An executive I know hired a young woman for his marketing department and put her to work managing some current campaigns. Then he found out 18 months later that she was a bona fide expert about marketing on social media. I mean, she practically lived on social media. She could have brought so much to her new employer from day one – yet that value went completely untapped for a year and a half.
Call that knowledge loss, call it money wasted, or call it something worse. Whatever you call it, it’s bad. How did it happen? I don’t work for that company, so I’m not sure. But it was probably because the top executives there were all baby boomers. It probably never occurred to them that a new millennial worker had ideas they needed to hear.
Is it happening in your company? Here are some steps to take to be sure you’re discovering and tapping the unique insights and skills your younger workers possess.
Strategy One: Uncover Hidden Skills during the Recruiting Process
It’s a mistake to screen job applicants by only saying, “Here’s what you’ll have to do on the job . . . can you cut it?” Ask open-ended questions instead, like, “We’re recruiting a team to market our new app – what do you think we need to do?” Or, “We are currently using the XYZ platform to track ad usage by in our franchise locations – do you know of anything better?”
To use a Zen kind of paradigm, be the student, not the teacher. The things you learn could be very valuable indeed.
Strategy Two: Invite Comments and Ideas during New Employee Training
Training is an ideal time to ask new hires important questions like, “How strong do you think our brand is” or, “Do our competitors do something better than we do?” If you ask questions like those, you let new employees know that you are a company that values honest and open input. And training is the place to do it. After an employee begins working for you, he or she may want to communicate big ideas only to a supervisor, where they can die. Or worse, he or she might never voice those big ideas at all.
Strategy Three: Have Big Delayered Meetings Where Everyone Presents Big Ideas
Get employees from all level into one room and ask them for the biggest and craziest ideas they have for improving your business. To avoid stifling the flow, just collect the ideas on a whiteboard or on sticky notes and go back to discuss them later. Those brainstorming meetings helps assure that good ideas from the ranks are heard directly by upper management, not left sitting on the desks of managers throughout your company.
Strategy Four: Get Some Reverse Mentoring Going
Reverse mentoring has become popular in many organizations. The idea usually to have an older executive mentored about technology by a younger, tech-savvy employee. I would recommend widening that lens and having millennials and other young workers keep your senior executive team up to speed on marketplace trends, products that have entered the marketplace, news about “hot” competing companies, and more. The wider you can cast your net for ideas from young employees, the more you benefit.
Strategy Five: Reward the Big Ideas and Information that Millennials Contribute
If an employee delivers a valuable piece of information to you, offer recognition, feedback, or increased responsibilities. Treat it like gold. If you don’t, that bright young mind is likely to think, “Why should I tell my company anything . . . they ignored me the last time I did.” It’s up do you to offer the recognition that keeps information flowing.
In summary . . .
Millennials have ideas, information and skills that you need. Are you listening to them? If you aren’t, let’s face it, the fault lies with you. Open the doors, let the information in, and watch your company improve in ways you could never imagine.