By Paul Dinan
May 2, 2011
Generation Y technology talent magnets like Google, Apple, and Facebook are seen to be scooping up the best of the best, without even apparently trying that hard. We hear leaders howling, “We can’t beat these guys at attracting and keeping the best talent. They’re threatening our growth. They’re undermining our strategy.”
What can a company that is counting on accelerating growth do against those deep-pocketed competitors? What ways work in appealing to the Generation Y workforce? Is there a way to redefine the battle on your terms to reach Generation Y (those born between 1977 and 2002; also know as Millennials).
If Gen Y employees are part of your technology talent strategy, a recent article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, “How Would the Younger Generation Run Big Business Differently,” offers some surprising insights. What’s striking is how Gen Y talent is genuinely motivated in different ways than other generations, and how practical, creative and mature many of their suggestions are. Much of what’s said in the article resonates with what we’re seeing with our clients in the UK, the US and beyond.
The positive news is that it is far more achievable than you might think to differentiate your organization with a compelling value proposition that attracts top Gen Y talent. Certainly, Google, Apple and Facebook have some inherent advantages, not the least of which is the fact that the people you want to hire are probably already using their products every day. But you can’t let that deter to you if you’re relying on Gen Y talent to help execute your strategy. Here are five ideas to get you started:
- Get Tuned In: Be proactive about listening to Gen Y. If some of that talent is already on board, provide them with a way to share their ideas and perspectives. Start thinking like a marketer about ways you can capture information about the needs and expectations of Gen Y talent. For example, ensure you have key people actively participating at campus recruitment events, and find ways to join the job and career conversations on social media networks. Then translate this improved understanding to articulate a compelling sense of purpose, create an amazing work environment, and blur the lines between work and life in a flexible way that benefits both parties.
- Soft Stuff Matters: For years organizations have paid lip service to the “soft stuff” like values and culture, while investing the real dollars in “hard stuff” like pay and benefits. While writing a bigger check was often a powerful (if ultimately unsustainable) acquisition and retention strategy for Gen X talent, it's not going to work for Gen Y. As authors Strauss & Howe explain in their powerful book, Millenials Rising, Gen Y are likely to be the Hero generation who solve our current global problems and make the world a better place. They want to build communities, not dominate them. They’re more attracted to big brands with powerful ideas than nation states and jingoistic patriotism. They admire people and organizations that do good, rather than those who just do well for themselves. More like Patagonia and the Toyota Prius, less like Gordon Gecko and “greed is good.” So work with your leaders to educate them about these important generational differences, and help them find ways to foster your organization’s culture and consistently role model and encourage its values.
- Cultivate Your Secret Sauce: A critical starting point involves figuring out what’s special and unique about your organization, and how your company’s DNA can be attractive to Gen Y. This is the foundation of your employee value proposition. You can blend both who you are today, and who you want to be in the future to support your vision and business strategy, but it needs to be real. You can’t fake it with Gen Y. They’ve been bombarded with advertising and PR messages since before they could walk, and can smell insincerity a mile off. In our experience defining what makes your organization unique requires merging company and employee perspectives. This means finding common threads from a wide variety of information sources including your strategy, vision, values, rewards philosophy, external stakeholders, engagement surveys, employee turnover and exit interview data, industry benchmarking, and of course input and feedback from people across your organization. Once you’ve perfected your secret sauce, use it to redefine the battle in your favor by offering something different and better, even if that seems almost impossible given the competition. For inspiration think of Apple’s first iPods and the competitors struggling hopelessly for several years to compete with the iPod’s elegant thumb-wheel interface. So who eventually consigned Apple’s thumb-wheel interface to history? That’s right, Apple did. They redefined the battle, again in their favor, with multi-touchscreen technology.
- Tell a Great Story: The history of the tech industry the last 50 years is a collection of stories about guys in garages, college dropouts who fulfilled their vision, leaders who stumbled, only to recover and reach even greater heights, and the hubris of former innovators who couldn’t keep pace with relentless change. Once you understand what makes your organization special weave a captivating story that articulates why top talent should join and stay with your organization. Gen Y’ers want to be able to talk with pride about their job when they’re in Starbucks with their buddies, and to explain how their job is helping change the world in some way. Your story will also become your elevator pitch for leaders, line managers, and recruiters, and guide your communications and key messages through advertising and social media.
- Keep It Real: Your story is more than words on paper; it’s a promise to your people about the life experience they can expect at your organization. So bringing it to life through your actions, priorities, and investments is really important. For Gen Y this means different things. For example, Gen Y talent tend not to be so focused on upward promotions, but rather in new experiences and learning opportunities. They also expect to be recognized and rewarded for their talent and achievements rather than their tenure and the number of hours they work. They seek out responsibility and empowerment, and need to be allowed to make mistakes in the spirit of innovation. And they believe collaboration and diversity are at the core of innovation, rather than being a source of stalemate and conflict.
If you don’t think Gen Y matters that much either in terms of your talent or customers; keep in mind that they outnumber Gen X by three to one!
In your experience, what’s worked (or hasn’t) when competing with the global talent magnets? And if you’re a Gen Y’er yourself, what do the rest of us need to know about you and your peers?