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Why It's So Hard to Turn Fickle Millennials Into Leaders

In an era of job hopping and fast rises, how do you turn young talent into leadership?
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Among the starkest data points in Deloitte's 2014 Global Human Capital Trends report is this one: About two-thirds of companies around the world consider themselves weak in developing millennial leadership. Meanwhile, only 5 percent of companies rated themselves as "excellent" in that field.

The data comes on the heels of other reports showing trouble in leadership development programs. Among those findings: Companies are hurting themselves by failing to differentiate between high-performance and high-potential employees, and though they recognize the importance of talent development they're not putting their money where their mouth is by investing in development programs.

If You Don't Develop Them, You'll Lose Them

Part of the trouble with developing young talent, Deloitte analyst Josh Bersin tells Inc., is that generally speaking, millennials approach their careers very differently than previous generations. They expect to rise fast, and if they can't, they look for other opportunities.

Bersin's assertion is backed up by separate data showing that just 23 percent of disengaged high-potential employees aim to stick around at their jobs, and only 55 percent of millennials say they are loyal to their companies (compared to 69 percent of other generations).

This makes it important, Bersin says, for companies to find ways to help young talent see the opportunities within their companies. He offered a few of strategies.

1. They want face time. Spending time with senior leadership is one way to convince employees that they, too, could eventually rise to that level. Bersin suggests a program wherein high-potential employees are given projects to work on for a while--maybe a quarter, maybe six months, maybe a year. Once complete, they present the results to senior leadership team or the CEO. Not only does this allow leadership to better get to know and evaluate its best and brightest young talent, it also empowers that talent by putting them at the helm of a project.

The idea mirrors a practice at logistics company EMKAY, wherein middle managers across the organization are partnered up with members of the executive team to work on projects over the course of the year. Not only does this apply a gangbusters approach to solving problems across the entire organization, it also helps senior leadership get a sense for who among middle management might eventually make for C-suite material.

2. They want to jump around. Millennials in the business world are fickle. They want to explore new opportunities far more quickly than past generations. Those opportunities, however, might be found in your company. Bersin sited one company that saw its young talent consistently leaving after about 10 months on the job. So the company created a new site that mapped out potential career paths for employees within the organization, and let them access it after nine months on the job--giving them access to openings across the entire company. The company saw its turnover rate plummet.

Bersin says millennials value the opportunity to move around organizations--not just for promotions, but also horizontally. An employee who spends a year in sales might appreciate the opportunity to work in a different department for a while if their skills are a fit. And if that employee has leadership potential, it's all the more valuable to the organization to give them a better-rounded look at the company.

3. They need a different type of manager. One obstacle to bouncing employees around, however, might be their managers. For much of corporate history, managers have been judged on their ability to hit departmental goals and objectives--so it doesn't behoove them to see the talent that helps them reach those goals move in to other positions.

Bersin says organizations need to shift the mindset of what a good manager does away from hitting those departmental goals--which rely on what he calls talent consumption (or, put less kindly, talent hoarding)--to graduating employees into better positions--or talent production. That shift would serve to give companies a better sense for their managers' talent development skills while giving young talent the opportunity to grow.

Last updated: Mar 19, 2014




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