Confession Time. I Used to be a Millennial.

I have a confession to make. I was once a millennial. Although when I was, we weren’t called millennials. We were called long-haired layabouts. And nobody could care less what we thought about anything or what we wanted from the workplace. In common with other friends of mine I wanted to be treated with respect and given the chance to learn and develop, and I didn’t want to hang around in a business I didn’t like. But we were told to just put up and shut up.

Which we did. We did because we needed the job. A secure job, and employers reference, was instrumental to getting a decent bank account and a credit card. Plus access to finance – for a car loan (driving around in your mother’s car wasn’t a great look) and to begin saving towards a mortgage deposit.

Today’s millennials/long-haired layabouts do not have such concerns – they get bank accounts when they’re born, credit cards on turning 16, most have little interest in (or need for) buying a car and as for saving for a mortgage….

I sat on a conference panel talking about employee engagement earlier last year. The organisers had arranged for two senior HR professionals, an industry spokesperson, and one of their millennial employees to join me. We had been treated to a keynote session full of millennial myths and future of work warnings. We started the panel by introducing ourselves. The millennial employee said “If I join your company and I don’t like the way you treat me then I’ll leave. I won’t be leaving because I’m a millennial employee who’s hardwired to change jobs every 6 months – I’ll be leaving because you’re a shit company to work for”. Cue much laughter and applause from the audience.

There are two immediate things to draw from this. Firstly one of self-awareness, that whilst shit isn’t the most offensive word in the English language, its not one that I would use from the conference stage. And secondly that the way younger employees are treated in the workplace drives whether they stay with a business, not the need for longer term financial stability and a stable career.

Whilst the conversations around generations aren’t new, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend recently of  events featuring sessions where they are discussed. With the usual lame observations leading to weak analysis and faulty conclusions. At a time when every business conference is embracing Diversity and Inclusion as a key driver of commercial success, the juxtaposition of this message with sessions on generational stereotyping are particularly jarring and unwelcome.

Let us not forget that times are uncertain for under 35s. Geopolitical trends are going against them – the majority of them did not vote for Brexit, nor the current Government in the UK or president in the US.

Meanwhile they are constantly reminded that they’ll be the first generation to be poorer than their parents. And regularly told that they’ll be fighting an army of robots, chatbots and algorithms all hellbent on taking their jobs. They need to be in a constant mode of learning and skill development, whilst this transience and lack of job security becomes glamourised by the language of artistry and aspiration – gigs, portfolios, flexibility and freedom.

If that’s not enough today’s millennials have to cope with an army of consultants, bloggers, analysts and armchair psychologists analysing them, telling them what they are supposed to think and do, and then earning a living telling everyone in HR and business leadership roles how special millennials are and why all business practices have to be redesigned to keep them happy.

Of course, times were uncertain when I was a millennial too – its just there was no army of consultants, bloggers, analysts and armchair psychologists trying to earn money from analysing us…just bosses to tell us to put up, shut up and be thankful we had a job…

On second thoughts…

(Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need. You can hear me talking about it on this podcast)

What We’ve Been Talking About at #HRVision14

During the afternoon sessions on Day 1 at HRVision I mainly went to presentations on talent management and engagement. There were some case studies and one or two supplier tracks. I don’t mind those as long as they share some insight rather than pitch – the ones I attended thankfully did the former.

Here are some of the things I heard:


‘If you think someone’s worth talking to then they must be worth listening to

This came from Emmajane Varley of HSBC during a presentation on their employee comms, the team that she runs.. It was an interesting session as she co-presented with her sister Jenny who runs the video channel HSBC Now TV (here’s a review from Rachel Miller a few months ago). She opened with “our leaders had done 148 years and we had had enough. There were too many people with their fingers on the talk button of the walkie talkie“. We had examples of employee involvement and talk of how leaders had embraced the shift from talking to openness and listening. Employee feedback showed an increase in being valued and many felt they had a say in management decisions – probably more the ear of leadership than a seat at the table.


