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Apr 15, 2015

My company is obsessed with Millennials, and for good reason.

The traditional old guard of global industry is rapidly changing – and the youngest ranges of the workforce are primarily responsible for the disruption.

With the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company down to 15 years, we are all actively investing resources to attract a new generation of talent that will keep our companies viable.

Think about how to lead younger workers

But there’s a difference between investing resources and truly understanding how to keep young talent engaged. This breakdown occurs because our collective assumptions of Millennials – high turnover rates, higher social responsibility and a constant need for approval – are largely based in myth, not reality. We uncovered many of these myths through a study we conducted with Oxford Economics.

If you don’t believe me, take this quiz on Millennials’ workplace values and see how you score.

The reality is that most companies are placing a higher priority on hiring Millennials, but they’re not changing their leadership styles to maximize their impact. People might care more than they used to, but many companies still don’t get it.

If you really want to make your workplace attractive for young talent in the long-term, you need to think critically about how to lead your younger workers to be more engaged and productive. Here are three reasons young talent leaves your company, and how you can change your leadership style accordingly.

Do you provide an opportunity to make an impact?

A common myth around Millennials is that they need a career that gives them personal meaning. The reality is that all generations, Gen Y included, place a far greater value on long-term learning and growth.

Fostering growth comes by giving employees an opportunity to impact the broader workings of a company, to instill a sense of collective work for a common goal.

This starts with the very first interaction. Instead of a traditional interview with a few executives, smart companies are letting prospective hires experience the workplace for the day. Have them sit in on a staff meeting, or a brainstorming session, to give them a perspective on how they can make a broad business impact from day one.

This visibility must extend through a series of learning and growth experiences. After you’ve educated and trained on what a successful presentation looks like, let a younger employee run a meeting, or present to your boss. Train your employees for a risky situation and allow them to grow through a challenging situation. The end result is a true learning process that all employees can remember and value.

Translate long-term impact to short-term goals and objectives

One common perception of Millennials that proved true in our study was their constant need for feedback – nearly 20 percent more than non-Millennials, according to our study. So while company leaders can provide growth opportunities, the breakdown occurs in setting manageable goals and objectives, then communicating feedback accordingly.

Many leaders make the mistake of setting objectives that are so far in the future, people cannot tell if they are making progress. The feedback must match those objectives – otherwise, it can be challenging for an employee to determine how well they’re performing.

The need to establish a genuine, authentic connection

Millennials value leaders that are especially engaging and communicate openly. But open communication and feedback is only as strong as the trust your employees have in your advice.

One way to establish an authentic connection is to share a learning experience of your own. Many leaders become trapped in the feeling that they always need to be right.

But often times, in office environments with many experienced and smart people, being right all the time is almost impossible. Sharing a bit of honesty, authenticity and admitting a mistake can be the best way to establish a sense of trust and create an open culture where people feel empowered to speak up and share their own challenges.

At SAP, we’ve also created a structure where both Millennials and older generations can learn from each other. Establishing reverse mentoring programs can allow for a shared dialogue around areas where another group is the subject matter experts. It can create a more relaxing rapport and a relationship of mutual value, which can ultimately empower younger employees and instill a feeling of belonging in the workplace.

Don’t believe the stereotypes

It’s easy to blame a departure on the stereotype of Millennial job turnover. But doing so is not only inaccurate, it hides broader leadership problems that could turn highly costly if left unsolved.

Establishing open, visionary and authentic communication isn’t just appropriate for Millennials – it’s valuable for all employees.

The choice is clear: Change processes that develop young talent or quickly become irrelevant. It’s time to stop falling back on stereotypes and invest in the talent that will dictate your future success.

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