5 Tips to Better Engage with Millennial Managers


Millennials have long been a challenge for leaders who have been seeking to improve engagement and productivity in the workplace. With a preference for transparency, direct dialogue, better work-life balance, the millennials have challenged established organizational practices like no generation before them.

Now as the millennials take on managerial roles at the workplace, organizational leadership has to come up with strategies to better engage with them. Here are five tips based on what we at Kwench have learned from working with hundreds of companies on their employee engagement programs.

Tip 1: Listen Closely to your Millennial Managers.

Millennials are more candid at voicing their opinions, and they don’t necessarily seek anonymity to do so. Even in cultures where the power distance is higher as in India, the millennials are more likely to state their stand on issues upfront. Neither do they hesitate to show dissatisfaction by walking out of the organization. Surprisingly unlike previous generations, millennials don’t seem to change their approval of the organization as they move up the ladder (unless something changes fundamentally to alter their perception). Companies thus must institute mechanisms like open collaboration and communication platforms that adequately capture the opinions of the millennial managers and the vox millennia must be listened to.

Tip 2: Promote a culture of equality.

Studies have shown that millennials as a generational cohort demonstrate far higher levels of sensitivity to inequality than any of their predecessors. Managers in this generation like to win like anyone else, but they don’t necessarily agree to ‘win at all costs.” To better engage with managers of both genders from this generation, the workplace must be seen as one that is fair and equitable in all matters ranging from job allocations, pay, and promotions.

Tip 3: Get the employer branding right.

The millennial generation has proven to be one of the most astute and conscious generations when it comes to employer brand. One study shows that millennials who are proud to tell their friends and families about where they work are almost 20 times more likely to have an extended career with the company. Companies must thus use all means at their disposal to promote their brand internally to the employees as well. Technology platforms today let companies customize layouts and encourage employer branding in ways that were previously not possible. It is time for HR to take a page out of the Marketing team’s playbook and better engage with their ‘clients’ – the employees.

Tip 4: Leadership has to Walk the Talk

The millennials have demonstrated time and again that they prefer transparency over hierarchy. For millennial managers to be convinced of the direction the company is headed and thus to be able to better engage with their teams – they need to see authenticity from the leadership. In short, leaders now have to ‘Walk the Talk.’ When leadership tells their millennial managers that ‘they care,’ they better mean it. Research has shown that Millennials respond well to leaders who show a genuine interest in them.

Some of the questions most often asked of leaders by the millennial managers are:

What makes our company unique?
What makes us different and what do we do that will make us win ethically?
Why does leadership seem to say one thing and do another?
When the going gets tough, how do we stick to our stated principles?

Honest answers to these are the minimum threshold leadership needs to cross to convince Millennial managers to better engage further on with their teams.

Tip 5: Leverage Technology to facilitate bi-directional conversations

Millennials don’t like very much to be ordered around. They prefer to participate in conversations around topics, even if some of those are contentious and uncomfortable ones. Moreover, as a generation, they believe far lesser in power distance from the top management. As millennials move into management roles, they are increasingly showing a preference for platforms that enable them to receive real-time and transparent feedback not just from their superiors but also from their team members. Technology platforms like Instapat, today empower companies to get those conversations going seamlessly. This generation has been referred to as the ‘digital natives,’ subjecting them to formal, hierarchical unidirectional/top-down communication isn’t going to do much towards engaging them.

To sum up, I think the most uncomplicated framework leaders can use to better engage with their millennial managers is the one question asked by author Simon Sinek in his book ‘Start with Why’:

“Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief – WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”

9 Aspects of Effective Employee Recognition

Employee Recognition is essential. Everybody gets that part. What goes into making recognition effective, however, is mostly guesswork. And that is not all bad – because there is no template for doing recognition right. What works for a young e-commerce start-up with 20 somethings hacking away day and night might not make sense for an SMB in the technology space and definitely won’t make sense for a large manufacturing conglomerate.

So yes, recognition is unique to the company, its work culture, its dynamics, and its value systems. But having said that, there are a few core aspects that one might consider while designing the Rewards and Recognition program, which would go a long way in making recognition more effective and help in building a culture of recognition at the workplace.

#1: Aligned with Values:

Recognition that is tied to actions or outcomes that align with organizational values has a far higher impact that one given in general. To know the difference, contrast the impact of a broadcast message saying “Shout out to the entire team that made our Annual Picnic happen” with “Hey Alice! Great work on solving that knotty bug with the customer form. Our largest customer just loved the blazing speed at which you fixed it.”

When employees know how their actions are impacting the overall organizational goals and when the recognition reinforces the alignment with value systems it helps drive desirable behavior.

#2: Instant and Relevant:

In today’s hyper-networked world where news, rumors, and memes spread like wildfire, it seems ridiculous that one would have to wait for a monthly town hall (if not a longer duration) to receive recognition for an achievement.

Recognition is more impactful when it is given soon after the action or achievement of the team member you wish to praise.

#3 Frequent:

The frequency of recognition, especially when married with point #1, has a big impact on shaping behavior in the workplace. This is one of the most crucial aspects to be considered when designing Rewards and Recognition programs. In most organizations, there is an established program around events – Annual Days, Founding Day, Monthly Town-halls when great work is recognized. And then there are the rewards around specific events like “Safety Week”, “Health Awareness Week” and so on.

Establishing a culture of recognition entails going beyond the limited opportunities offered by “events” to incorporating recognition as a part of daily work practices. When people managers (and peers) are empowered and encouraged to recognize good work, the concept of recognition gets instilled in the organizational culture.

