How to Retain Gen Y Employees? Invert the Pyramid

By: Vineet Nayar

Retention of top employees is, of course, an issue for every large organization (at HCL Technologies we employ some 60,000 people.) But some categories of employees are tougher to keep in the fold than others — Gen Y, in particular. In this regard, we have had a lot of success with a management approach that we call Employees First, Customers Second or EFCS.

There has been endless discussion about the characteristics of Gen Y: about their comfort and facility with technology, the role of social media in their relationships, their openness about their lives, their willingness to collaborate, and their eagerness to share information about just about everything. Of course, these are generalizations, just as the Gen Y classification itself is a generalization — there are many definitions of who and what these people are.

Forget Hierarchy, Forget the Corporate Ladder
What I have observed about the Gen Y group, at least at HCL, is that they approach their work and careers very differently than do members of the generations that preceded them. They have little interest in hierarchy and are not particularly impressed by the titles and positions within the traditional pyramid structure. They don’t go about their work in ways that are intended to get them to the next rung of the corporate ladder or win them favor with their bosses. They prefer to get involved in projects and initiatives that fascinate them, that they consider worthwhile and that they see as useful to the world at large.

You cannot attract, motivate, or retain such people simply by offering them more money (although they like money as much as any other generation does), a promotion to some essentially meaningless “higher” grade, or by making massages available during work hours or recognizing them at Friday beer bashes (although they also enjoy massages and certainly drink their share of beer.)

We have found that the way to get the most from Gen Y employees is simply to adopt some of their ways of thinking and behaving and apply them to the discipline of management, specifically transparency, mutual accountability, and passion.

Transparency is Key for Many Gen Y-ers
It is almost laughable when you think about how the traditional, hierarchical organization has been built on the practice of hoarding of information as a way to gain and maintain power. If I have certain information and you do not, then I know more than you do and I therefore hold more power and authority than you do. Really, what a sorry way for human beings to behave!

At HCL, we decided to make a great deal of our financial data available for all employees to see. In the old days, only senior managers could know which units and initiatives were doing well or poorly; even within a workgroup, not everyone got to look at the financials. We opened up the books for all to see. Revelation! Suddenly, everyone felt as if they knew the score, understood the circumstances, were trusted with important data. This made Gen Y-ers, who think of access to information as the natural order of things, feel more comfortable at work.

I have written a good deal about our efforts to “invert the hierarchy” and “turn the pyramid upside down” in order to make management accountable to those employees who operate in what we call the “value zone” — the interface between employee and customer where real value is created. In fact, what we did by opening up the books was to make accountability two-way: employees remained accountable to their managers (necessary for control and alignment) and managers were also made accountable to employees (necessary to create value.)

Information Builds Community
Another way we have achieved this is through an initiative called the Smart Service Desk (SSD), an online portal that enables any employee to create a ticket to report a problem or request information. The ticket is assigned to the department that is best able to address the issue, and a manager in that department becomes responsible for the ticket. Only the employee who opened the ticket can close it once the manager offers a satisfactory solution. Gen Y employees loved it. All employees loved it. And still do. It is almost like real life!

Gen Y employees pursue their interests with a remarkable combination of intensity, focus, and enjoyment. Their preferred way of living goes beyond pursing an “interest” or “getting involved.” They want to dig deep and make the absolute most of whatever it is they’re working on or playing at. So at HCL we have created hundreds of online communities of passion — some around business issues, some around everything else under the sun — that enable our people to connect with one another, share ideas, create new programs and even products. The Gen Y-ers love these, too.

These and many other initiatives aimed at increasing transparency, creating two-way accountability, and building passion that have served to put employees first at HCL, including our Gen Y employees. As a result, we have created tremendous value for customers and grown our revenues, while expanding the size of our workforce, improving our employee satisfaction scores and increasing our retention rates.

Author Bio
Vineet Nayar is CEO of HCL Technologies, a leading global IT services company and author of Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down.