By most accounts, around 3 years ago we crossed the Rubicon. Millennials, who had been rising up the leadership hierarchy and already knocking on the door, started taking over the corner office, sometimes even at very large organizations.
For a Gen-Y CEO to be at the helm when millennials are entering the workplace in record numbers is only appropriate. However, the current moment is also a major transition, with significant members of Gen-X still part of the workforce, and often in senior positions. This brings about unique challenges for a Gen-Y CEO and helping organizations navigate this transition successfully, while empowering leaders of the future, will be critical to the success of an organization going forward.
With a lot of existing management literature on managing performance being made obsolete in the current scenario, and not many experienced CEO’s of the same cohort to draw on for advice, it becomes incumbent to chart one’s own course by following these simple employee engagement and performance strategies based on first principles:
- Move away from a view of performance review or appraisal as something done sporadically, in fixed mediums, and in a one-size-fits-all format. The same ease that millennials have in communicating across social media and blogging platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, etc.) when building a personal brand, needs to be put in service of being the organization’s principal spokesperson across all relevant channels. This includes not only regular feedback on work, open conversations on career goals, standard updates on achievements, company performance, etc., but giving the world a closer look at the culture and identity of the company itself. Recognition that brings a personal perspective to things, lauding employee efforts in a genuine way, sharing photos and write-ups about team outings, all serve this broader goal.
- Bring empathy into every interaction with millennial employees who will look up to you as their guiding light, as they themselves navigate a critical early phase in their careers where they are looking at personal fulfillment as well. The broad objectives of the organization, with a mission bigger than your individual goals, that drives you, needs to be shared honestly and transparently. You are in the best position to communicate why what someone does matters, and you must, incessantly and obsessively. This can be done at all-hands, in team meetings or even a casual walk-in at someone’s desk spontaneously – all you need is a genuine desire to make sure everyone is on-board with you as you chase your lofty goals.
- Experience is not a taboo word, and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when dealing with Gen-X employees. Just like millennials, this moment is a challenging one for Gen-Xers. A lot of the paradigms they grew up with are now obsolete (including, but not limited to, a standard career trajectory), and they are having to learn new things just to keep up. Encourage learning and up-skilling, and be a partner with them as they adjust to this new world, but also value what they bring to the table. This includes a culture of discipline, rigor, and in general, a long-term view of customers and other stakeholders that are an asset to you.
- Encourage and embrace non-traditional career paths for employees. One of the hallmarks of Gen-Y, sometimes viewed negatively, is a perceived impatience in search for an entrepreneurial career that is aligned with their own personal narrative. As a leader building the organization of the future, your goal is to match a fluidity in role definitions, while making sure the organization is driving towards its long term goals. A developer with a talent for writing and communication who wants to make the leap to product marketing, or a QA specialist who wants to make the leap to a developer? Make it work, and make sure processes don’t stand in the way.
- Practice and develop a culture of employee assessment, as you want to be assessed yourself – as the creator of long-term value, going beyond only a quarter-on-quarter incessant focus on numbers and deliverables. This ties into point 2 above, where an employee’s holistic contribution to the broader vision and their part in shaping the culture holds as much value as traditional metrics. You need to realize that one of the things you are selling is a narrative, an extremely critical intangible, and people who help drive your message by action or otherwise are assets you need to empower and help grow. The product manager who went out of the way to create a fun hackathon for high-schoolers around your platform ‘gets it’, and so should you.
Finally, it all boils down to bringing the whole of yourself as a person to work, and recognizing and encouraging the same in others. The old narratives that were successful in the past, driven by rigid hierarchies and a long list of taboos, have crumbled. In its place, there is an opportunity to create a workplace that mirrors a good life – healthy and focused on long-term personal growth.
About the author
Souvik Majumdar is Chief Customer Success of GroSum, a cloud-based performance management software that helps build a goal-oriented and continuous feedback-based work culture. He is passionate about employee engagement and has spent the last decade working with organizations to improve their performance management processes and implement online systems.