#4 Managed Formality:

A lot of the awards that are currently included in organizational rewards and recognition program don’t focus on building connections. Employee of the Month/Quarter/Year has to be an award that does the most to divide rather than unite the employees. On some criterion (mostly subjective), people managers choose one person out a team and declare her to be the best among the lot. Not a lot going for engagement there!

Consider other formal awards like Long Service Awards celebrate just people for “being there” rather than performance. In the new world of work that doesn’t offer job security and requires constant reinvention, this is the equivalent of using a cuckoo-clock to tell you the time. Looks good, but not very practical.

On the other hand, personal one-one recognition helps to establish a connection between the giver and the receiver. When others can participate in the conversation (it’s all social these days) it adds to impact.

#5 Recognition Setting and Context:

Now that I have gone on and on about how “social” everything is these days, let me flip that idea on its head. Here is the truth: Not everyone likes the attention. The reason you are recognizing someone in the team is to make her feel special, and yet you can’t be bothered to consider her personality. Hmm…

So don’t go social blindly. Choose between a quiet note of appreciation left on the keyboard versus an announcement on your favorite social platform, depending on the personality of the recipient. But yes, one thing is common to all types – they like recognition to be personal, not boiler-plate.

#6 Significance of who is recognizing:

In organizations getting an appreciation from senior management is often seen as an achievement in itself – especially in the more staid, formal setups.

But here is the thing – you can’t fool the recipient. If the recognition is of a public nature, and broad-strokes, big-picture “you saved the company by fixing that big issue” type recognition then the higher up the ladder it comes from more the engagement. But if it is something that delves into the nuances of say assembly level code fix that changes the way the graphics accelerator chip renders 3D images a recognition by the reclusive senior architect might resonate far higher than one from the President of Sales. In fact, when it comes to personal recognition it seems Peer Recognition rates over Supervisor/Management recognition.


#7 Sincerity:

“Annie, Great job on that account”, “Richa, Great job on account Y”, “Vikram, Great job with our oldest account”, “Gita…” you get the picture. There are people managers of every hue. At one extreme are the ones who don’t see any value in recognizing, and at the other are the ones who jump in with boilerplate “Great Job” to all and sundry (or worse – are biased towards a certain set of team members).

The value of the recognition you give is correlated to the sincerity with which you give it (and it is very difficult to fake this). Scaling back on recognition is better than handing them out like candy.

#8 Value to the Recipient:

Coming back to the point of really knowing the person you are recognizing. Each team member is unique and so too is their perspective on the value of the recognition. Some value tangible things like trophies and medals over a citation whereas the others might be exactly the opposite. Some might want bragging rights in the office (e.g. a ceremonial cap/lanyard) which lets everyone identify them as a recipient of something special, while others might want a dinner voucher to take their spouse out for a great meal. If the recognition is to resonate, the format in which it is delivered must be thought through as well. Broad strokes approach rewards/recognition can’t drive engagement beyond the bare minimum in the long-term

#9 Peer Validation:

Appreciation and recognition by the superiors have always been valued, but as organizations become flatter, more competitive and roles become more amorphous and complex – peer validation of recognition has taken on a whole new level of importance.

The Last Word:

Your supervisor might feel that you have done a great job, but your peers really know how you did it! And when they show support for the recognition it is a true validation of the achievement. Technology today (did I mention ‘social’) lets everyone ‘participate in the discussion’ around individual recognition. Mass Mails followed by “Reply-all” spams have been replaced with social feed and likes/comments.


Building a culture of HR Analytics


There has been a great deal of interest in analytics in the recent past. Technology and algorithms have evolved dramatically in the past decade but they are still being applied to the improvement of old processes. The best analytics outputs are useless if the organization isn’t ready for it!

Continue reading “Building a culture of HR Analytics”

Applying Design Thinking to Employee Engagement


Design thinking is now taking center stage in improving Employee Engagement and Experience at the workplace. Marketers have long obsessed about the Customer Experience (CX) journey.  HR teams at leading companies are now adopting the same principles to better manage and improve the “Employee Experience”.

Continue reading “Applying Design Thinking to Employee Engagement”

Employee engagement strategies you learnt on your mother’s knee

I was down at the local supermarket today morning. As usual I was loitering in the candy and cookies section (a section that is supposedly off-limits for me) when a little girl ran into me and nearly knocked me over. She was so focused on some candies on a shelf way beyond her reach that she just didn’t see me standing there. A couple of hops and a full body stretch but she still couldn’t reach them.  I decided to help her and handed her a few. She gave the collection in my palm a very detailed check and nodded her head. She wanted the one with a bright yellow wrapper. And as soon I handed it over, she was off like a rocket. I shrugged and turned to get on with my grocery shopping. Seconds later she was back, a little out of breath. “Mommy says I have to say Thank you. Thank Youuu!”  A big impish smile and she was off again.

Be sure the next time I meet that girl in the store; I will sort through the entire rack to pick out as many yellow wrapper candies she wants me to.  The payoff: An impish smile and a thank you.

On my way back, I started thinking about all the stuff mothers teach kids. A whole lot of it sounds like best practices in employee engagement strategies. Here’s a quick refresher of stuff your mom already taught you (but then you forgot as you grew up in the big bad world)

Read the full post

The difference between Employee Satisfaction and Employee Engagement

Employee satisfaction and engagement are deceptively similar sounding attitudes when seen superficially. Many people tend to use these terms interchangeably but there are clear differences between these two and it is important for business leaders to know the nuances. In fact in some organizations, shaking up satisfied employees might be the key to growth!

Continue reading “The difference between Employee Satisfaction and Employee Engagement”