My very first working day in the United States started with a conference about Millennials: it was October 2018 and several local companies gathered in order to discuss how to retain and motivate this generation of people that is rejecting the status quo.
Being a 27-year-old process improvement consultant, I quickly discovered that the conference would turn out to be the first of several conversations on the topic. I found that every time a company struggled with finding the root cause of a problem, or every time that understanding the process required too much effort, or that change got too hard, someone took out the scapegoat: “the problem is that those Millennials don’t care about anything they do.”
There’s nothing strange about this kind of reaction: we all tend to search for “easy” answers to solve complex problems: they make us feel safer and more comfortable in our beliefs. But the truth is that generational change is inevitable and it’s time to act before this comprehension gap becomes unbridgeable, with severe consequences on the ability of companies to perform.
So, I asked myself, “How? What can companies do to become desirable workplaces for Millennials like me, and use the peculiarities of this new generation as a leverage to thrive? Do we need a new theory or concept?”
Well, the good news is that, in my Millennial opinion, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. The Lean thinking approach already encompasses everything we need to know. The key is (and has always been) one thing: stop focusing on the single tools and start taking your cultural environment serious.
What Millennials are doing with your company culture is exactly what a Lean approach should be doing with your company processes: they are making everything more fragile in order to force change. With their impatience and their need for constant improvement, they are lowering the water level and making all the rocks in the pond come to the surface.
If big inventories are hiding your process issues and preventing you from finding improvement ideas, the established generations and their unconditioned devotion to the workplace may have been hiding the need for a better work-life balance, the necessity to feel a purpose in life, the precious value of our short time on Earth.
So here some tips that come from the approaches we already know, that will help you retain and motivate not only Millennials but your entire team.
Start With Why: As Simon Sinek explained in his book, Start With Why, great leaders inspire. If you want a team to feel motivated and excited, you must give them a purpose: a reason why what they’re doing is important – not just for them, not just for the investors, but for the world. There are very few products or services that the customers choose because they are objectively so different in terms of performance or price from everything else. Great companies can retain customers because they give them so much more: they give them something to believe in. Do you know why your customers keep buying your product? If you don’t know that, chances are that you also don’t know why your employees are working for you. And just as you will lose some customers that only bought your product because it was cheaper than another one, you will lose some of your employees because they found a company that simply pays more.
Become Flexible About Time and Focus On Results: There are no metrics in Lean that consider the hours at work as a goal. Making the customer happy is a goal. Improving your service level is a goal. Meeting project deadlines and the budget is a goal. Being at work eight hours a day is not. This does not necessarily mean that you will be able to work less hours, but there’s a very important mentality shift that needs to happen. A Millennial will understand the necessity of working overtime to meet a deadline or help a customer but won’t see the need of spending eight hours working on something that can be completed in seven.
Use Rapid Feedback Approaches: Younger generations want to understand the purpose of a project and be able to face the challenges that present along the way one at a time and with creativity. This keeps them more engaged than asking them to blindly follow a plan. Rapid feedback cycles will allow your project to move along quicker and smarter and will better motivate your younger employees.
Let Them Question the Status Quo and Use Their Impatience Smartly! Making things run smoother motivates Millennials and provides them job satisfaction because they are annoyed by bureaucracy and clunky processes and feel fulfilled by eliminating it. Because of this, nobody is going to be a better waste-hunter than a Millennial!
Embracing the challenge of making Millennials happy is going to boost your ability to problem solve, innovate, and keep up with the inevitable need to change.