Guest Blog from Sarah Manley, Design Lead at Innovation Arts
This demanding group want a company to live and breathe their values – why organisations need to shape up in order to capture best talent
There’s a brilliant sketch in the American TV comedy “Portlandia,” where two millennial characters at a restaurant have a question for the server about the chicken: was it locally raised, how much room did it have to roam? Were the hazelnuts it ate organic? Also, did the chef and the farmer have a good relationship? The waitress returns with a dossier including a photo of the chicken, its name and vital stats, favourite activities, and the address of the chicken farm, to which the diners immediately travel to meet the chicken in person.
While a parody, the truth this sketch skewers is millennials’ famous craving for “authenticity,” whether it’s from the food they eat, the experiences they have, or the products they buy. Millennials, the generation born between the mid-1980’s and the early 2000’s—larger in population than even the Baby Boomers—are conscious of their connection to the world around them in much greater numbers than older generations. Interest in social issues, creating change in the world, being part of positive action and experiencing other cultures are all motivations. They spend more money and time with organizations that reflect their own interests, for example giving back to society, having a clear message, and standing for something. When one considers all that, it is not surprising to learn this attitude also extends to the places they want to work.
According to the 2017 Deloitte Millennial survey1, millennials share many of the same career goals as Generation X and the Baby Boomers, yet having grown up with the freedom technology provides, they want a career that looks very different from their parents’ and embraces that flexibility. With so many employment options available, they can be as choosy about where and how they work as they are about their food; they want to work with purpose as part of an organization whose values and culture align with their own, whether they are free-range chickens or battery hens. But unlike their older siblings, millennials won’t hang around unless they have a voice, feel included, and find purpose in their work, and that often means joining an organization that stands by a strong set of values.
Organizations who have really mastered the values game2 have employees with a sense not only how the values support the company’s reason to exist, but how its corporate values statement translates into day-to-day actions. A recent study by LRN demonstrated that companies with the highest levels of principled behaviour are the ones that have placed values at the centre of their organizations3. By allowing the values to become a business enabler, as a reference for tough decisions, employees can find a greater personal purpose in their work, propelled beyond figures in a ledger. The leaders of such organizations can be secure in the knowledge that a values-driven enterprise is good not only for the people who work there but is at a competitive advantage in today’s brand-conscious marketplace. So, it makes sense that an organization that allows its values to lead would be attractive to a millennial workforce hungry for meaning.
Millennials want you to give them a reason to be interested in the work you do, and may look at whether the values and strategy are congruent as a key factor in assessing a job,
much in the same way as they might evaluate a potential partner on a date. Questions about what culture the organization supports and the values that enable it will certainly be foremost in a millennial’s mind in a way it wouldn’t have occurred to an older generation to ask. Organizational culture reveals itself in various ways: while values statements can set the tone from the top, the true culture will bubble up from the bottom. Millennials, with their interest in connecting the two wherever they are on the professional ladder, will be the first to indicate whether it’s working or not.
What is your organization doing to show that it shares the same concerns? It’s possible that established companies, who have until recently only “refreshed” strategy and values, now or in the near future may face something more fundamental as a millennial workforce comes into its own. Perhaps it is worth thinking about your values in a meaningful way, how they are implemented and what acts against them. What is the organization’s reason to exist? Is it acting in the interests of a connected, global community, or in its own?
Millennials are making choices—some of which will last a lifetime—in an era of dramatic political and cultural events. Organizations keen to embrace this age group will need to ensure they, too, hear their concerns, that their entire culture is flexible and agile enough to allow for a mix of different generational points of view. This is where HR Directors and HR leadership teams come into their own, asking tough questions to the executive team and board. Do we know what we stand for, and are we willing to fight for it, no matter what?
Sarah Manley is a Design Lead at Innovation Arts, a globally-recognised hybrid strategy consultancy and design agency based in the UK, North America and Europe whose focus is on creating the optimal conditions for diverse groups to solve together any complex organisational challenge. Contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.