The root cause of the millennial problem

To get to the root of the millennial problem, we first need to frame it properly. It starts with a shift in thinking. The millennial problem is actually just the latest iteration of an age old generational problem. Each generation has a fresh perspective and perceives flaws in the previous generation’s strategies. And often they are right. We call this progress. Since the beginning of recorded time, people’s motivations and impulses have changed very little. It’s our tools and societies that have changed, especially in the last few generations. The bottom line is that we have thrived as a species based on the strength of the group. This has resulted in deeply seated biologically driven instincts to support and depend on each other. In developing a modern success strategy, your corporate culture must harmonize with, or at least consider, the human condition. So from an employment perspective, the millennial problem is a subset of a larger modern corporate culture problem.  That is, how to get people to engage.

Let’s start at the beginning. Like most companies, you hire based on specific, measureable, operational skills. You have no choice. You need to hire people who can get the job done. That makes perfect sense. So now you have a group of people who are qualified to do the job. But there are still issues such as teamwork, performance, absenteeism, drama, retention, motivation, and commitment. You have provided your employees with a job, a place to work, tasks, tools, and pay. So why do you still have to deal with these kinds of issues when you have already done everything that you should have had to do?

To answer this question, we need to look at the bigger picture. Consider an overall premise of our society: strive to be “number one”, and it’s okay to employ a “winner takes all” attitude. Sounds great, and it often is, except when it’s not. Competition is a good concept, but it has consequences. If it’s well managed, you can have great results. If it’s not well managed, you risk creating a culture of “keep my head down and collect my pay”. In other words, it can reduce your organization’s ability to meet its goals.

Your organization’s overall goal is to thrive and survive. Ask yourself, does your culture encourage your star performers to actively collaborate and mentor the rest of your people? Do you encourage creativity, input and feedback from all? Do you feel that your overall results are the best that they can be? Perhaps the following story will illustrate the benefits of a shift in thinking.

Some of the greatest minds in history worked on achieving flight. Then along came the Wright brothers. They, with their team, succeeded in only four years. The brothers were not formally trained. Neither were their team members. Why did they succeed? They succeeded because they were a self-motivated team working together towards their common goal: to solve the puzzle of flight! Meanwhile, elsewhere, many well trained minds were working on the same problem without success. And here’s the kicker. After the first Wright brothers’ flight in 1903, those others, the well trained minds, were able to finance and develop military planes by 1909, and commercial flying boats by 1914. The lesson here is that while star performers are important, so is everyone else. The problems of achieving flight were overcome by a passionate team who worked in an environment where support was the norm and failure was an accepted and managed risk. It was the culture that produced the opportunity for success.

So how do you reproduce this type of culture? The reality is, soft skills are the key to this puzzle. These are the skills that allow for a culture of high performance. A common misconception is that soft skills training can only produce intangible results. But the truth is, this kind of training has been shown to increase employee productivity, reduce turnover, create commitment, build competitive advantages, and more. Attracting and retaining talent costs a great deal of time and money. Putting your talent together without the tools they need to build and maintain high performance teams is impacting your bottom line and limiting your organization’s success.

Are operational and technical skills essential? Of course they are. Are soft skills the game changer? Absolutely! When you demonstrate that your organization’s culture is a top priority, you will receive the kind of loyalty and commitment which you cannot achieve any other way. One of the many benefits of soft skills training is that it explains basic human biochemistry and survival conditioning, thus providing stress management skills that apply to all areas of life. When you commit to making people’s experience of life better, they will commit to you.

Of course, there is a practical question: what if you invest in people and they leave, taking your training investments elsewhere? True, that is possible, with a few. However, the other side of that question is much more impactful. What happens if you do not invest in training and you continue to have issues with drama, motivation, commitment and more?

There’s an abundance of evidence that proves the value of soft skills. One compelling case study is Google’s Project Oxygen, which concluded that the top seven characteristics of successful managers at Google are soft skills. Technical skills came in eighth. This 2008 study based its conclusions on a deep analysis of historical employee feedback data. With this case study, the Wright brothers story, and a multitude of research findings, it’s easy to see that the advantages of well developed soft skills apply to everyone in an organization.

So here’s the big question, what three steps do you need to take to access these advantages?

Step 1 – Demonstrate that your organization’s culture is a top priority by providing soft skills training. Then follow up by moving on to step 2.

Step 2 – Take the pulse of your organization regularly, both with questionnaires and as part of your review process. Culture questionnaires are especially important before and after training sessions. They help you capture direct metrics on the value of your investment. And making these questionnaires part of your review process is crucial. If you want people to feel that you truly value their input, ask them face to face. Don’t just send them an email. But be mindful, this works best when you commit to step 3.

Step 3 – It’s important to walk the walk. You are getting the business benefits. When you lead by example and make soft skills a practiced priority, you will receive unprecedented loyalty, commitment and effort from your team. The more sincere you are, the better the results. And yes, people are naturally gifted at sensing sincerity. It’s one of our survival instincts.

So to get back to where we started, the root cause of the millennial problem, what is needed is a shift in thinking. The real problem is culture, and culture is organic. Upgrade your corporate culture and you will foster the conditions for success. Hands down, soft skills training is one of the best investments you will ever make. Of course by now you would expect me to say something like that. But it is true. It’s not just my opinion. The facts are well documented. Can you survive, and even grow, with your current corporate culture? Of course you can. But if you want your organization to reduce costs and disruptions, and truly thrive, then investing in soft skills training needs to be a key part of your success strategy.

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