thwart millennial cultureHow did Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, become interested in corporate culture? From simple statement from iRobot co-founder Colin Angle:

“Culture is how people make decisions when you’re not in the room, and when you don’t have one, you can’t scale.”

Hubspot and their leaders have not only built an engaging, empowering culture, they have crafted it with Millennials in mind. And why not. Millennials are the largest generation and will be the workforce majority this year and account for 75% of the workforce by 2030.

Hubspot is one of several excellent examples of a company working hard to get organizational culture right. However, let’s be real. The unfortunate fact is most organizations are not building an engaging culture or one to really involve the next generaton of leaders. So, let’s take a page from these “traditional” organizations.

5 Traditional Ways to Build a Frustrated Millennial Culture

To build a culture to distract Millennials and disengage team members, do the following five things.

1 – Don’t use technology to empower collaboration

Remember the days when everything was done on paper or solved within Lotus 1-2-3? Want to coordinate with someone? Pick up the telephone. Need to find new team members? Move them to one central location. Want to host a team meeting? Find an available room and then find out when each person is available.

Some of these elements are still important in today’s electronic world but the traditional mindset is:

  • We have always done it this way and it has worked.
  • Everyone needs to be physically present and accounted for.
  • Technology is a “nice to have” or a toy that younger people just play with.

The reality is:

  • Doing the same thing with the same technology expecting an improving result is culture insanity.
  • Technology enables collaboration in more efficient ways, extending reach to more diverse viewpoints and talents.
  • Engaging technology is a must-have to raise productivity and, most importantly, increase team engagement.

The obvious technology enablers may include solutions such as IBM Verse, Yammer, Asana, Basecamp, Facebook, Google+, Skype, and many others. The less obvious may be robots. Yes, robots. Remote team members can now move around an office and interact with others. Barriers are eliminated and isolation lessened through the use of Team Robot!

Cultures that succeed in engaging Millennials and fostering collaboration across generational and physical boundaries will embrace technology as an empowering force. This is not purchasing technology because it is cool. Purchasing technology to rally a team, bring a diverse culture together no matter the location, and raise productivity to new levels is the way to build a culture that thrives.

2 – Only check the culture temperature once a year

Dust off the annual survey and send it out again. If you are of the first mindset, you might even send it out in paper form or mail it to everyone’s home address. The 20% percent who take the time to respond is then tabulated. The results are looked at by a select few, usually have a “C” in their title. And then it is put in a filing cabinet drawer and the clock ticks forward for another 12 months.

The traditional mindset on organizational culture becomes:

  • Annual traditions are something we suffer through and then ignore the results.
  • People are paid to do a job so just be happy.
  • A few at the top know best.

The reality is waiting to adjust a culture will drain top talent quickly. In a short time, you will have a mediocre pool of talent trying to go unnoticed, collecting a paycheck and doing the minimum. Change for change sake is not appropriate either but making meaningful adjustments to keep talent rising and engaging is critical.

Tools like Glint or TINYpulse enable quick, short pulse checks of your organizational culture. Timely corrections deliver trust. Listening offers respect. Time is your enemy and friend when it comes to culture. Time is your enemy when you leave issues unaddressed. Time is your friend when you listen quickly and intently and then take meaningful actions to self-correct.

The new world of cultural development and nourishment is to “go small to go big” for purposeful impact.

3 – Disable focus on community engagement

Learn what we tell you to learn. Review our limited offering of training classes and, when time allows (meaning, when we tell you), you can attend one of our own classes. And, by the way, our corporate community involvement is this Saturday afternoon so come to help. We will know who was there and who was not.

Training is good. Community involvement is good. Limiting both is troublesome. There needs to be a tempo between the value of training and community engagement because work does need to be done to achieve the larger corporate purpose. However, to keep talent growing and fully engaged, there are times to bust out of the four walls of a company and interact with a larger marketplace.

There are many industry trade groups or Meetup opportunities to learn and get involved. In doing these, there are several benefits including:

  • Involvement in industry trade groups will enhance the brand of your company. Active presence matters.
  • Engagement in marketing, sales, finance, or engineering groups grow skillsets. Diverse insights matter.
  • Education that happens elsewhere strengthens leadership skills without formal programs. Diverse experience matters.

