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Talent Retention Lessons From the Little Guys

Talent Retention Lessons From the Little Guys

How should companies prepare themselves for the Millennials? What are these Millenials capable of?

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by Sam Neo

What are the young talents looking for?

By 2020, the Millennials (inclusive of Gen Ys) will take up an estimated half of the global workforce. Like it or not, this is a group which is very different from their predecessors – the Gen X and Baby Boomers, who are typically known to be hardworking, independent and less tech-savvy. The next wave of talents will hit the workforce sooner than we expect so how should companies prepare themselves? What do these Millennials really want?
There are 4 key traits that are evident in today’s Millennials:

Access to top management

Millennials are eager to prove themselves and learn from the best. What’s better than learning straight from the top leaders themselves? Mentorship from the top management has become something important and simply getting some tips from them are ways for the young talents to shorten the learning curve.

Eager to make a difference and take ownership

Making a difference in things that they do and achieving it fast is essential for them. Ranging from creating breakthrough products to changing the world, these young talents derive satisfaction from the impact they make. Besides that, they are also keen to call assignments their own rather than just being part of it. Ownership gives them a sense of purpose which is important to keep them engaged.

Emphasis on the work environment

With over 40 hours a week at work, the millennials are seeing the importance of having a work environment that they enjoy being a part of. Open concept work spaces, a well-stocked pantry, gaming area are some features of offices that are increasingly popular and well-liked by the millennials.

Staying connected via social media

In the era of high technology and connectivity, social media has become an integral part of a Millennials’ life to help them stay connected. It has also become an avenue for self-expression and interaction among these individuals. Having the ability to connect on the go and getting live updates about things happening globally is now a basic expectation.

Lessons that can be learnt from startups

Since many MNCs are complaining the loss of young talents today, where did the outflow actually lead to? Start ups! Millennials are increasingly interested in joining start ups or even venturing into their own businesses. With this ongoing trend, what can MNCs then learn from startups and customize it to their advantage?

Strong purpose at work

Startups are set up with a clear and identifiable mission in mind. In order to differentiate themselves from competition, they often seek to create greater value proposition and meaning in their business. This is an added advantage which millennials today get excited about i.e. being part of a journey to make a difference. Buy1Give1 is one such social enterprise startup with a vision to change the way business give and make a difference. This appeals to millennials who have a similar desire to create positive impact in the world. In addition, young talents recognize that being part of a lean team with lofty dreams, small actions can be translated into huge impact.

Fun work environment

Unlike traditional thinking which separates work from play, the element of fun is actually a catalyst for greater productivity at the workplace. It encourages unguarded exploration and discovery which are important for solution finding in a highly stressful workplace. In addition, it can also spark creativity which is essential in today’s highly competitive business landscape. is one company that attempts to create such an environment by having things like a mini game room and allowing employees to express their creativity through dress-up day with interesting themes like Pokemon! With such an environment, companies can then create a feeling of home for the Millennials and help foster a stronger sense of belonging.

Becoming owners of the company

Startups are usually not as cash rich as their MNC counterparts. To ensure that they stay competitive on the remuneration front, equities and stock options are often the highlights for their total rewards offering. Grab for instance, gives employees stock options  and the opportunity to own a part of the company. By building equities into the pay package, not only will it give young talents greater sense of ownership, they will also be more motivated to deliver their best since they are now owners of the business.

Results only work environment

A startup’s key focus is on delivering the best value to the end consumers rather than emphasizing on the need to follow certain protocols while getting the job completed. This means that results are what counts and it can come at the expense of a regular working hour, defined reporting structure, formal dress code and many other typical standards observed at MNCs.

The lack of proper structure and may come across as disorganized to some but in fact, the free flowing structure allows quick access to decisions and guidance. At Shopback, a junior staff can easily speak to the CEO and its leaders anytime while having the valuable chance to be mentored directly by e-commerce veterans primarily because of their flat hierarchy.

Culture of experimentation

Due to the limited resources available, startups are usually more daring in their experimentation efforts and thrive on innovative solutions to get ahead of competition. Failure is expected for most parts of their journey to success, so the valuable lessons gained are valued rather than frowned upon. By inculcating a culture of experimentation, companies are also allowing their young talents to break new grounds and fail productively. What’s more, it also encourages an environment of learning which is a key ingredient for development and growth for both the individuals and the company. Google is one organization that thrived on this culture when it was a startup back in the days. It has led to many breakthrough products and helped them constantly improve  their work processes. Even till today, as an established tech giant, this culture is still anchoring their way of life at work.

Active engagement of technology and social media

Many startups are effectively leveraging on social to keep the Millennials connected and in turn, helping the company connect with the customers. Zalora, being in the online fashion business, is one startup that leverages on social media to share interesting updates to connect with the tech savvy millennials. Even though social media can be be a double-edged sword, the right usage can present the organization with a powerful tool to enhance the outreach and image of the company’s brand. That’s probably why startups are often seen as being a cool place to be in despite the hard work and long hours. Social media shapes perceptions.

Moving ahead for MNCs

MNCs are run differently from startups because of its sheer size, operations and other business related considerations.  Learning how startups are attracting the Millennials is not to encourage MNCs to replicate the model. The key is to breakdown and identify the elements that are essential to achieve organizational goals while modifying them to integrate it effectively within the system. By understanding the context and playing to the strength of the organization, MNCs can then continue to thrive and remain attractive while facing strong competition from their smaller counterparts in the long run.

The article was first published on HRM Asia Magazine’s issue 16.12.