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Welcome to Advisory Board, a weekly department in which a panel of experts—made up of entrepreneurs and professionals—answer questions you have about how to run your business better.

This week, a reader asks:

“​I keep reading that millennials want to work at companies with collaborative cultures and non-traditional hierarchies. But it’s not clear what that means in practical terms. How can I engage young employees without having to completely re-invent how my business operates?”

Here’s what the experts have to say.

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“Yahoo!’s Joe Zee talks of the ‘slash generation’: multi role jobs. I think this is a good concept to keep in mind when formulating your structure and job descriptions. Millennials and recent graduates want to ensure their experience is as diversified as possible. The hiring process should focus on fit and finding great people. Then leverage their skill set and personality, and funnel that appropriately into your business. Millennials don’t just want to be an account person; they want to be an account executive/graphic designer/copywriter/social media coordinator.
—Christine Faulhaber, President and CEO, Faulhaber Communications, Toronto

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“In general, what you’ve been reading about millennials is borne out by research (including ours). I would caution about buying into generalizations and stereotypes which may not fit your people nor your business. We often find that in a given enterprise, views of Gen Y sometimes differ relatively little from those of Gen X and Boomers. Many Gen Y’s by now are well into their 30’s.

The bigger issue to consider is what kind of culture and business m.o.’s will work best for your organization and how do your staff in all generations view these compared with your aspirations and Grand Design.

I suggest an objective organization assessment tapping supervisors’ and employee views to gauge the ‘current vs. desired state’ and test out your assumptions. This is accomplished through commonly available periodic surveys (e.g. ‘Best Employers’), individual/small group interviews, or a structured working conference. One key focus should be on how much the firm is seen to value individuality/diversity/inclusiveness across functions and generational segments. Selected ‘business modus operandi’ should be probed. Check out what has attracted people to your organization in the first place.

Armed with this info and your strategic intent, you may confirm or recalibrate key norms, values, and operating practices as appropriate. For younger employees: check out hiring practices & typical candidate expectations; examine ways to pull in these players (e.g. sprinkling them into special purpose task teams); bolster career opportunities, planning, and individual development efforts; and ensure that your individual performance planning & review practices are supporting your aims. We know these areas are the real hot buttons impacting employee attitudes, especially in the more junior generations. Issues of collaboration and hierarchy may be relatively much less important than the above for younger staff in a given enterprise.

Suggested reading: Why Should Anyone Work Here? by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.

—Einar Westerlund‎, director, project development, Queen’s School of Business, Kingston, Ont.

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Millennials, like the rest of us, still live in a real world of process and structure—you don’t have to reinvent your business completely to engage them. To create a culture where millennials will thrive, try adopting a culture of transparency, encouraging organizational openness to positive change and building an environment of mutual respect—which will be of benefit to all generations of your workforce.”
Sheryl Boswell, director of marketing, Monster Canada, Toronto

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“Millennials are looking for organizations that provide employees with responsibilities that make them feel empowered, that support both personal and professional growth, that offer flexibility, and that encourage open communication—all in a creative and collaborative setting with a healthy social dimension. But I think it is safe to say that a lot of people would like to work at a company like that, not just millennials. The best employers know this and are breaking down—or at the very least adjusting—their traditional systems and creating environments where they can attract and retain the best talent, regardless of when they were born.”
John Wilson, founder and CEO, CEO Global Network, Toronto

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“Our agency has actively sought out younger people. We find that providing a balance of mentoring from senior staff and real opportunities to take ownership of projects and assignments keeps these younger folks engaged. Tossing them into the deep end or smothering them menial jobs will just push them back to LinkedIn looking for another job.”
Wayne S. Roberts, President and Chief Creative Officer, Blade Creative Branding, Toronto

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“Our staff is made up entirely of millenials and some of the smallest cultural incentives we’ve implemented have the greatest impact, such as offering weekly work-from-home days; starting off each week giving kudos or sharing good news; wide adoption of collaborative messaging and communication software such as Slack; and monthly ‘innovation hubs’ that encourage employees to bring big ideas to the table. A great place to start is to research what other millennial-run companies are doing and ask for feedback on what resonates best with your staff.”
Jennifer Maloney Adab, founder & CEO, Brix Media Co., Vancouver

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Do you have a question you’d like answered? Email us and we’ll put it to the experts. Have any advice to add to this list? Share your thoughts using the comments section below.

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