‘Leaders need to be enablers’

During Ralf Larsson’s run through of the Electrolux employee engagement overhaul we heard of how managers had embraced blogging as a way of communication through the social intranet and also how having a mobile interface had driven more use. He talked of the positive impact of moving leadership away from being directive to being inclusive and from taking the role of enablers:

  • explains what employees need to do to support each other
  • encourage exchange of ideas and knowledge among employees
  • explain reasonoing behind decisions
  • trust employees to make decisions



‘You can also find out where to get a coffee’

One of the most impressive tech applications was from Accenture and their Candidate Interview Preparation App. There’s also one for the interviewer to help make sure that they are prepared too. Watch this video explaining more about the candidate app…they even let you know where the nearest coffee shops are…


‘Don’t just focus on your perm workers, understand your contingent workforce too, their passion and value for the organisation’

One of the supplier presentations was from Sally Hunter of Kelly OCG. She looked at various aspects of strategic workforce planning and also talked of the candidate experience, raising the difference between the way we treat consumers and job applicants even though the latter may also be the former. It’s a message we often discuss, but with different audiences at each event it’s one that needs to be repeated.

The main part for me though was about the expectations and needs of contingent workers. In my event preview I raised the point about engaging people who work for you, and represent you, but may not be employed by you. Many presentations around talent and recruitment feature examples from businesses that outsourcer some of their workforce – maybe we need to hear more about the worker/collaborator experience as well as the employee experience.


‘Diversity means nothing without inclusion’

The topic of diversity has been raised a few times. The point being strongly made is that without Inclusion it means nothing.

During the HSBC session we saw videos from employes talking about issues that they behave had with weight and mental health and support that they received. They also shared this video from Antonio Simoes, Head of HSBC UK, on diversity and inclusion…



Innovation, Diversity and Uncertainty at #euhrevent


Permission to Experiment


I’ve just returned from 2 days in Berlin at the European HR Directors Summit. We had a strong mix of delegates (drawn from across Western Europe) some helpful and informative sponsors (who didn’t push too much and had some interesting analysis to share) and a friendly, energetic team from WTG who kept the event running smoothly.

I was there in tweeting/blogging capacity, aided by Mark and Perry, when they weren’t engaged on their well received chairing duties.

The overall event was really enjoyable. There was a good energy about it, with inquisitive delegates. Those I spoke during the networking breaks all felt that they had learned and discovered some new ideas to take back with them.

The tone was set each day by the opening keynotes. Both Dr Nicola Millard (changing nature of work) and Liggy Webb (resilience) spoke with a passion and energy that was infectious, using humour and imagery to help make their points. The audience felt involved and identified with many of the issues that they raised. I think that the impact of the opening keynote, and the way that it sets the mood for what follows, can often be overlooked when agendas are put together. The most impressive CV or academic research may be important to establish credibility, but do not necessarily create awesome from the stage. It is the ability to captivate an audience, to entertain as well as educate, illustrate as well as inform, that often makes it a success or a disappointment, and adds weight to the points raised.

There were recurring themes across the 2 days – change, uncertainty, diversity, learning, innovation, leadership and empowerment – and here are some of my takeaways:

The Age of Uncertainty

Many presentations dealt with the rapid change we are experiencing. Whilst there may have been other similar periods in the past the current combination of technological, economic, demographic and cultural shifts are impacting heavily on our work. One session from the EU Commission looked at the increase in productivity and job creation that Europe would need by 2030 – quite frightening. The four generation workforce was also referenced many times.

The recent Deloitte report on Global HR trends had highlighted the ‘overwhelmed employee’ as a major issue facing business and the conference opener from Dr Nicola Millard looked at the factors driving changes to work – disappearance of a ‘9 to 5’ working mindset, technology enabling remote working and collaboration, the end of the tradition office space – and how the ‘always connected, always on’ mindset creates distractions (or time vampires as she called them) that could affect productivity, sleep patterns and general wellbeing. “Where in your job description does it say that you need to spend up to half the day dealing with email?” she asked.

Another session talked of the need to hire people who enjoy uncertainty as the need for change grows and of striking the balance between pragmatism and perfection – “for change to succeed, perfection needs to take a back seat to pragmatism“.

Embrace Diversity

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a European conference, diversity was an issue that also ran through a number of sessions. There was little mention of the dreaded generational classifications – “mind the generation gap but ignore the millennial hype” said Nicola Millard – with adaptability and technological competence being seen as key differentiators, irrespective of age.

Whilst in the UK we often talk of diversity in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, here the main areas discussed were around culture and personality. The need to have a culture that caters for both introverts and extroverts, and to lead in a way that brings both together, maximising their skills irrespective of their different approaches, was referenced. Not everyone is the same, we all react and contribute differently to a range of situations. To build and inspire a team of diverse characters requires leadership skills that we may not always fully assess. Praise and encouragement were seen as crucial people builders – “How hard can it be to make other people feel important?“.

