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Attracting and retaining the best talent is a business critical issue for every organisation, no matter what sector you are in or the size of your business. As Richard Branson points out, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”.

Keeping employees happy, motivated, productive and loyal is a challenge that is frequently discussed within our community, especially in the context of a growing number of millennials entering the workforce. How can organisations appeal to this group of tech-savvy, social, straight-taking collaborators? And what needs to change internally so that businesses are able to manage millennials and help them achieve their full potential?

It’s clear that organisations need to rethink internal structures and processes in light of changing workplace demographics. Indeed, millennials are likely to make up between 40 and 50 percent of the workforce within the next five years. With this in mind, the speed at which organisations can change working practices and organisational culture is likely to impact on their ability to retain the best individuals from this talent pool.

The millennial mindset

Millennials, or Generation Y as they are otherwise known, think very differently about the world of work to their predecessors. And why wouldn’t they, as children of the digital revolution they are highly technically savvy, they probably own smartphones and multiple other devices, expect access to information round the clock and are prolific users of social media. Because of this, they’re likely to have a different outlook on life, both personally and professionally than their older colleagues.

For example, the openness and transparency used within their online networks and communities is likely to play out in their professional lives, with millennials expecting a much higher level of openness and honesty from their managers and leaders at work. The notion of hierarchy may also be challenging for the millennial mindset which is much more used to the idea of forming communities and sharing content and ideas with everyone. In other words, it’s less ‘them and us’ and more ‘we’re all in this together’ when you’re dealing with Generation Y. Organisations with very rigid hierarchies, particularly when it comes to sharing knowledge and ideas, will struggle to keep this group motivated and engaged.

When it comes to performance management, our millennial will typically be focused on their output and contribution to the organisation as a whole. Indeed, interest in flatter, more collaborative structures is closely linked to Generation Y’s need to feel part of something bigger; that goes beyond their own department within the business. With this in mind, the group will be far less focussed on the number of hours they put into something, and more interested in the value of what is achieved.

Managing Generation Y

Like their millennial workforce, organisations should be using technology and data to engage and motivate their younger employees. At a recent breakfast for HR Directors, the term ‘hyper-personalisation’ was used – the idea of tailoring communications and performance management to the specific needs of the individual employee. Similarly, businesses can draw upon the same data analytics used to understand customers to better understand their employees’ behaviours and drivers.

If we remind ourselves that the millennial workforce are digital natives, fluent in social media, online gaming and 24/7 access to information, it’s easy to see why traditional performance management systems and employee satisfaction surveys might not be the most effective way of assessing and motivating them. These systems are usually very impersonal and base reward on comparative performance, rather than focusing on individual strengths.

The process of hyper-personalisation can start from the recruitment process, right through to operations and we are likely to see greater collaboration between departments like human resources and marketing as this approach to attracting and retaining millennials gains traction. Of course, the shift towards a more personalised approach to recruiting and performance managing the workforce won’t happen overnight, but businesses need to adapt quickly to ensure they are not losing out on younger, talented employees to their competitors.

Richard Branson’s focus on human capital as the lifeblood of any business has always been true, but how you manage and interact with employees is changing. Over the next ten years, it is very likely that the way we recruit and manage staff will alter exponentially, with individuals coming to expect the more personalised approach of the online customer experience in their professional lives as well.

By Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director, Executive Membership, Criticaleye