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In my latest Financial Times column, Mrs Moneypenny and I discuss one of the hottest topics in the workplace – how to manage, motivate and retain millennials. 

There are countless articles written on what millennials need to be successful, such as autonomy, meaning and work-life balance, but I believe that millennials crave meritocracy the most. They want to believe that their skills are being rewarded and that their ideas are heard – no matter their tenure, seniority or status. 

See below to read the full article and learn why I believe that meritocracy is not just a buzzword, it is critical to the way we build companies today and support the future leaders of tomorrow. 

Financial Times
18 November 2015

*This article was originally featured on Financial Times.

Brynne Herbert

I was at a dinner with other business leaders this week when our conversation turned to how to manage, motivate and retain millennials. These alien creatures had confounded my dining companion, it seemed. “Does anyone have any advice for how to manage millennials?” she asked. “Much of my team is below the age of 30 and they are the bane of my existence.”

Many articles have been written about what millennials value: autonomy, recognition, meaning. But millennials most value meritocracy. They want to work at companies where their skills and contribution are rewarded, and where their ideas are heard — regardless of their tenure, seniority and status.

Meritocracy is at the core of the millennial mindset. It motivates and engages us. It is the secret solution to my dining companion’s conundrum. 

In today’s business community, employers — big and small — must make their companies meritocratic places in which to work.

Innovation is crucial to staying ahead in the ever-changing 21st century. Ideas can come from anywhere — from the customer service agent, the mailroom or the sales rep. No one has a premium on idea generation.

Technology companies know this and are focusing fiercely on meritocracy. They are also famous for being places where millennials love to work. Most have “open offices” with executives and “town halls”, company-wide forums where the chief executive provides updates and the team asks questions and makes suggestions.

At my company, town halls are often the highlight of the month. After the last one, we launched a recruiting strategy on the back of one of the comments made there.

And so, I told my dining companion, millennials are all about meritocracy. They want to contribute to your company’s growth and be rewarded for it, regardless of their position. Meritocracy is not just a buzzword, it is critical to the way we build companies today — for the near majority millennials in the workforce, the rest of our teams and our shareholders.

Mrs Moneypenny

Like Brynne, I am a great believer in meritocracy, but I do not think a culture that encourages and practises it is sufficient for our millennials to thrive in.

Is it enough to call for meritocracy in the workplace? No, you have to create the conditions under which it can flourish. I don’t just mean the employer — all millennials have to do their part as well. The responsibility does not just go one way.

The clamour for meritocracy implies that we did not have it before and that millennials are suddenly the first generation of young people to care about it.

Meritocracy has been around for millennia, it has not just been invented for millennials. Julius Caesar, may have been privileged enough not to have started at the very bottom, but he still had to work his way up the Roman army’s ranks. Even if we skip to the 18th century, Mozart was appointed to the court of Salzburg at 17 in the 1770s. A decade later in the UK, William Pitt the Younger was prime minister at 24.

Yes, there are a few institutions where longevity seems more important than ability, but meritocracy can be found everywhere you look, in every country and every century. 

As I employ millennials (half my staff are 30 or under) I know that their workplace matters to them and that meritocracy is part of it. (And our effort to build a meritocracy goes beyond our walls — we devote a substantial part of our profit to our charitable foundation.) But here’s the thing: ensuring a meritocratic culture is not just the responsibility of the employer. It is as much the task of the employee to show their capability as it is that of the employer to seek it out.

You have to make sure you are good at what you do technically: are you getting enough training? Seeking enough experience?

More than that, make sure enough people know it: how good are you at building networks? At developing a persuasive narrative? Do you have the right soft skills: have you tested your handshake and eye contact lately? Can you show you are interested in others?

Calling for more employers to listen to you is necessary, but not sufficient. Make sure you listen to them as well.

Stay tuned for more of MOVE Guides in the news and if you are curious to learn more, get in touch.

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