If You Want to Engage Millennials, Flip Engagement on Its Head

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g. you@yourcompany.com)
Please enter your work email
(e.g. you@yourcompany.com)

Upside down

Patrick Cournoyer, vice president of people and training at FlightCar, knows what it’s like to manage a millennial workforce: A significant number of his company’s employees are millennials.

This wasn’t exactly a conscious decision – FlightCar has nothing against non-millennial workers – but, rather, a natural result of the kind of work FlightCar does.

FlightCar is sort of like Uber meets Airbnb: It allows users to rent out their cars when they’re away on vacation.

“We are part of the sharing economy, which is new and very cutting-edge, and we in particular are in a very specific part of the sharing economy,” Cournoyer says. “No one is using the exact same model of business that we are, and that’s very appealing for millennials. Many of them want to be part of something brand new, something that kind of breaks the mold, as opposed to going to something that is very established.”

There’s a certain risk to working at a startup like FlightCar, and in Cournoyer’s experience, millennials love to take that kind of risk at work. And while Cournoyer does believe that the work that FlightCar does plays an important role in keeping millennials engaged, he also knows that the work alone is not enough. His organization, like many others, still struggles to engage millennials sometimes.

However, Cournoyer has found that, if you want to engage and retain your millennial workers, your best bet is to flip the traditional engagement process on its head.

What Do Millennials Want?

A lot of organizations have a hard time engaging millennial talent, and Cournoyer understands why: The millennials have very different expectations about work than their predecessors had.

“It’s not that one group is better than the other,” Cournoyer says. “It’s just that millennials are very much centered around immediate action, short-burst communication styles, and very specific, timely, and regular feedback.”

Some organizations – especially older, more established companies – can get hung up on operational practices and the overall business perspective. In the past, that was okay: The individual worker’s autonomy hasn’t historically been a major driver of engagement. Previous generations had no problem being swept along in the current of a company’s overall mission and goals. Many employees found that kind of work quite fulfilling.

Presentation“Being part of the larger organization and driving towards one global goal has historically been very satisfying,” Cournoyer says. “But millennials really value autonomy. They really like to be individual contributors.”

It can be hard to balance the millennial drive toward autonomy with the very real need for team cohesion in the workplace. After all, no business can accomplish its goals if each and every employee is following their own path.

Furthermore, millennials also tend to be very socially engaged at work. They care about overall business operations, but they also care about speaking their minds and being heard. Again, many employers struggle with striking the proper balance between individual opinions and unity of action.

Flipping Engagement Upside Down

For FlightCar, the key to balancing the needs of individual millennials and the needs of the organization has been listening.

“We celebrate opinions,” Cournoyer says. “Some companies are afraid of opinions. We’re not. To be a successful company that engages millennials, you need to be open to their opinions – because they’re not afraid to share their opinions. And that’s great.”

By listening to and acting on employee opinions, FlightCar has not only been able to better engage millennials, but it has also been able to improve its own overall performance.

“You should want to hear opinions from millennials,” Cournoyer says. “They’ve effected a lot of change in our organization.”

Of course, listening to your employees and taking action on their opinions is easier said than done – especially for an organization like FlightCar, which has employees spread all across the U.S.

“So, we’ve had to find ways to listen to our teammates and make sure they are engaged,” Cournoyer says. “We’ve done that by providing multiple channels for feedback. This has given us a very robust engagement program that kind of flips the idea of employee engagement upside down.”

Most organizations still utilize annual engagement surveys to check their employees’ collective pulse. The problem is, this approach moves way too slowly for the tastes of millennials, who “want to be able to provide feedback this week and see results in the next week or two,” according to Cournoyer.

The annual engagement survey is also detrimental to the organization itself: Oftentimes, once the surveys have been filed, the data aggregated, and the results returned, organizations are taking action with data that is almost a year old. That’s no way to address your employees’ concerns.

“We actively engage our teammates through a robust communication program, where we ask them multiple levels of questions,” Cournoyer explains.

PeersThese levels include questions on peer relationships, recognition, growth, rewards, workloads, autonomy, meaningful work, and work environments.

“Our biggest success in engaging millennials has come from providing them with avenues to give their feedback and get their voices heard,” Cournoyer says.

Cournoyer also notes that technology has been a major help in allowing FlightCar to quickly gather employee feedback and take action on it. In particular, he names the Saba Cloud platform.

“Getting information to our team in real-time, short-burst content has proven to be a huge success,” Cournoyer says. “When we first implemented Saba, I turned the system on and encouraged my team to learn how to use it. They quickly figured it out and started using it for training and to connect with each other. ”

Agility is critical to keeping millennials engaged, and Cournoyer says the Saba Cloud platform has been an important avenue “for the team to provide opinions and communicate.”

“The days of looking at futures in the 10-, 15-, or 20-year career path are gone,” Cournoyer says. “Millennials look at a year, two years, three years max. If we want to retain them, we have to keep them super engaged for that entire amount of time.”

By Matthew Kosinski