How to hold onto the millennial workforce
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How to attract and retain a millennial workforce

15 Aug 2017

With 80pc of its workforce from the millennial generation, Voxpro knows a thing or two about how to attract and retain the workforce of the future.

Many of the articles about millennials in the workplace are written by experts, but not experts who are also large employers. Voxpro employs more than 2,500 people, 80pc of whom are of the millennial generation – and we’ve been thinking a lot about how to hire and hold on to them because we have to.

By 2020, millennials will make up 50pc of the global workforce – so if you’re tired of the word ‘millennial’, then you can just replace it with ‘future workforce’ – and if Voxpro is to keep successfully scaling as rapidly as we are right now, then we really need to know what that future workforce wants from a job.

There’s a bunch of things that survey after survey will tell you about what millennials want from an employer: great pay and benefits, flexible work arrangements, and international opportunities, to name a few.

But not many employers can offer all or any of these perks – that’s the bad news. The good news is that these things don’t rank top of the list of things millennials are looking for. The best news is that what comes top of the list is what you’ll probably find easiest to give them.

Ranking mostly highly for millennial employees is opportunities for professional and personal development. And, if you are a rapidly growing company, the chances are that you can offer these perks in spades.

Internal promotion is the way to a millennial’s heart

In a rapidly scaling company, things change quickly, particularly around personnel. As the business grows, new positions are created due to expansion and promotion. Every one of these new positions is an opportunity for internal career progression, and for professional development around it.

In 2016 alone, Voxpro hired 125 support staff – out of those 125 positions, 117 were filled internally. That’s a rate of 94pc internal promotion. This does not go unnoticed by new personnel – if you’re new in a company and you see a lot of your colleagues getting promoted, you’ve got a major reason to stick around.

And, when it comes to millennials who have a reputation for serial job-hopping, this really is a message you want to be giving out.

It’s important to note that not every hire should be an internal one – far from it. For an organisation and its people to grow and succeed, it must also consistently bring in people from outside, those who have the right experience in the right functions and at the right levels.

These people know ‘what good looks like’, and, in a rapidly scaling company that is still building some of its core systems, their experience is crucial. But, by taking an internal-first approach at the levels that work best for your company, you may see a major change in the loyalty of your millennial workforce.

The five steps to creating a culture of internal promotion

Manage expectations

In 2014, Voxpro started to scale seriously rapidly and that meant a lot of jobs. That year, Airbnb became one of our partners and we had to fill a huge number of positions within two months. And, once they were filled, we had to fill the same number again, because Airbnb was going through such phenomenal growth.

This much activity around positions naturally creates high expectations, and it is crucial to manage those expectations effectively so that morale is not impacted.

Voxpro approached this in a very data-led way. We carried out a full analysis of internal promotions over the previous two years and isolated some common patterns.

For example, we found that successful candidates for the role of team manager had, on average, clocked up 18 months on the job, and had applied three times for the position. We then published the corresponding data for all positions across the company.

Now, nobody has unrealistic expectations around the likelihood of promotion because they know how much tenure and how many attempts are the norm for success.

Have a fair, transparent policy around internal promotion

In the past, Voxpro staff required three months’ tenure before being eligible to apply for a new internal position. But we found that time limit too low – people were applying for positions that they were not ready for before they had gained a proper understanding of their current roles. As a result, they were generally not being successful and this impacted on morale.

We decided to move the tenure limit from three up to nine months. Very quickly, we started to see a much better calibre of applicant – far more rounded and focused, and with a more in-depth knowledge of the industry in general. The upshot was a huge spike in internal promotions, and in staff morale.

Prepare people for promotion

We didn’t always set people up for success very well. Our people were sometimes going for jobs that they were not ready for, but we weren’t doing as much as we should to help get them job-ready.

So, we have doubled down on our professional development programmes, designed to help our teams identify their core skills, develop them practically and match them to a role within the company. It’s called Voxpro University and here are some of the programmes.

Career fairs: Every few months we run ‘career fairs’, where everybody in the company gets to learn about every role in the company: what positions there are, what they involve and which skills they require. The events highlight the huge diversity of opportunity within the company so that people can clearly see how they can have a long and varied career by committing to Voxpro.

Coaching from leaders: Those who manage our people must also coach them. A central part of the role of team leaders involves having regular one-to-one meetings with team members to discuss their progression both in the team and within the organisation. Together they work on career advancement and the steps needed to achieve it.

Bite-sized courses: Once somebody has decided to apply for an internal position, they should be given the best chance of acing the interview. To that end, we have developed short, bite-sized courses designed to help candidates improve their interview and presentation skills.

Career development journeys: Effort should count – but if it’s not logged and centralised, then it might not. Voxpro University has developed a system called the career development journey, which is essentially a logbook for relevant efforts made.

Every time one of our people takes a new course, takes on a project or shadows someone in the role they aspire to, it is logged in their ‘CDJ Tracker’. This tracker is brought to job interviews and is counted towards their score sheet.

Support staff after promotion

Becoming a team manager overnight is a big deal – all of a sudden you rank above your former colleagues, work more closely with senior management and have far greater responsibilities.

So, wouldn’t it be ridiculous if the training and support you were given to get here suddenly stopped now? Unfortunately, this is normal business practice and it’s utterly counterproductive. In fact, the training and support should double for someone who has been newly promoted.

In Voxpro, we run a number of continuous development programmes that help managers learn about team dynamics, productive work environments, coaching skills and problem solving.

Why wouldn’t we? They are the ones tasked with some of the most important functions of the business; they’re also the people we depend on to show millennials (or the future workforce) why it is very much in their interest to stay with the company for longer than nine months.

Role-model successful candidates

If most of our managerial roles were filled by external candidates, we probably wouldn’t shout about it too much – it wouldn’t exactly inspire people with confidence that they have a long future in Voxpro.

But 112 people got promoted in the first six months of 2017, and another 86 got opportunities to move laterally in the organisation, so we do shout about it. Because it’s showing millennials actual proof that it’s worth sticking around longer than the nine months we hear all about. Some of the ways we do it:

  • Graduation ceremonies where success is publicly celebrated
  • Appointing successful candidates as ‘role ambassadors’ at our career fairs
  • Appointing them as mentors and coaches

Not every company is large enough to set up a programme such as Voxpro University or run three-day career fairs, but every company can do a version of these initiatives. You’ve got to approach your staff’s career progression in the way that best suits your own organisation.

And, sometimes, the best thing for someone’s career progression is that they don’t get promoted internally. They may not be ready for it, and the team they’ll be taking over may not be ready for them. Ultimately, the best thing for the company may be to hire in that experienced leader who can take the role and the team to the next level.

But, in the right departments and at the right levels, adopting a consistent ‘internal-first’ approach to filling open roles may just be the answer, or at least one answer, to recruiting and retaining millennials – also known as the world’s future workforce.

By Patrick Haughey

Patrick Haughey is content editor at Voxpro.

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