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10 ways to engage your best millennial talent

4 min read


Chances are you’re over-thinking your millennial engagement strategy.

What’s really changed

I have this vivid memory of being the youngest and lowest-ranking person in a meeting about employee engagement. We had brought in the big guns to teach us about relating to Gen Xers. I listened to the talk about “this generation” with partial amusement, but mostly disbelief. Finally I spoke up. “OK, so I’m one of THESE people you’re so worried about engaging and including. I’d venture to say you’re worried about my loyalty and “flight risk” [I stayed another 20 years]. But the truth is, I can’t imagine that all the things you’re hearing we want aren’t universal. Don’t YOU want these things? Who doesn’t yearn to be challenged, included and heard?”

Yep, that’s the kind of audacious transparency you could expect from those crazy Gen Xers — no decorum.

Two decades later, I’m hanging around different tables across a variety of industries having almost exactly the same discussion, but this time about millennials. Sure, there’s talk of gaming and social media to get their attention, but that’s just medium, not message. At the end of the day, not what matters most. I hear it every day from my young MBA students as well. Sure, the wrapping is different, but the humanity feels awfully familiar.

Remember how you felt when you were just starting out.? Wanting to be heard and make a difference? Get your head into that space, and that’s 98% of the secret to attracting and retaining great millennial talent. Here’s how to impress a millennial high potential.

  1. See me. See me for who I am and what I bring to the table.  Help me see possibilities in myself that I may not yet recognize. Encourage me to bring more of who I truly am to work. Help me to grow and develop in my own authenticity.
  2. Trust me. Let me see who you are. Tell me the truth, and trust that I can handle it. Explain the big rules, and then give me the freedom to do my work. Give me growing levels of responsibility.
  3. Support me. Advocate for me and my career. Have my back on decisions. Help me to position my ideas, and to build sponsors across the organization. Support me in balancing my work and my other life priorities.
  4. Connect me. Help me make the connection between the work that I do and a meaningful vision of something bigger. Help me find meaning in the work that I do.
  5. Include me. Help me be part of a productive team.
  6. Challenge me. Challenge me on my path to continuous improvement. Give me stretch assignments that will help me grow. Give me meaningful feedback on how I can improve. Challenge me to bring more discretionary effort to my role.
  7. Encourage me. Help me learn from my mistakes and to recover from setbacks. Be a sounding board during difficult times. Help me to become more confident.
  8. Hear me. Give me opportunities for input beyond my current role. Listen to my ideas and help me to refine them.
  9. Laugh with me. Let’s have some fun.  From time to time let’s be a little silly and laugh together.
  10. Recognize me. Recognize when I do something well. Celebrate with me and the team. Find ways to help us find the intrinsic satisfaction of a job well done. Sure, I got a trophy for participation in every soccer game, but common, it’s not that. “Thank yous” are nice. Remember your grandma’s thank-you notes. Saying “Thank you” is not bleeding-edge strategy.

Before you hire a consultant to help you connect with your millennial team, consider these 10 fundamental engagement strategies that can be implemented today, with the resources you already have.

The songs may have changed, but human instincts remain the same.

You’ve got this. Listen, connect, respond.

Karin Hurt is an experienced executive and founder of Let’s Grow Leaders. She was named to the “2014 Top 100 List of Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior” by Trust Across America, and the Wiseman Group’s Multiplier of the Year in Business. Her experience is based on two decades of leadership and executive experience at Verizon in sales, marketing, customer service, merger integration, human resources and training. Her mission is to develop the next generation of trustworthy transparent leaders achieving breakthrough results. Follow Hurt on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

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