How to Retain Talent in the Age of Entrepreneurship
I grew up in the generation that experienced Woodstock, the era that celebrated personal freedom. Yet, ironically, my peers and I jumped into paternalistic companies with corporate ladders and defined hierarchies—and we thought it was fantastic. We welcomed working for places that rewarded tenure over talent, and where we measured success by the number of tiles on our ceilings or whether or not we’d snagged a corner office.
It seems silly now, especially when today’s workplace is so dramatically different. Young people no longer want to work for companies—they want to start companies. Studies show that an overwhelming number of them want to be entrepreneurs. High school students are telling pollsters that they never plan on working in a real corporate environment. And, this isn’t just happening in Silicon Valley. We are seeing generational shifts among MBAs across the board, many of whom say they prefer to work for smaller companies or startups—places defined by a more entrepreneurial culture, with structures they describe as "flat" and "nonhierarchical" and that promote personal responsibility, ownership, flexibility, and mentorship.
And really, who can blame them? The speed at which companies come and go has changed. The average life expectancy of a company in the S&P 500 has dropped from 75 years (in 1937) to 15 years today, according to John Hagel III at Deloitte Center for the Edge.
Having witnessed the collapse of institutions like Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual, and Lehman Brothers (to name just a few), many young people rightfully believe that with little to no job security, the only safety net they can count on is themselves: their experience, their skills, and their values. So, what’s a company that wants to attract and retain today’s hottest talent to do? Below are the top five things companies must do to keep entrepreneurial-minded employees from quitting:
Give frequent feedback.
Today’s employees want to see the difference they make in their organization and be recognized for it. Millennials grew up on social media and expect similar feedback channels; fortunately, a new generation of performance management software can help with this.
Put people in charge of their fate and give them the opportunity to make a difference. It’s important to create “step-up opportunities,” or roles that have room for constant expansion and the opportunity to push the boundaries.
Enable people to work for a higher purpose.
Many people would rather be unemployed, work for an early startup, or do their own thing than take position doing something they find unfulfilling, so companies need to figure out how to make their story and mission compelling.
Keep them learning.
This is not the 1980s. Salary is important, but it’s not as important as learning potential and personal fulfillment. Gaining important skills (in areas such as marketing, product management, and sales) is what matters as people build their careers. Internal and external mentoring programs will help achieve this.
Let employees collaborate with their peers and give them access to executives. They want to be included in the conversation and feel as if they are a part of something. Many are accustomed to working in groups, whether in person or online, so create opportunities for them to collaborate easily across the organization.