I always enjoy reading the articles that try to explain how to build a young and “hip” culture. They offer advice like how to attract and retain Gen Y employees (usually written by Gen X’ers). Even better are the articles (like this one) that try to crack who exactly Gen Y’ers (Millennials) are and how we think. Per usual, this article failed miserably and spoke in the typical condescending tone.

Luckily, I did find one promising study on Gen Y here. Apparently, there are some benefits to adopting a Gen-Y type dynamic culture. It’s not as difficult to develop in a small and growing company, but they are not the only ones looking to tap into the younger market.

Lately, I’ve seen larger companies take steps to implement a Gen Y-friendly culture as well. Top management is finally realizing that they won’t be around forever and are slowly running out of options. Regardless, companies are educating themselves on how to attract the top Gen Y talent. Some of the more common recommendations are:

  • Mentorships

  • Advancement opportunity

  • Flexible time/work environment

  • Make a difference in company & community service opportunities

According to a study by Millennial Branding, 45% of companies are currently suffering from high turnover from their Gen Y hires.

I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with a company seeking to develop a more youthful generation. I can personally back this study by saying that the turnover within this company was roughly 45%+. Many companies chalk it up to a bad hire, but never truly take a look at the hire’s superiors (you know…the “managers”).

I also had a chance to observe a culture seemingly close at successfully crafting this sought-after gen Y culture. The company Enterprise Rent a Car is making a valiant attempt. How? Their offices are dull, they wear suits every day, and they have to wash cars daily (yes, while wearing a suit).

Don’t get me wrong, Enterprise does have above-average turnover and there are things that they could definitely improve on. However, in the end, there exists one HUGE differentiating factor between Enterprise and other companies seeking to develop a Millennial culture. Heck, Enterprise may not even be aware they’re exploiting it!

This HUGE SECRET is in it’s form of management. The quicker you realize you can’t manage Millennials, the better off you’ll be (ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration). At Enterprise, I’d venture to guess the average manager is no more than 3-7 years older than their direct employees. I’ve even met managers who oversee only people who are older than them. Yes, you have managers at Enterprise managing up in age. Yes, you have Gen Y’ers making close to six figures. No, they are not over paid.

They are experts at what they do and know more than their employees in regards to operations. This is accomplished through their rapid training and advancement program. They don’t even bother with “complacent” Gen X mid-management. Your manager is well respected and there’s never any room for the condescending attitude. Such condescension is riddled throughout many corporations, and a reason many of us don’t stick around.

Enterprise is a prime demonstration that Gen Y is as capable as Gen X given the proper tools and training.

Still not convinced? The entry-level college grad at Enterprise makes barely enough income to live independently when paying off student loans (and yes, they’re all college grads). My point being is that they stick around. They buy into the dream and don’t mind working for people that buy into it as well. When times get tough, their manager (only a few years older, mind you) talks them down off the ledge by sharing their own personal experiences. It’s humbling and inspiring at the same time. And it pushes new hires to keep pushing and achieving excellence. Even when they may hate their job and/or their salary.

When I was with the company suffering from high turnover,  I noticed that middle management had become complacent. My colleagues and I knew we would never advance — their career positions were SET. We realized that we would be working under these people forever. There was nothing we could do about it. And they knew this. To be honest, we didn’t want to advance. Doing so would mean having to work alongside…. them.

The company’s upper management was dumbfounded. They demanded that a more youthful culture be developed. Unfortunately, the middle managers were in no hurry to accomplish this. In the end, this attitude had a trickle-down effect upon us millennials. Which also lead to high turnover.

Work will constantly seem like work, unless it’s fun. Go to a baseball game with your manager. Now go to a baseball game with your good friend. Just because we call it “work” doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be boring. Catch my drift?

What can you do?

I’d take the piece from Enterprise which they do wonderfully. They train their employees and promote early. There’s a road map and it’s spelled out from day one. To get to B, you need to go through A. Reaching C, means that you’ll need to master B. Throughout this entire process, C’s are managing B’s and B’s are managing A’s.

I can hear it now “but Kyle, this is too simple and has nothing to do with culture!”

You need to see the residual effects of this process. When you’re constantly being mentored, you enjoy and can relate to the people you work with, and you work directly with the position which may be your next promotion! Talk about incentive!

It doesn’t take a fancy office, excessive flex time, or even beer in the fridge to keep the majority of us around. If we Gen Y’ers are good at one thing, it’s creating our own fun. I like to use the harsh example of:
“put me in a room with a ball and open minded gen Y’ers, and we’ll make (innovate) fun. Put me in a room with a bunch of complacent Gen X’ers with all of the potential fun in the world, and nothing will happen.”

Hire rock stars and promote them early, even if it’s just one. Train them to know the business inside and out. Have them manage incoming Gen Y’ers. Promote from within and realize that – with the proper tools and training – we’re just as capable as most middle managers . Does this mean companies need to clean the house of  Gen X middle managers? Of course not. But realize that a rock star who is 24 years old can be just as valuable as a 44 year old when it comes to management.

Besides, if Enterprise can build culture around washing cars in a suit, I’m sure your company can make something work.

Does your company embrace hiring millennial’s? What practices does your company have in place to build a more youthful culture?

Recommended Reading: Tribal Leadership By: David Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright

For more specific ideas on developing your company’s culture, feel free to reach out to me directly through LinkedIn.

*I have no association with Enterprise Holdings or its affiliates.*

Blog Post by Kyle Johnson, Owner, Personal Fitness Agent at Professional Fitness Consulting

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