We also had a powerful session on leading multicultural workforces, across countries and businesses. Production and consumption, markets and commercial relationships, are now international, whilst IT systems are global. In bringing this together the key is to not erase diversity but use it to foster different viewpoints for creativity, innovation and competencies, whilst leveraging it for insights to different markets and buying habits. Leaders need to acknowledge local cultures, accept their differences and integrate (not attempt to change) the values and perspectives they bring.

Keep the Talent

Internals First was the name of a session from Credit Suisse about their ‘Grow Your Own’ programme – a sourcing strategy that supports internal mobility and direct approaches to the internal labour market. The external focus is shifted to entry level positions and then an internal market is created, with the main benefits being:

  • Development strategy
  • Maintaining culture
  • Less performance risk
  • Qualified candidates becoming harder to find
  • Helps retention

Framing is important, hence there is no talk of internal headhunting, but the campaign does bring all internal opportunities to everyone’s attention. Employees are encouraged to keep their skills up to date and visible, whilst managers are able to get the attention of internal passives. There are challenges – employees need career coaching and their expectations managed, whilst managers can sometimes also expect too much from the internal market.

One interesting stat was that around 40% of internal employes moving roles had already been contacted by external headhunters regarding external roles. It shows the importance of making opportunities visible to keep employees happy, demonstrating the variety of an internal career, or else risk losing them.

Fostering Innovation

Keeping talent is one thing, encouraging and empowering it to help the innovation process is the next stage. “Don’t just source ideas from researchers but from all employees. Innovation is the responsibility of every employee” said Olivier Leclerc from Alcatel Lucent when introducing us to their entrepreneurial bootcamps, which produce between 30 and 40 ideas every 6 to 9 months. They foster a buccaneering spirit (from ego-centre to eco-centre was one delegate comment) and involve external parties to give a VC feel and ensure that innovative ideas are viewed on their merit and not with a company bias. Some key benefits had been:

  • Diversification of the product portfolio
  • Revenue from bootcamp projects
  • Refreshed company image
  • Culture change and greater engagement

In an earlier session, Simon Watt from Mattel had also talked of inspiring an innovation culture amongst employees. I particularly liked their ‘Permission to Experiment’ ticket – encouraging employees to to experiment fast, often and without permission – and an example from their Mumbai office. This wasn’t about product but more cultural. Most new starters had their interviews during the working day, and had taken only 20 minutes or so to travel to the site. On their first day, rush hour traffic meant that this journey could take a couple of hours or more, often leading to surprise and disappointment. The existing teams noticed this and decided that they would pick every new starter up from home, each day in their first week, and drive them to and from the office, both showing them the fastest routes and short cuts, and helping integration by spending quality time with them in the car.


What is resilience? This was the opening question from best selling author Liggy Webb as she took us through the key behaviours that can help build resilient, agile and innovative workforces. Amongst the delegate definitions we got bouncebackability, tolerance, positivity, calm. She introduced us to the Doomerangs (like boomerangs but instead of bouncing back they continually re-live negativity) and the Doom Goblins (those in the workforce whose negativity and moaning drains the lifeblood front the team) whilst conjuring up more imagery with “negative attitude spreads like germs, don’t sneeze your whining on others

She suggested we ‘hug a problem and learn from it‘ and also urged “Change for the better. If you don’t like change, you don’t like life – don’t mourn the past, seize the opportunity“.

It proved an energetic start to the second day, and there were serious messages here. With the overall themes of change, uncertainty, innovation and corporate realignment there is a need for strong and inspiring leaders, and workforces who are resilient, adaptable and creative.

Perhaps it was one Dr Nicola Millard’s comments from the opening that stuck with me most through the two days – “No is a really dangerous answer. So lets say yes“. There is much going on in our working lives, from what we do and how we do it to the way in which we are contracted to do it. We have become distractible and overwhelmed, often in need of guidance and the type of strong leadership that lets us know someone has a plan and a vision.

Finally, one session looked at HR strategies and competencies, the importance of a CEO committed to the people agenda, and how to lead the way for greater transparency and clarity. It defined HR competencies for the new work environment as:

  • Leadership
  • Innovation
  • Leverage networks
  • Data judgement
  • Business acumen
  • Organisational acumen
  • Talent management acumen

We need to foster the right practices and and mindsets, and this often starts with recruitment and the ability to find the people who will best fit the business vision and culture.

Certain hiring for uncertain times…