Are You Building Future Leaders, or Just Whining About Your Gen Y Workers?
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Are You Building Future Leaders, or Just Whining About Your Gen Y Workers?

10 Ideas to Help You Retain Gen Y

I keep hearing Baby Boomers moan, complain, and quite frankly, just whine about Gen Y. I am sick of it. If you are whining, then you are not a leader. If you are a leader, you will look at this situation and say, "Okay, we have 70 million super-sharp young men and women coming into the workforce, and we are going to get them ready for early leadership positions..." instead of sitting around saying, "They are so entitled, they are so into their own thing, they are always on Facebook, blah, blah." If you are saying this, then maybe you are the one who is entitled. As I always say, "If you spot it, you got it!"

So, here's the deal, one last time. Let me see if I can make it simple.

  1. 1. Our Baby Boomer population is aging out of the workforce. This includes more than 70 million people. We are already experiencing a talent and leadership deficit, and in about five years, the leadership well is going to be pretty darn dry.
  2. Our Generation X population is small, about 40 million, and not all of these men and women want to be in leadership positions.
  3. Our Generation Y population includes more 70 million men and women. Many of these young adults are being thrown into managerial and leadership positions literally overnight. I had one Gen Y tell me recently that she showed up at work one morning and her boss said, "We let X person go yesterday. You are now in charge." And of course, she freaked out. She is great at her skill set, but admitted that she has no people management or leadership skills!

So here is what you need to do. Trust me on this! These approaches are working for companies like Deloitte, Intuit, and Google, and you can do these steps without a huge investment of money. Yes, they will take time, but the investment of time will be worth it for your company.

1. Start a strong leadership development program for all of your new hires. Stop this nonsense of saying, "Why would we invest in the leadership development of this young audience who job hop constantly?" They are probably job hopping because you don't give a damn about their development. Hey, if they do leave you, maybe they will come back in a couple of years when they get tired of their next company treating them like they have no value.

2. Start a strong internal coaching and mentoring program. The best approach here is to bring in an external coach or coaching company to help you set this up. From here, start a "matching process," like the one provides, to match new hires with seasoned mentors... who like each other enough to get joined at the hip.

3. Upgrade your company. Go through your building with three Generation Y careerists, and ask them what you should update or upgrade. Is your technology outdated? Does your office look like you're stuck in the 1960s? With a few upgrades here and there, you can make your environment more appealing to a younger audience.

4. Upgrade your own communication skill set. I completely understand the resistance to Facebook, Twitter, and texting. But as leaders, you have to get over this. You have to be willing to use the technology that our twenty-somethings are using to connect with them. While yes, I agree that Gen Y can use some training in face-to-face and telephone interactions, this is not going to happen by your unwillingness to use the technology they use.

5. Get your Gen Ys involved... have them coach you. I am a big fan of reverse mentoring. Generation Y loves coaching and they love to coach others. It is your job as a leader to find out what transferable skills they are bringing into your company and then ask them to help you out. This one step alone can make your Gen Ys feel as if they are valued.

6. Sit down and knock out a leadership branding program. Everyone wants a great public branding program, but what does your leadership brand look like? Are you still working off a plan that says, "We are committed to integrity, honesty, and building trust?" Okay, that's great, but let's look at the future. Integrity is going to be a must, but there are some other cultural ways of being that are going to get your Gen Ys to stick around, including diversity, openness to new thinking, innovation, community service, online networking, and quick decision-making. Ask your Gen Ys what they value, and then weave those values into your leadership brand. If your younger employees know that you are dedicated to honoring what they value, they will feel more committed to your organization.

7. Drop the notion of "Experience = Great Leadership." This is so old school. We have some political leaders in our country right now who are in their early 20s, even in their teens. Generation Y can be quickly trained into leadership positions, because many have been in leadership positions since they were 10 and 11 years old. During the Millennial Leaders research project, I met Austin Lee, who was 14 and serving in a leadership position in St. Cloud, Minn.; and Ben Casnocha, who at age 17 was the CEO of his own company. This generation is not a generation that is green or was born in a barn; they have been out there working their way into leadership positions for years. So just drop the old belief that says, "Well, you must have 20 years of experience to be a leader." That is just not true. It may be true in some cases, so challenge your assumptions on that one. Treat each young person that walks in your door as a potential leader, and see how they shift and how you shift.

8. Implement a strong rotational development program (RDP). Intuit and other companies are using this approach. With a strong RDP, your young leaders will touch every job in your company over a period of 12 to 18 months. This is the best way to get your younger leaders ready for a leadership position in your company: by exposing them to every department and every aspect of your company and then coaching them on how to manage or lead in that division or department.

9. Stop calling Gen Y names and start respecting them for the great people they are. Just drop the name-calling. And by the way, I keep hearing that, "Oh, Gen Ys are just distracted. They multi-task all the time, and this is not a good thing!" Well, guess what? The majority of people multi-task their way through life. I have worked with more than 1,000 leaders in the past 10 years, and I cannot recall one who does not multi-task (and these people are over the age of 40). Our world is demanding multi-tasking. With Gen Y, they know how to multi-task in a way that is much more efficient than the rest of us. I have watched Gen Ys, and they amaze me with how they can multi-task and spit out a great quality product in the end. They know how to tap into their networks during a project to pull it all together. I have watched them open a document, pop open their chat window, and get answers to questions through their friends and colleagues, and voila!, ... great product pops out


10. Make work fun, experiential, and flexible. I don't understand why work can't be fun. I don't understand why we have to clock in at 9 and clock out at 5. I don't understand why training using a PPT presentation and a boring lecture is the only road to training. It is not working with this generation. What works is putting Gen Y into true learning experiences! Look at the way you operate. How can you make your environment more fun, more experiential, and more flexible? Get out of your old paradigm and shift... and you need to shift today!

Okay, I think I have made my case! I am going to keep writing these posts with the intention of getting through to just one leader, just one person who is actually ready to take on the above.

Bea Fields is president of Bea Fields Companies Inc., and co-author of "Millennial Leaders: Success Stories From Today's Most Brilliant Generation Y Leaders," and "EDGE! A Leadership Story." Learn more at or contact her at 910-692-6118 or at

Published: April 30th, 2010

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