This is a guest post by Miro Kazakoff, co-founder of Testive, an educational technology company, and a lecturer in managerial communications at the MIT Sloan School of Management. You can follow him @MiroKaz and Testive @Testive.
Lazy, entitled, self-righteous, and not willing to work hard were terms the Greatest Generation used to describe Baby Boomers in the '60s. Boomers threw the same vocabulary at Gen-Xers in the '90s, and now Millennials get to be on the receiving end of these insults. At least until they control the world in 20 years and get to say nasty things about "the kids" of the future.
The hundreds of Millennials I've interviewed, coached, and hired are no lazier or more entitled than any other generation I've worked with, but there is one criticism of them that is unique and true: They will refuse to do work they don't find meaningful. Or they will do it badly. Or they will complain about it constantly. Or, as many managers have reported to me, they will do low-quality work, complain the whole time, and then leave your company within six months.
So how can you hire top-quality candidates for below-market rates, retain them for years, and maintain high employee satisfaction? At Testive, we've discovered the secret that other companies are quickly catching on to: turn "meaningful impact" and "learning" from buzzwords into explicit parts of employees' compensation packages.
In other words, stop complaining like a Millennial and start remaking your organization to support the needs of the workforce of the future. If you do, you can reap the rewards: a high-quality work force that will bust its ass and do it at a reasonable wage.
Here are the three key rules:
1. Learning and impact are a more important part of compensation than cash.
The first step to remaking our organization was to simply change how we thought and talked about compensation. In prior companies, we traditionally talked about compensation as comprising salary, bonus, benefits, and (maybe) equity. To create great jobs, we had to start thinking about the compensation package for a role as encompassing the standard terms as well as learning and impact.
To hammer this home, we begin talking with candidates early and often in the hiring process about the learning and impact that a job will provide them. Of course, then we have to deliver. Just like you can't promise a salary number and not pay that amount, you can't promise learning and not deliver on it. As a result, we quickly discovered Rule No. 2.
2. Great companies push authority to front-line employees and pull fear back to managers.
In order to deliver learning as a job benefit, we had to radically reconceive our division of roles and responsibilities. A more traditional hierarchy is designed around the idea that employees need to pay their dues with crummy, low impact work before they get to move to the good stuff. The good stuff meaning work with high impact, low interruption, high autonomy, and the chance to be creative.
To make good on our promise of learning and impact, we realized that many of the benefits of seniority had to get pushed down the hierarchy. Where tenure at the company used to mean having the loudest voice in decision making, we now try to push decision making to the person closest to the customer. This is almost always the most junior person on the team. Team leaders are still responsible for results (as well as the learning and impact of each member of their team). Team leaders are responsible for clearing administrative headaches, jumping coordination hurdles, and the results of decisions that we try to get them not to make. As a result, we discovered Rule No. 3.
3. Great managers get their satisfaction from teaching...because the rest of the job gets pretty crummy.
Good engineering companies discovered this years ago. That's why they stopped promoting their best engineers into their worst managers. Management can and often does suck. In an organization where much of the learning, day-to-day impact, and autonomy is pushed to the more junior members of the team, the job of a manager can be thankless.
The learning and impact is still there, but the main source of day-to-day satisfaction for managers comes from teaching and empowering their reports to do well at the fun stuff. The other benefits come over a longer time horizon. Skills are learned over years, not months, and impact is made through others. When you think of learning and impact as part of the compensation, all of this makes sense. In exchange for less clear day-to-day impact and learning, managers get to claim the success of the company as their own (as well as the associated rewards in equity and other benefits).
As with every generation, Millennials will change the nature of work. The flip side of this generation's rejection of work that doesn't have meaning is that the best will pursue meaningful work with the vigor they are so often accused of lacking. For your company, that means a great team can be less expensive and more productive at the same time.
What has your company done to make great jobs? Let us know in the comments or hashtag #greatwork.
Miro Kazakoff is the co-founder of Testive, an education technology company that offers technology-supported private tutoring at lower costs than traditionally possible in private tutoring models. In addition, he is an instructor and adviser for Startup Institute's core curriculum and sales & account management track, and a lecturer in managerial communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management.