What will be required to create a work culture in which your most talented and ambitious employees will want to spend their careers?
A client recently engaged me to help them answer that question. As part of that effort, I interviewed nine staff members who met the “talented and ambitious” criteria to understand what was on their minds. I also asked a Gen Z resource at the New York Times (my daughter) for her perspective.
Several themes emerged that foretell how leaders must adapt and rethink expectations. If your business requires quality employees with unique or specialized skills then pay attention to how your staff might answer these questions:
- Does leadership and management care? Care is the assessment that another person has your interest in mind when making decisions or acting. It is one of the most fundamental ways to build lasting trust. When employees think leaders elevate their interests over staff, they may comply with decisions but are less likely to extend trust more broadly.
- Do I look at my boss and my boss’s boss and aspire to do their job? When employees see engagement and support (vs. overwork and burnout) that makes a difference. You can have a highly competitive benefits package (vacation, sick pay, etc.) but if none of those can get tapped into as your stature in the company increases, then that’s a red flag.
- If I’m exceeding expectations in my role and going above and beyond the call of duty, will I get promoted faster? This describes a high velocity employee. Traditional thinking is that there is a pace to rise through the ranks. If a high-velocity employee doesn’t find their work challenging, they will go elsewhere.
- Will individualism, idealism, and opinions be treated with respect? In my work with age-diverse teams and organizations, this is often when experience and a generational lens create tension.
If you are convicted by this, time to rethink.
- How much flexibility do I have? We all have a core human need for variety and your most talented and ambitious staff don’t want to get boxed into a certain role or career trajectory. They are happy working with the same team, but they want exposure to diverse projects to grow and understand their options. GenZ, the youngest generation gaining traction in the workforce, has a FOMO view of the future. Their expectations of flexibility will likely push our current norms. Time to rethink?
- Are opportunities fuel connection plentiful and foster a sense of belonging? In-person relationship building is never out of fashion. But remember you have a large group of employees who embrace technology as a form of connection. Robust cross-office communication, real-time knowledge sharing, resource-laden intranets, and fun virtual events all matter as well as practices that make building a strong internal network easy.
- Is development integrated into everything? Millennials and Gen Z are looking for training, experiences, mentors, and advisors who can help them make sense of it in a meaningful and productive way. A challenge for leaders and managers is that most of us weren’t socialized or educated on how to unlock another person’s potential. We figured it out as we went along, and although that principle has merits, our world is evolving so rapidly that rethinking is necessary.