It was almost 6. Kaushik, as the HR director was called by all his peers in senior management was slouched in a plush leather chair in one corner of the bar in his club. The chair in front of him was vacant. Kamal, the director of operations was late, since he was battling some crisis at office. And just as well – Kaushik needed some time to think.
The atmosphere in Nymphaea (as the lounge was called) was muted. There was a smattering of people reading or chatting with friends ensconced in over-sized leather chairs and sofas. The lighting was dim and the view of the perfectly manicured gardens, with its lotus pools, soothing – A far cry from the tense atmosphere in office these days.
Kaushik took another sip of his drink and stared out of the large french windows. The spectacular hues of a summer sunset were lost on him as the impending discussion with his friend loomed. He knew that his initiatives to actively engage Gen-Y would be challenging, but he hadn’t expected an outright war. The senior management were people who had vast amounts of industry experience and were more than competent. To their credit they had built the company from ground up over the last three decades but they could not afford to be blind to reality. Growth was slowing. Costs were rising. Each time a trained employee left the company, it impacted the bottom line. The costs of training and bringing new employees up to speed was non-trivial and was a topic the CFO kept bringing up in the quarterly management meets.
Finally after a few quarters of tense meetings, Kaushik had been summoned by the CEO. “Look Kaushik, I can’t afford to lose talent. I need my people to step up. The market situation has never been more challenging than this and I need us to operate in a higher energy band. We need quantum jump, get the organization to a different orbit or we will be somebody’s lunch or worse.”
Kaushik squirmed in his chair as he remembered that meeting. Just then Kamal walked up and offered him a tired hello, before sinking into the chair opposite. “The irony of the place is not lost on me,” he said. Kaushik looked at him quizzically. “Nymphaea , the family of lotus flowers after which this bar is named”, Kamal pointed at the lovely white lotus flowers in the ponds, “and Arvind, the man of the moment, whose name means lotus.”
Kaushik smiled at his friend. “For a man who has such a talent to connect the dots, you seem to be lost when fixing some fundamental issues”. Kamal rolled his eyes. “Let’s take another stab at understanding how we as leaders need to make engagement happen,” said Kaushik, yanking a paper napkin on the table and started jotting down points.
Strategies to engage with the new age workforce
We have touched upon the fact that today’s workforce is a unique mix of three different generations. The millennials are slowly starting to enter the middle management levels of companies as well, in addition to forming a large chunk of the overall workforce. The challenge for those in leadership positions is thus to first accept that a one-size-fits-all strategy will not work and then to set aside their personal biases on what works and what does not. In today’s tough business environment, retaining talent and engaging them to deliver more is a competitive advantage that is a win-win proposition for the company and the employee.
Differentiate: Recognize and act on the fundamental differences in the work culture from each of the generations in the work-force. Engagement strategies cannot be effective if a single approach is taken towards all the cohorts. The drivers of what is important can vary substantially for each of the generations.
e.g. work-life balance is extremely important to the millennials and they are extremely mobile. Going home does not mean stopping work. Facilitating remote-working is one of the best ways to working in the company a more enjoyable experience for the new generation.
Transparency is key: One of the attributes most valued by Gen-Y is transparency. Exposed to multiple large scale corporate scandals during their lifetime, this generation is allergic to bureaucracy, ‘corporate-speak’ and opaque processes. Inculcate a culture of transparent communication and rewards processes. Make the reasons for actions clear and communicate them – instead of leaving them to assumptions or feeling that the rationale behind a particular action (be it promotions, hikes, cuts anything) does not need to be explained. This is the age of instant communication over social networks. The repercussions of taking a step that might make business sense but is not communicated clearly will be adverse and instant.
Quantify-Track-Act: William Thomson (better known to the world as Lord Kelvin) said “…when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it;…”.
Organizations must first start with taking their employee engagement surveys seriously. Often these are considered to be yet another chore to be done and ignored or halfheartedly attempted. There should be a clear communication to all stake holders on the need for it, the purpose it serves and ensure that the process is completely transparent. The surveys today can be conducted using any device and people can even see the statistics to each questions response in real time.
But using a tightly coupled feedback loop of metrics that are tracked for employee engagement and the net impact on employee performance employers can constantly benchmark themselves. This also serves as the input to develop reasonable targets and goals for the company’s engagement strategy.
Empower managers to engage: If appreciation for a job well done has to wait till the monthly town-hall meeting, the impact of it is vastly diminished. The millennials have lived in a world of instant responses. Likes on facebook, re-tweets, comments on status posts are just seconds away. They place a huge premium on relationships and expect frequent, specific and honest feedback. This culture has to permeate into the workplace. Honest appreciation done in a timely manner and in a public forum like the company social network has a much longer lasting and deeper impact towards making the employee feel valued and appreciated. Appreciation Badges carry a value far beyond what the commercial value of a 200px square image could possibly have. Employees at lower levels in the hierarchy should have the power to recognize and reward their team members when appropriate. This drastically reduces the lag between the event and the award and also ensures the success of the overall engagement strategy since small, frequent awards are easier to administer and reach more employees than just one “employee –of –the-month” certificate.
Make it a full time job: Engagement should not be just another topic on the agenda to be discussed, glossed over and forgotten. The impact on the top-line, the bottom-line and the very competitiveness of the company might be at risk if this aspect is not handled properly. This should be the full time job of a senior resource tasked with liaising across all the stakeholders. A member of the senior management is ideal for this role because they have an understanding of the bigger picture for the company and will also have the buy-in and the authority to remove hurdles in achieving the employee engagement strategy. Each and every company that is serious about being competitive in the marketplace should have an Employee Engagement Champion in its ranks. Companies cannot simply copy the strategy of another and hope to succeed. The engagement variables across the organizational matrix in each company are unique to it.
Kamal sat back with a thoughtful expression. “So basically we leaders need to start the conversations in our teams since executing these strategies is not cake walk. From what you said I take it that accepting generational differences and then understanding the engagement drivers for each generation is going to be key. My senior plant manager is not going to be engaged with the same things as Arvind. They have inherently different priorities which I need to recognize and act on.”
Kaushik nodded his head, a smile playing on his face. He knew things would be easier from now on. Engagement was a long-term game, and much hard work remained to be done, but he would now be able to establish the organizational culture that would take the company to a whole new level. He turned back towards the large windows sipping his drink. The Sun had just slipped below the horizon and the sky was bathed in a blaze of colour as the billowed clouds caught the last orange-red rays. A light breeze blew through the garden outside and the white-lotus flowers danced in joy.
References and Sources for all three parts of the series are: Stock Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net, Content references include Mercer, Deloitte Research reports, articles from iveybusinessjournal, HBR, PwC Reports, Managing Career Aspirations of Generation Y at Work Place, MIMT, Steelcase white papers.Note: The story accompanying the posts is fictional and used for only for the purpose of setting a context. Any resemblance to real people is coincidence and unintended.