In its 2016 poll “Millennials: The Job-Hopping Generation,” Gallup reported that only half of millennial workers expects to remain in their current job one year from now; and 21% of millennials say they've changed jobs within the past year, more than three times the number of non-millennials who report the same.
These are hard facts. And they mean that today’s notions of “tenure” are practically obsolete.
If employers can keep a millennial worker for two or three years, they are doing well. Retaining an employee for even one year more than the norm is a strategic advantage. Many factors impact an employee’s decision to stay or move on. But we know that professional development with the likelihood of career advancement is key to courting and retaining millennial employees whose desire to grow rivals or exceeds other job goals.
So – how can you improve retention? Many of the talent and L & D leaders I’ve met with are implementing programs that identify and address employee needs and wants. These programs are critical to meeting the millennial challenge: they help individuals gain opportunities to develop and advance, thereby increasing their tenure. Springboards coaches are frequently called in to provide one-on-one and group coaching and training sessions, customized to each coachee, often in the context of performance review cycles.
However, I believe it’s not enough to implement training. Companies must shift their approach to training, or risk falling off top talent’s radar. Because even with the best intentions of the most devoted managers, development and advancement programs in any organization can be delayed and even doomed by scheduling conflicts, decisionmaking bottlenecks, and process/red tape. And all the while, the talent clock is ticking…
Hurry Up and Wait: Decisionmaking Reality
Getting learning programs up and running and showing progress always takes organizations longer than they think. And in a talent environment in which every month matters, that can have a major impact on retention.
Consider the example below, sanitized but based on an actual Springboards engagement at a leading professional services firm. Does this timetable look familiar?
Development Timeline for Consulting Firm Associate “Raj”
Millennial Career Goals: Timing Is Everything
In this all-too-common scenario, the talent clock has struck, and now both Raj and his organization may have run out of time. Raj’s ability to demonstrate measurable progress on a timely basis is hampered by the drawn-out timetable…and, according to the above-referenced Gallup poll, as a millennial, he is much more likely than other generational groups “to look for a new job with a different organization in the next 12 months…”
An additional few years of his contributions as an experienced professional could be highly valuable to Raj’s firm from a talent currency perspective. But like most millennials, Raj is eager to grow rapidly: “Millennials are more likely than both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to say a job that accelerates their professional or career development is ‘very important’ to them (45% of millennials vs. 31% of Gen Xers and 18% of baby boomers).” So, even though he’s been offered valuable professional development coaching, the lengthy decisonmaking processes and fixed review cycle result in an overlap of events that does not work to Raj’s advantage – and that may have made it impossible for him to beat the clock.
Career stalls can be highly demoralizing and impact individual (and, by extension, team) productivity as well as employee commitment and tenure. And these negative results don’t happen in a vacuum: millennials, especially, are highly networked and prone to share their career experiences on a variety of open platforms, exposing employers to potential brand and reputational damage.
Breaking the Review/Delay Cycle
But it doesn’t have to be that way….
Last year, a global plastics organization and Springboards client shifted from the traditional annual performance review to a quarterly review “conversation.” In the process, a critical development need was surfaced for an up-and-coming leader who was accelerating into a fast-growth global role. Waiting until the annual performance review to secure coaching help could have been disastrous to the employee and have stalled the global operations agenda.
Fortunately, this company did several things right:
First, they identified employee needs outside the more typical (and slower) annual review process. They also explored potential coaching vendors by phone months ahead of actual engagements, allowing them to do a partial vet and to kickstart the process. And, finally, they had a contract with a coaching vendor already in place when the need arose.
Today, this pivotal employee is thriving in her role, and advancing within the company -- not eying the door. Timing and responsiveness were keys factors in this “win-win” case.
So – What Can HR and Learning Teams Do?
Clearly, with regard to training and professional development, timing is everything. Organizational processes and approaches must be in line with the career development expectations of millennials and up-and-coming younger workers if they are to show a return on investment.
While it may be unrealistic to accelerate the pace of decisionmaking across the board, there are a lot of proactive steps HR and learning leaders can take to beat the talent clock.
Take that prospective phone call or catalogue that “cold email” from a training vendor during the year, when program development may not be top of mind. Have these resources “at the ready” to access, and be open to a conversation with a learning vendor. A coaching provider who has gained some understanding of your organization and your needs before you are ready to start looking for vendors can save you valuable time, and give you a head start on the vetting process. Where appropriate, on-demand, agile coaching services should be added to your L&D toolkit, to ensure employee needs can be responded to quickly and on an ongoing basis.
Take a long-term (versus ad hoc or as needed) approach with certain training partnerships, as appropriate. For example, having a Master Services Agreement or annual contract or retainer in place allows your vendors to respond to your needs as soon as they arise, versus having to set up an individual contract for approvals for each engagement. The weeks of back and forth process volleys outlined in the “Raj timetable” above can be reduced, if not eliminated!
Tie coaching and career-development-related training decisions to events and processes outside of the performance review cycle...and be thoughtful about how these programs are described both to management and potential participants. (See “When It Comes to Coaching, Messaging Matters,” in which I discuss the benefits of strong internal communication around training and how that fosters a more inclusive and successful learning culture.)
In our hypercompetitive recruitment and retention environment, there is a real danger in waiting until review time to initiate the process. And delayed training = delayed development = delayed growth / promotion…leading, ultimately to untimely departures.