As part of our research for Hacking Work, we conducted hundreds of sets of online and in-person conversations exploring, among many issues, how Gen Y’s hitting critical mass will affect the design of work and how it gets hacked. For the summary of our findings, see Gen Y Conversations Download.
Here is just one thread of those conversations…
VIEWS ON GEN Y by Gen Yer Matthew:
Q1. What are the top three work issues that are most critical to attracting and keeping most workers under 30? I want to caveat that my answers apply only to workers WORTH KEEPING. Such people have intrinsic motivation to do their work, and thus are full of creativity, energy and vision. Others care only about money. In my experience, the overlap between such people and lifeless cube drones is high. So while the below strategies won’t do much to retain these people, you needn’t worry about that, because drones are easily replaceable.
1. Our jobs should keep up with our evolving interests. We are young. We shouldn’t be expected to know exactly what we want to do for the next 40+ years. This is especially true of dynamic people who are curious about all sorts of things. When we tire of our current jobs and want to explore something else, find a way to accommodate that desire.
2. Have an open door. This may be obvious if you work in technology or engineering, but it is not at all universal. Leaders at my first job were obsessed with the chain of command, meaning that a middle management buffer lay between newcomers’ ideas and the executives who could enact them. You should always be willing to listen to an underling’s ideas, no matter the disparity in rank. This openness to new suggestions is necessary not just to fulfill #1 above, but to keep people happy with the day-to-day of their current job. The creative people are different from the drones, and nothing is more insulting or discouraging to the former than being treated like the latter. When you don’t listen to your people, you’re essentially telling them to go sit at their desks and shut up.
3. Keep salary and job level in line with achievements. The reason we want access to the boss is in part because we believe we can contribute at a higher level, and that we are going places. We believe in the storybook mailroom worker’s rise to the top floor. The only difference is, we want it to happen now. We believe less in “putting in one’s time” than in being rewarded proportionally for our contributions. This is more about fairness and equity than simply money. Just like teenagers want to be treated like adults, rookies want the same respect afforded to veterans.
Q2. For the top three issues you’ve listed above: What must we Start / Stop / Change?
1. Placement procedures must change. For people to be happy at work, you must give them work they will enjoy. For large organizations, stop letting HR place new hires. (The fewer hiring decisions HR is allowed to make, the better.) Also, start letting people explore other areas of your organization, especially in their first few years. If they come across an office they never knew existed but sounds interesting, make it easy for them to try it out. And every few years, go to your good people and say, “You’ve been doing a great job in strategy/customer support/user research. What do you want to do next?” They’ll love the challenge you’ve given them and the commitment you’ve shown.
2. Start having open calls for new ideas. I realize you can’t attend to every single person’s harebrained ideas. And being too congenial with your employees means that you’ll be fighting off the wrong type of people: suck-ups and crazies. Often, the best ideas are in the minds of people too shy or considerate to bother you with them. So give them an opportunity to be heard. Sponsor an essay contest or start a prediction market for ideas. On top of finding good ideas and fomenting creativity, it will also help you identify bright new employees, which is pretty hard if you have a few thousand people under you.
3. Stop having arbitrary time-in-position rules that keep a worthy employee from being quickly promoted. To say that everyone must be an assistant for three years before becoming an associate is the equivalent of saying that everyone learns at the same pace. This works only for drones, and as I said earlier, we aren’t interested in satisfying them. The same goes for minimum degree requirements. I have two of them, and I readily admit that they mean pretty much nothing, aside from the Clay Shirky-social fact sense. We ask for them on job applications because that’s all we have to go on. we know absolutely nothing else about one another. But when it comes to promoting them, that’s no longer true. We have seen them in action and we know their character. Choosing people based on their stock seems so impersonal. Besides, I would much rather have a self-taught engineer than one who was simply fulfilling curriculum requirements.
4. Bosses must stop considering the continuity of their company/service/unit as a must-do.
5. Fire more bad performers. Hard workers don’t like putting up with bad ones, and one of the best ways to make great people happy at work is to surround them with other great people.