Inspiring the millennial generation

There’s been a lot written lately, and for good reason, about the impact of a new generation of employees and how their entry into the workforce is beginning to reshape how we think about the employer-employee relationship as well as our relationship to work itself. In this blog, I’ll explore how this impacts our culture, and specifically a mistake I see many companies make in their attempt to respond to this shift.

For many older workers, employment was seen primarily as a means to support the family. They expected to work hard, to be loyal to their employers, and they expected loyalty and security in return. Meaning and fulfillment weren’t the primary objectives for work.

Looking for meaning

Most Generation Y (Millennial) employees, however, have different expectations. They place a greater priority on flexibility and work/life balance. They’re looking for their work to be imbued with meaning and purpose. They want to make a difference. In an attempt to satisfy this new desire for inspiration, many employers have tried to articulate motivating statements of purpose, or mission statements.

While this sounds like a good idea, too often I see companies write lofty statements that try to ascribe greater meaning and purpose to what they do or produce than I suspect really exists. A company that machines parts for the automotive industry tries to claim that their parts are changing the world by enabling people to get from one place to another more safely. Or the company that writes software used in telecommunications claims to be spurring world progress by empowering people around the world to more easily be connected.

Are we being authentic?

To be sure, there are organizations that truly are changing the world in amazing and inspiring ways. And almost all non-profits are particularly purpose-driven and have meaningful impact on the quality of people’s lives. But the vast majority of us simply make widgets; and ascribing lofty virtues to what we do doesn’t actually inspire many people. In fact, I’d argue it’s the opposite. Trying to make something sound like more than it is often comes across as inauthentic, and it can cause people to become cynical rather than inspired.

People can’t be tricked into being inspired. Inspiration can’t be artificially manufactured as a way to motivate employees. So then how can you respond to this desire for meaning in a way that’s actually more genuine, and ultimately, effective?

It’s inspiring to be great

Rather than trying to claim a purpose that often feels forced, we can more authentically inspire people simply by our desire to do what we do in extraordinary ways. It can be tremendously inspiring and rewarding to deliver fantastic service, to produce things with amazing quality, to collaborate in unusual ways, to be the very best in our industry.

If you’ve ever been on a championship team, think about how rewarding it was to chase greatness. If you’re ever done anything with incredible quality, something that you were really proud of, think about how you felt. These are real feelings of inspiration and they give our work true meaning.

The Fundamentals System that we teach at High Performing Culture provides a structure for creating extraordinary performance. It gives employees, of all generations, a common language and platform for being different than the average company, for doing something truly exceptional. Ultimately, this is far more inspiring than a forced mission statement.

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