Are you ready for the best and brightest of the new generation?

Carol Kinsey GomanKendra is majoring in Finance. With one semester of schooling to complete, she spent the summer as an intern at one of the leading high-tech companies in Calgary. That company just made her an offer for full-time employment after graduation, which Kendra will accept – unless she gets the counteroffer she’s hoping for from one of the world’s most prestigious management consultancies.

Kendra is an example of “top talent” – one of the best and the brightest of a new generation of workers who are the future of your organization. Your ability to attract, retain, and engage the Kendras (and Kenneths) of this generation will largely determine whether your organization will continue to thrive or struggle to stay competitive in the years ahead.

The best and brightest of the new generation are ready for you. Are you ready for them?

When I ask young workers what they most want from their employers, four categories – collaboration, relationships, feedback and development, and access to information – are always at the top of the list.

new generation top talent


Want #1: Collaboration and teamwork. The new generation has a collaborative mindset, partly because they are the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, social-networking generation and are accustomed to sharing ideas, exchanging knowledge, and working collectively. They don’t want to work in pyramid hierarchies but in flatter, networked, flexible, and more collaborative organizations. They would also prefer environments where people spend less time in separate offices and more time coming together to socialize and work collectively.

Want #2: Great working relationships. Members of this generation want leaders who will get to know them personally as well as professionally and leaders who care about them as individuals. They want to develop strong personal relationships with their peers as well. The new generation thrives on social connections and is more reluctant to leave companies where they have friends. They see the workplace as a place where they mix and interact. For them, work is about being with people, and that’s one reason they might choose to work in a company rather than as a solo entrepreneur. In short, they want to be a member of a community.

Want #3: Frequent feedback and personal development. The days of annual performance reviews are over – or they will be shortly. New generation employees want constant, informal assessments of how they are doing: Are they doing it fast enough? Are they hitting the mark? If possible, they want this information on a daily basis. Not telling them how they are performing makes them feel left in the dark, and they will most likely stop contributing or choose to leave the organization.

Just make sure your feedback isn’t all about what they need to improve. “Catch people doing things right” will become more than a leadership mantra; it will be a necessity for this “everyone-gets-a-trophy” generation whose abilities and achievements as children have been constantly reinforced. Recognition, reward and appreciation from their managers will be paramount in engagement and retention.

The new generation also values education and wants to be encouraged and supported to create personal growth and development plans. They want the challenge and excitement of getting on board and getting up to speed quickly. They want to build their reputations within the company. The worst thing you can do is leave them waiting for something to happen. Instead, give them a task or responsibility they can own and offer a wide range of projects to work on.

Want #4: Access to information. These are the cyber kids who grew up with the Internet, so speed and access to information is something that they automatically expect. Computers have given this generation the experience of always having information “at their fingertips,” and they are adept at using different data and technology to blend seemingly unrelated elements when solving problems. To the new generation, cascade communication (where information flows through organizational levels, starting at the top) seems like a quaint concept and a completely ineffective business practice.

There’s more you should know about them: They work to live, not live to work. Younger employees want control of their time, whether it involves organizationally structured arrangements such as flex-time, flex-place, contractual work, or management philosophies and practices that stress results over “face time.”

They’re also looking for meaning in their lives, so helping them make a “values match” between their personal values and the organization’s vision/mission is critical. So is letting individuals know precisely how their work fits in and contributes to the enterprise’s goals.

And forget about issuing orders. the new generation was raised to express themselves, and their opinions were regularly sought in family decision-making (especially when it came to buying and setting up the latest technology). In organizations, they want to be included in decisions that affect them – not simply told to drink their milk and go to bed. Responding to this generation’s demands for inclusion, one high-tech CEO observed, “There’s nothing wrong with command and control leadership. It’s simply irrelevant in the 21st century.”

Competitive salaries and benefits? Of course they’re part of the equation. But as another executive told me, “If they come just for the bucks, they’ll leave for the bucks.” Retaining the new generation will depend more on building their engagement – with challenging work, collaborative leadership, and a nurturing environment – than it will on salary.

But isn’t that usually the case with top talent?

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.

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