Boundaries are met to be removed as the flow between work and community strengthens the individual and the culture.

4 – Focus only on the numbers

What matters is revenue and profitability growth and sales per employee or per square foot. When the numbers do not meet 90-day expectations, time to eliminate people. The ninety-day people like immediate action so we need to manage to the short term numbers.

What this mindset delivers is, simply, shortsightedness. What worthy organization can grow for the long term in 90 or 180 day chunks of time? Not many.

Numbers do matter, however. After all, numbers tell the story of a culture. The numbers will tell if there is investment for long term growth. The numbers will tell how profitability is being achieved and whether or not it is sustainable. Numbers tell the story of customer satisfaction and willingness to keep purchasing from your organization. Numbers tell the story of talent and how team members are engaged. Numbers do matter but it is the meaning behind them that matter more.

Here are two questions to consider:

  1. Do your numbers tell an empowering story?
  2. What do your numbers show a commitment to?

Conscious Capitalism shows the power of purpose in numbers. When purpose and profit are taken together, a more engaging culture develops. Whether Patagonia, The Container Store, or Barry-Wehmiller, each company understand the power of numbers. When tough economic times hit, the easy answer was to lay-off people. For these companies, this crossed the line on their core cultural principles. They took the less traveled path, tightening their financial belts in other ways and taking a profitability hit. As the recovery began to happen, each company recovered stronger and more quickly than others. This is the power of purpose-enabled numbers.

Numbers tell a story. Ensure you have your cultural story right first so your numbers survive the test of time.

5 – Focus on structure, structure, structure

Structure delivers order. Line up people, top-to-down. Well defined lines of hierarchical structure will keep everyone aligned and in line to do the work. Straying from the defined lines only creates confusion and disorder. Do what you are told and do it on time are what matters most. Vertical flow of work and communication is more manageable and productive for the people at the top of each organizational ledge.

The traditional cultural mindset is focused on wedding-cake organizations. Each layer is well placed and supported by a larger base beneath it. Today’s enabling technology and compelling leadership thoughts are showing how sheet cake organizations are more productive. Flat organizations and empowered teams are what make the difference.

Processes and plans still matter. They are driven by the teams though. Authority, responsibility, and accountability are outlined and then others get out of the way. When an initiative is complete, teams may be disbanded and new ones created to take on new challenges. This is the adaptable organization to survive and thrive in today’s changing economics and customer behaviors.

Structure changes to be adaptable and freeing to pursue the right solutions. Built into the structure is the need for unstructured. Unstructured structure means:

  • Freedom to pursue and change in order to meet the defined mission
  • Free time to think
  • Broad boundaries defined and then broad flexibility to achieve within corporate principles

Enduring cultures deliver clearly defined missions and expectations and then provide a flexible foundation in which to work upon.

Culture: What Millennials Want, What We All Want

The good news is that I believe many companies are embracing what the power of good culture can mean for all their stakeholders. For those that continue to wait, the sea of change is coming. Change will either come in the form of extinction or the coming wave of Millennial leaders.

To build a sustainable and engaging culture, do the opposite of the traditional organizations. Learn from tradition but then adapt from the lessons learned. To build a culture for the current and next generation, do the following:

  • Implement technology to empower collaborative efforts and remove boundaries.
  • Conduct frequent and short checks on how your people are doing. Be transparent in the results and act in purposeful ways from the information heard.
  • Leverage and expand your presence by encouraging talented people to learn outside the organizational boundaries. Boost participation in industry and marketplace groups.
  • Craft an enduring story in which the numbers deliver a reflection everyone can stand up for and be proud of. Leverage the intersection of purpose and profits well.
  • Unbound teams to pursue initiatives and solve problems. Provide the freedom of pursuit along with the authority to pursue and the accountability of results. Provide unstructured structure, providing time to think, learn, and discover.

Enduring, engaging culture requires these ingredients. As Brian Halligan inspires:

“If our company builds great products to attract customers, why not build a great culture to attract employees?”

What necessary ingredients will craft a culture for the generations? Add your thoughts in the comments below.