Chris Tuff is known as "The Millennial Whisperer" because of the book he authored of the same name. However, the partner at Atlanta ad agency 22Squared speaks loud and clear when he talks about what managers of businesses large and small need to do to attract, develop and retain talented young people who are millennials and part of Generation Z.
"Take a vested interest in younger employees' lives and have the conversation about what motivates you, what excites you, what is it that you want to do in the world," Tuff advises leaders. "And when we start doing that, that is where your retention rate will skyrocket, your culture will get better and you will actually be able to retain your top talent."
Tuff offered insight into how to bring out the most in millennials and Gen Z-ers in the June episode of the 21st Century Business Forum. The monthly webcast, sponsored by CHI St. Vincent and presented by Arkansas Business, features entrepreneurs and key leaders in business and sports. It's hosted by author Jon Gordon, who has written about leadership, sales and teamwork.
Tuff said when younger workers enter the four walls of your workplace, they are craving a relationship with their leaders "where you're not just the boss, but you're also a mentor and coach." That's because of their desire to be part of a collaborative culture rather than an authoritarian structure.
Millennials and Gen Z-ers also believe companies need to put purpose ahead of profits, Tuff said.
"Purpose needs to be at the core of your organization," he said. "If you're not doing it, you've got to do it, starting today." That purpose needs to include doing social good, Tuff said.
Tuff acknowledged that "there is truth to the neediness of millennials and Gen Z-ers" due in part to the constant positive reinforcement of their parents when they were children and the instant gratification they receive today via social media. Consequently, rewards and recognition are important to younger employees, though the rewards that satisfy them aren't necessarily monetary.
The ad executive shared the story of a company in San Francisco that recognized its No. 1 sales producer each month by blaring that employee's at-bat song — the song they would want played if they were coming to the plate in a baseball game — over a loudspeaker and rolling out a 10-foot-tall blue rooster that would sit by the employee's cubicle all month long. It's that company's approach to recognition that causes Tuff to ask other organizations, "What is your big blue rooster? Get creative about it." He also is an advocate of peer-to-peer recognition, where team members at his all-hands meetings share something good about what another team member has done for them.
It is Tuff's belief that millennials and Gen Z-ers are looking for three main things from the people who manage them, which are inspirational leadership, autonomy and transparency. Regarding the last of the three, he said younger employees want real-time feedback grounded in data.
"Don't wait for the one-on-one annual review to give that feedback," Tuff said.
Tuff said it's also important for workplace leaders to help identify what the passions are of their younger team members "and encourage them to do side hustles to scratch that itch so that they don't then end up leaving" and pursuing those interests elsewhere.
Watch previous episodes of the 21st Century Business Forum here.