Consider the following scenario: You have a rockstar employee with all the potential in the world. She’s willing to do anything for her job and actively pursues growth opportunities within the company. You’re a fabulously innovative workplace attracting world-class people. And yet, management styles are lacking and there’s nothing in place to mentor or develop the employees you have. Our girl has even offered to help create a professional development plan, but you’re too focused on your day-to-day responsibilities to consider this a worthwhile investment.

Meanwhile, your rockstar gets hired away by a much smaller company without the access to the resources and perks that seemed to draw her to your company in the first place because her new employer has something she wants even more: the opportunity to grow. Her new boss is ready to invest in her growth, and to teach and equip her to be purposeful and valued. They are willing to help her build her brand alongside their own.

The world-class clients, elite colleagues and cushy work environment of her previous gig now pale in comparison.

Our girl is a Millennial. And while professional growth matters to most of us on some level, according to a recent Gallup study, it is one of the top three factors Millennials look for in a job. They want to be purposeful and engaged in a workplace where they can grow.

Interestingly, the same report states that only 29% of Millennials are actually engaged in their work. They’re struggling to find good jobs that offer high levels of well-being, and their characteristic lack of attachment to jobs and brands makes this group highly prone to job hop.

This paradox presents a prime opportunity for leaders. If a company is providing the right opportunities for growth and development, Millennials can be your most committed employees.

As we watch this generation, weighing the pros and cons of their work styles, how are leaders responding? The tendency to do business the way you’ve always done it is powerful, but there’s no escaping reality. Not only will Millennials continue to dominate our workforce in the coming years, their influence is rubbing off on colleagues from other generations and changing the workplace for everyone.

Leaders need to engage and educate themselves on how the workforce and work styles are evolving, with the willingness to change themselves. What matters to employees and how companies respond to that will mean the difference between innovation and decline. We can’t be okay with status quo, especially considering turnover costs that range from 20% of an employee’s annual salary for a mid-level manager to more than 2X the annual salary for an executive position. There’s a lot more on the table than simply the discomfort and stress of losing a great employee.

Where do you start? Get to know yourself and your people:

  1. What do they want? Have face-to-face meetings with each team member on a regular basis to better understand their personal and professional goals. One-on-one’s are about more than creating a checklist of potential accomplishments; listen for what motivates your employees to do what they do. If you can tap into their motivation, you’ll create satisfaction.
  2. Where are we going? Leaders often think they’ve done a great job communicating their vision and mission. It may be written on the wall of your office building, or at the front of every employee handbook. But that is often where it starts and ends. Employees need to feel connected to the big picture vision on a daily basis; they need to be able to create their own individual purpose within the bigger story of your organization. Talk about your company mission frequently and invite employees to come up with practices that fuse your vision to operational practices.
  3. How will we get there? Connect the individual motivation of employees with your shared mission as an organization by identifying the gaps in how you’re currently operating and create a roadmap with specific, time-based goals to hold you accountable. Experiment with new practices and listen for regular feedback from employees. You probably won’t get it right the first time. Look for growth opportunities inside and outside your organization for each direct report, and consider each dollar spent an investment in your and their future. And don’t give in to the scarcity mindset that fears your employees may leave. As Richard Branson so appropriately states, “train people well enough so that they can leave; treat them well enough so that they don’t want to.”

So, what’s more painful? Investing a little time and money into professional growth, or losing an up and coming rockstar? You decide.

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