The 7 Keys to Inspiring Millennials at Work

Original article was published June 17, 2014 on
Jun 17, 2014
3 min read

The corporate world shaped by Baby Boomers is fast-changing as they retire in droves, and the new generation will not accept Office Space as a workplace reality. Few were in the workforce when the cult movie premiered 15 years ago. What motivates the Millennials? The Millennial generation that grew up on Google, MTV Total Request Live and the Spice Girls now makes up a third of the workforce – and will account for one of every two workers by 2020.

As the CEO of a multi-generational organization heavy on Millennials, of one thing I am certain. This generation of six-second Vine videos, Facebook News Feeds and Instagram selfies  is not satisfied getting feedback only once a year during annual performance reviews.

That process needs to be augmented with near real-time feedback on their individual progress, goals, strengths and weaknesses.  At a time when only 30 percent of U.S. employees consider themselves engaged at work, which costs businesses a whopping $550 billion a year, companies simply must rethink how they they engage and motivate the workforce. Here are a few ideas on how.

1. Frequent, specific feedback. A recent study by Deloitte revealed that quarterly review plans generate 31 percent higher employee productivity than annual review plans. Make those reviews monthly and productivity soars even higher. Why? Because frequent, specific feedback motivates and inspires people to perform at a higher level.

This isn’t about tossing the review process in place, but rather finding ways to augment it for a multi-generational workforce with processes like management by objective (MBO) plans. As such, employees understand right away how they did on concrete tasks; they receive timely advice on how to improve before the work they’ve done gets forgotten; and, they feel more of a connection to their company culture and their colleagues. They’re part of a team versus alone in the weeds. The drive to do better comes more naturally when they know for sure their work is noticed.

2. Direction through constant guidance. I work with an amazing team, and I’m continuously impressed with their enthusiasm and drive. They work incredibly hard and do a great job, and they want to know where that hard work is going. They want to see that there’s a next step and then another next step as they develop their careers. We give them this direction through constant guidance and feedback.

We’re not stroking their fragile egos, as some people have suggested—wrongly, I believe—that this generation needs. Rather, we’re honoring their interests in professional forward motion, in honing their skills, and in feeling like they’re making valuable contributions.

3. Digital first. Everything is online, so make your performance metrics be as accessible as a Box file or a Wikipedia page. Get rid of paper processes in favor of a digital app that employees and managers can access via their browser or iPhone. It simply must be easy to navigate and understand with no undue learning curve that impedes use.

The performance assessment process must be visual and interactive. Employees should be able to easily track and update their status with mere mouse clicks. Both they and their managers should have visibility into performance.

4. Link to concrete goals. Eliminate vague goals in favor of bite-size, actionable wins that employees can achieve regularly. Create these in combination with over-arching company goals and values to secure maximum impact on the business

5. Mix short and long term objectives. Not everything is achievable on the same timeframe. Keep employees motivated by setting goals by the week, month, quarter or year. Small wins add up to big victories, both for the employee and the company

6. Motivate with incentives. Dangle a carrot, such as rewards and monetary bonuses, and closely tie to performance goals to inspire performance. Incorporate rewards that employees can strive for, either individually or through some friendly competition with their colleagues.

7. Practice radical transparency. We live in an information age. We want information, and we want it immediately – not once a year! Give employees access to real-time tracking of their progress to spur ongoing dialogue and tangible accomplishments. Frequent feedback and visibility add a sense of purpose and direction, showing how performance is helping the business and advancing personal careers.