I remember when my grandfather retired many years ago. He had been at the same company for decades. My father, too, worked for one employer for the majority of his career before retiring.
Today, it’s not uncommon to change employers every few years. Millennials especially move around. After all, companies aren’t as loyal to employees as they once were, so it’s only natural that employees’ loyalties have also shifted.
What are the implications of these changes? What should companies do?
“Build a culture of value that consistently greens your own pastures.” -Lee Caraher
Lee Caraher has built several companies, and she’s an expert on Millennials. She argues that it’s important to create long-lasting relationships with your employees even after they leave. In today’s environment, you want them to be raving fans of the organization no matter where they turn up.
I love this philosophy. I followed up with Lee to ask her more about her experience and research into what she calls The Boomerang Principle.
Lee Caraher is the CEO of Double Forte, a national PR and social media firm, and the author of The Boomerang Principle: Inspire Lifetime Loyalty from Your Employees.
“Boomerangs are the drivers of sustainable business.” -Lee Caraher
How Expectations Have Shifted
What organizational traits do Millennials look for?
Millennials are looking to work for companies that highly align with their own set of values, particularly in terms of the change they’d like to see and or make in the world. Millennials also tend to look for companies with strong mentorship and learning and development programs, as well as organizations with organized volunteerism built into the culture. They want easy access to management, work schedules that are more flexible than rigid, and the opportunity to really contribute to the work at hand.
Why do you think expectations have shifted so much?
I think Millennials want a lot of the things that Boomers and GenXers want – they just talk about it and expect it more than the previous generations did at their age. This expectation is derived from a confluence of trends:
- Work-Life Balance has been a significant business topic for the past 25 years – as Millennials were growing up – thanks mostly to the work of working mothers who have made great strides in terms of white-collar, non-administrative workforce participation during the same time period. It’s not rocket science to expect that the children of these pioneering women would want and expect the working conditions that their mothers talked, wrote, and lobbied for.
- I believe that Oprah has single-handedly had more influence in the workplace than any other human in North America. During the same 25 years when the work-life balance has dominated organizational development work, Oprah has preached a steady gospel of personal responsibility to create a life and opportunity that is positive, contributes to the world, and is fulfilling — to millions and millions of Americans – every day. In my research with over 3,000 working Millennials, Oprah was named as a key influence over seventy percent of the time.
- Millennials have had – in their hands for most of their lives – more computing power than landed on the moon. They have had incredible access to people, organizations, and information and expect that same access to be present in the workplace. The workplace of Boomers and GenXers is more hierarchical than flat, and the hierarchy is antithetical to the Millennial experience of access. This has put an incredible pressure on businesses coming to terms with how to incorporate, develop and raise “up” Millennials who believe there is no “up.”
- Everyone Wins Soccer has done an incredible disservice to Millennials. And it’s not their fault – obviously, EWS is a product of their parents. However, the cultural norm of significantly rewarding performance almost equally to achievement past Kindergarten (it goes all the way through college today) has created an unrealistic perception of the value of effort in the workplace. It’s a very rude awakening when people realize that salary progression does not correlate with just showing up.
“You don’t earn loyalty in a day. You earn loyalty day-by-day.” -Jeffrey Gitomer
Talk about employee loyalty. What has changed?
No longer is the contract, written or implied, that I work hard, I give the company my best and the company takes care of me a viable construct – and Millennials know it. The problem with employee loyalty today is that companies and their managers expect their employees to have the same definition of employee loyalty that their parents did before the Great Recession when the economy, and how companies reacted to it, put a nail in the American Dream definition of employee loyalty.
We need to move past the understanding of employee loyalty as defined by tenure, while we pay people because we are constantly disappointed by employees who leave sooner than we want them too.
Instead, we need to create a more productive and positive paradigm that inspires lifetime loyalty to our organizations for an employee’s entire career, regardless of whether they are on the payroll or not. In this way, organizations will be helping people achieve their own career goals while they achieve their company goals and will be able to create a beneficial relationship the company and former employee can benefit from for a very long time.
“Management: stop lamenting what feels like broken loyalty in short-term employees.” -Lee Caraher
Many people think that meeting Millennial needs stops with them, but you point out that the focus benefits everyone. Would you share more about this?
The things that Millennials want – work that matters, giving back to the community, feedback, opportunity, and appreciation – are things that Boomers and GenXers want too, they just did not have the widespread expectation of them or the license to talk about it. So, when we create an environment where Millennials can thrive, we are creating an environment where Boomers and GenXers benefit too. I’m not talking about catering to Millennials.
I’m not talking about lowering our standards of work for Millennials. I’m talking about creating positive, highly productive, intergenerational work teams that foster achievement of business goals and the environment that honors the whole person. Who doesn’t want that?
“The key to having people return to your company is being a place people want to return to.” -Lee Caraher
The Boomerang Effect
You talk about different ways employees boomerang. Would you share some of them? What is the benefit to a company that deliberately cultivates these relationships?
Former employees can be valuable to their former employers for the duration of their careers if companies foster a positive relationship. I call this “boomeranging.” Boomerangs are people who return to the company in many ways: as partners, as advocates and referrers for business development and recruiting, as returning employees.
The advantages of inspiring lifetime loyalty are clear: Each of these ways to boomerang is advantageous to the company in driving down costs for business development, recruiting and/or business advancement.
“Leadership development is the new black.” -Lee Caraher
Create an Alumni Club
Companies are doing more with less. Financial pressure is up. Competition is hot. Keeping your best employees is difficult. What do you say to the corporate leader who says that there’s already too much to do, and there’s no room to worry about those who’ve already left?
I say they’re working too hard to recruit new people, find new customers and forge new partnerships that will ensure their success. When you apply The Boomerang Principle to your business, it’s not just about taking care of your former employees! It’s about creating healthy, happy, high performing work teams that achieve more because they are motivated and inspired. It’s an ecosystem of leadership that inspires lifetime loyalty that benefits the company.
Those things that inspire lifetime loyalty are the things that create successful, future-proof businesses. If you’re too busy to do this, wrap it up.
“Teams who feel appreciated outperform those who don’t.” -Lori Ogden Moore
What makes an effective alumni program or “Alumni Club”?
An effective alumni program keeps former employees attached to and informed about their former employees and their former colleagues.
First, create an online network for former employees where you share updates about the company, the ability for people to connect with each other, and other valuable information – training modules you’re using internally, coupons or special deals on products or services, news and information that’s relevant to your industry. If you can’t create your own website for this, you can use Conenza or SAP modules. If you can’t do that, using a private Facebook group is very effective.
On the network:
- Share valuable information that helps former employees in their professional development
- Keep former employees up to date on company performance, services, products, and achievements
- Showcase achievements of corporate alumni
- Surprise and delight loyal former employees with small gifts, discounts, or other perks
- Post open job positions for a referral. If a former employee refers to a hired employee, reward them with a token of your appreciation.
Think of this group as an extension of your marketing or influencer communications efforts. Assign the task of creating, maintaining and managing the online alumni club to someone on your communications team who has good relationships with HR and Marketing and Research, so they can mine information and content that’s relevant for your alumni group.
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