Deliberately Developing Millennials
There is an integrated, systemic way to inspire and draw engagement from millennials and future generations.
We’ve all seen the grim data about millennials in the workforce. Some two-thirds hope to leave their employer by 2020 or sooner, according to The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016.
Most of us have also heard the prescription: Give millennials what they really value. They want professional development in a place that accelerates their growth. They also want purpose and meaning. Millennials want to do work that makes a difference in a place that shares their values.
That sounds good, but how well do most organizations fulfill this growth and purpose prescription? What forms do professional development or meaningful work tend to take? Is it more learning programs: in-person, online or app-based? Or more reminders of the charitable work the organization supports?
There’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about these and other related strategies, but they can be episodic, programmatic and separate from the work. There is a more integrated, systemic way to inspire and draw forth the full engagement and emergent potential in millennials and the generations to come.
Over the past four years, we’ve been researching a new breed of organization that we call the Deliberately Developmental Organization, or DDO. We looked at three companies. The first was Next Jump, an e-commerce company based in New York that cut turnover within its largely millennial workforce from the industry average of 40 percent to single digits while regularly breaking company records for revenue, profits, productivity and growth rate. The Decurion Corp., a Los Angeles-based manager of movie theaters, real estate and senior living facilities, averages the highest gross per screen in the industry. Our third research site was Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut-based global investment firm that runs the world’s highest-performing hedge fund over the past 20 years.
None of these three successful organizations is designed exclusively for millennial employees, but their day-to-day cultures connect directly with what millennials value. They infuse growth and purpose into the regular flow of work — from the C-suite to the receptionist desk — through intensive and inventive practices that are radically different from traditional organizations. Feedback flows faster, further and more honestly.Conflicts are mined for what they can reveal about the mindsets of the parties involved. Roles and goals are finely calibrated to maximize development.
If you can do your current job perfectly, it is no longer the best job for you. And everyone is expected to not just do their job but also help make the culture and the company better with practices that support their engagement as full citizens of the organizational community. Everyone also participates in smaller communities of support, encouragement and accountability. Your colleagues know the developmental challenges you’re working on, and they help you just as you help them.
Each DDO possesses its own ingenious blend of what we call Edge, Home and Groove. Edge involves how the organization regularly moves individuals, teams, business units and the organization itself out of comfort zones and onto developmental frontiers. Home encompasses the full range of human support that people experience in DDO communities as they travel beyond their growing edge. And Groove reflects the growing storehouse of tools and practices that everyone in the organization can regularly access to overcome personal weaknesses and blind spots.
We heard in all three companies: “I come to work each day knowing exactly what I am working on — myself.” “Feast on your weaknesses,” a leader at Decurion said, “or starve on your ego.” “Pain + Reflection = Progress,” is the Bridgewater formula. At Next Jump, it is, “Better Me + Better You = Better Us.” Lest these organizations sound more like human potential centers than real businesses, keep in mind their simultaneous success across conventional business metrics.
We feel privileged to have studied these pioneering companies inside out, and we’re convinced the DDO idea represents a hopeful direction to meet the 21st century growth and purpose challenge: Organizations and all of their members supporting each other and flourishing every day in an integrated, systemic and always-evolving way. We believe “an everyone culture” will prove to be highly attractive and deeply satisfying for millennials and others, too.
Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey are the authors of “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.” Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.