For some reason, we tend to talk about millennials as if they were aliens from another planet, completely different from the humans of this planet. However, when it comes to retaining them in the workplace, they are surprisingly like their elder counterparts in what they want. Who doesn't want to be treated fairly? Who doesn't want to contribute and to be recognized for those contributions?
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What sets millennials apart from previous generations is their tolerance level. When they sense they are being treated unfairly or are not being valued for their contributions, they are much more likely to bolt, taking their talents elsewhere. Because millennials seem to be doing this in droves, the concern about retaining them is valid.
However, no one is talking about the foundation of the problem – which is why no one has found a solution. Until now.
Yes, that is a bold statement, so let's get to the bottom line right away: Take the subjectivity out of the processes in the workplace and you will retain not only millennials, but also all the other good people you want as well!
After conducting a tremendous amount or research for their book, First, Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman came to the conclusion that "people join companies, but they leave their bosses." Without pouring through all of the research ourselves, we know this to be true because it has happened to us or to someone close to us. We know it is a common occurrence.
While people point fingers at the bosses or the bossed – especially at millennials who are bossed – no one notices the real enemy hiding in plain sight. If you consider the source of most conflicts in the workplace, it is a work process that has been left open to interpretation.
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A "process" is the series of steps we take to get anything done. Sometimes the process is documented in work instructions or in policies. Many times it simply evolves as good people find ways to get things done.
"Subjective" means the process is open to interpretation. "Be a team player," "communicate better," "you were not polite enough": These are all examples of subjective instructions.
When a work process is subjective, it means that what the outcome should be, the way to accomplish the task, and/or the way the task is evaluated are open to interpretation. Subjective processes are often the result of missing guidance or subjective language. When processes are subjective, they breed conflict.
Subjectivity in day-to-day processes is bad enough, but it is even worse in the major processes, like performance evaluations, raises, and promotions. What happens when those are subjective? Perhaps you yourself have experienced a "surprise" evaluation like this true story:
Boss: I am giving you the minimum pay raise this year because of the problem you and I are having.
Bossed: (Genuinely surprised) What problem is that?
Boss: You aren't being a team player, and you resent me reigning you in.
Bossed: I didn't realize you were reigning me in. Regardless, as the team lead, haven't I helped the team make and save this company literally millions of dollars per year?
Boss: Maybe, but that's actually my team.
Bossed: Of course it's your team. You're the boss – but I did recruit, train, and lead the team in implementing the initiatives we created that are paying off so well.
Boss: Maybe, but I can't reward that when you and I are having a problem.
Bossed: What was that problem again?
The end of this story is predictable: The bossed left.
Who was wrong in this example? That is not the point. The evaluation process is at the root of this conflict. If an objective evaluation process had been established long ago and agreed upon by all parties, there would have been no basis for this subjective evaluation. A subjective process is the root of the problem here!
Whether it's the evaluation process, the pay process, the promotion process, or any one of the myriad of other processes, the enemy is subjectivity, not necessarily the people involved.
Don't get lost in the example. The point is that subjectivity is the root of all evil in the workplace. It is not the only factor, but it is the root. If you dig up and discard that root, you remove the source of conflict. Without conflict, the common sense of fairness becomes more common in practice.
So, the retention plan for millennials – as it is for anyone else you want to retain in your company – is to search out and destroy the subjectivity that is lurking in the critical processes in the workplace. The professionals in your HR and/or quality management departments can help in this effort.
If you are on your own or the need is small, just use your own common sense. When you find a conflict, look for its root. Map out, write down, or talk through the steps of the process that is causing the conflict. Each time you find a step that is missing, undefined, or open to interpretation, revise that step. Each time you find language that is open to interpretation, clarify it by translating it into an observable action.
Yes, it can be that simple. This is not rocket surgery! It is simply a way to make common sense into common practice in business.
Rex Conner is the author of What If Common Sense Was Common Practice in Business? and the lead partner and owner of Mager Consortium.