Developing Generation Y

About a year ago, a human resources manager of a large company in Milwaukee made the following statement during a conversation: “Eighty percent of our workforce is poised to retire over the next 15 years. The future of our company will be in the hands of our youngest employees, most of whom are not even here yet.

Given the majority of our employees have been here over 30 years, attracting and retaining young talent is new territory for us! Figuring this out is a key part of our strategic plan.”

During another conversation with a mid-level manager at this same company, he shared an exciting success story and then asked a wise question: “I have just successfully recruited a very talented young engineer. How do I keep him?”

This organization is on the right track in its thinking. Leading today’s emerging professionals and developing leaders is new territory. It is not an ancillary issue; it is a strategic one.

Below, I offer a checklist of the things this company has done over the past year to attract, develop and retain its next generation of leaders.

They have worked to influence the mindset of their current leaders.

This organization went to the existing leadership groups and said, “Listen, we are at a new place in time. We are hiring young professionals, and this is pretty new for us. We need your help. They are our future. So, we need you to work with us to help them find success here.”

They developed an on-boarding process for the newly-hired professionals.

This organization realizes that they have one chance to make a positive first impression. In the book “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y,” author Bruce Tulgan shares this quote from a Gen Yer: “I was so psyched on my first day of work! I came crashing through the door like, “I’m here!” They were like, “Oh right, we forgot you were starting today.”

Similarly a Milwaukee TEC chair shared with me a year or so ago that his daughter, a Gen Yer, would call him in tears because of the lack of attention and direction she received at her new job. She felt invisible.

You will get one chance to make a positive lasting first impression. If you don’t make it, you may not have to worry about developing your future leaders.

They made an early commitment to intentional professional development for their population of new hires, whom they affectionately refer to as “newbies.”

This is fantastic. This is what they told us: “We know it is very important for the young professionals to have professional development opportunities, so we’re going to invest in a six-month curriculum for them to help strengthen their professional effectiveness.” This addresses one basic need that young professionals have: “Show me that I matter!”

They prepared the young professionals for the challenges they would face in their new workplace.

Similar to comments shared with the existing leadership team during the on-boarding process, the new hires received this message: “Listen everyone, when your training is over and you go out into this organization, you will discover that many people here are not like you. We ask two things: (1) That you show respect for these people, who are the past and present success of this organization, and (2) That you be patient with us as we continue to identify your priorities. And, one more thing: please be open with your leader about what is going well for you and what is not going as well as you are hoping. They are prepared to listen!

This organization has done a remarkable job of establishing the foundation for its future success with its emerging professional population by showing these people that they matter. They are well on their way to developing the leadership that they will need in the future.

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Aleta Norris
Aleta Norris is a partner and co-founder of Living As A Leader, a national leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. Living As A Leader supports the development of leaders in more than 125 organizations across the country. For several years, Aleta has been researching and speaking about the critical responsibilities organizations and leaders share related to the attraction, retention and engagement of the emerging workforce.

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