gen Yers helpful.
In Drive, Pink argues that the three things that truly motivate people are “autonomy” (freedom to do your work when and the way you want), “mastery” (opportunity to master a skill or body of knowledge), and “purpose” (feeling like you’re doing something of broader significance, that you’re working for a cause). In this blog, I’d like to focus on the importance of providing Millennials with a purpose, or cause, if you want to recruit and retain them.
At the Vistage meeting, Gustavo argued that Millennials need to feel that their work contributes to a worthwhile cause, to something more significant than just making money. My wife and I have experienced this first hand over the last couple years. As our now 23 year old son was exploring various career options a couple years ago, he mentioned frequently that he wanted to do something with more significance than just making money. In other words, he wanted to pursue a worthwhile “cause”, something that makes a difference. My wife and I reflected on how different his view was from our view 30 years earlier when we entered the workforce. For us, it was all about getting a good job, working hard at something you liked, making some money, and then maybe at 45 or 50 having the opportunity to do something with more significance. To be honest, we probably thought our son and his friends were looking for “too much too early”, and needed to be willing to pay their dues. As it turns out, this was probably misguided thinking on our part.
As both a father and an employer, this wasn’t something I could ignore. It’s a reality that’s much different than how baby boomers like me think about career and life. At Baillie, over 20 years ago we identified the purpose of our hardwood lumber business as “To Help Others Succeed.” The details of how we identified this purpose is a story for another day, but suffice it to say that I’m confident this purpose is more than just window dressing for us. For the most part, our employees have bought into and connect well with it. However, listening to Gustavo and reading Pink made me realize that we need to develop more concrete, down to earth ways for our entry level employees (most of them Gen Yers) to connect with and experience our purpose. The morning after the Vistage meeting, I sat down with our HR Director and together we came up with a couple new strategies for doing this. We’re actually pretty excited about them. Hopefully they will work, but if they don’t, we will try others.
So what to do? Maybe start by making sure your organization has a simple, clear statement of purpose. Something a sixth grader can understand, that employees could recite easily at gunpoint. Then, develop one or two strategies for making that purpose come alive for your entry level workers. If Gustavo and Pink are right, if you can connect Millennials to a purpose it will be very hard for your competitors to lure them away with more money. In fact, it will likely give your organization a competitive advantage. I’m on this journey with you and certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’m convinced this is one of the keys to building the workforce that each of us will need to not only survive, but thrive, in the future.