With all the changes businesses will experience in this digital age, the stewardship of young talent is a vital responsibility of today’s leader. Young people entering the workforce today will work in jobs not yet invented. They are a generation accustomed to a fast pace, immediate availability of information and constant change. These factors, combined with a whole new suite of skills and knowledge position young talent to be a catalyst of growth innovation in your organization.
Like seasoned talent, young talent must be stewarded and nurtured to truly leverage all of this ability available to you. Without a focus on their unique interests and contributions and a clear development path, you could be at risk to lose them quickly to another organization or even a competitor. This group of talent is looking for opportunities to add value and contribute immediately. If they cannot see the way forward in the early days of a new role, they will quickly be searching for a new one — inside or outside of your organization.
Here are some key ideas to stewarding young talent:
1. Give young talent real responsibility early and often. This group expects to be trusted in their job early. They may not necessarily trust you yet, but they will trust you more as you invest in them. As soon as you identify that a team member has a strength they can contribute, put it to work. The old adage, “use or lose it” can apply here. They really want to contribute to something meaningful as soon as possible in the role.
2. Ask young talent their opinion. This group loves to give input. You will get it whether you ask or not, but they feel more respected when you ask. Additionally, they have good ideas and bring fresh and new perspectives to any project.
3. Create a clear development path. You may or may not be able to map out a clear career path, which they also crave, but at least be able to help them craft a development plan that will position them well for future opportunity. Include involvement on cross-functional project teams, opportunities to interact with leaders and attend internal and external events that will stimulate their thinking. Clearly articulate to them the possibilities you see for their participation in the business.
4. Advocate for young talent. These new workforce entrants are looking for champions and sponsors. When they step out to act on their ideas, pick the best ones and publicly support them. They are from the “everyone gets a trophy” generation. They want and need recognition to motivate them and encourage them in their next assignment. And for goodness sakes, don’t take credit for their work! Nothing is more demotivating to spend hours, days, weeks or months on something only for boss to come along and put her name on it. As a leader, hopefully, you already have what you want. Help others get what they want by giving them credit for the work.
5. Allow young talent to fail without it being fatal. People learn by making mistakes. They shut down, underperform and disengage in the face of fear of failure. This generation wants the opportunity to take small steps toward a solution, employ trial and error and have the opportunity to produce a winning idea. As a leader, one of your critical responsibilities is to teach others how to be successful in their work. Since success is a lousy teacher, you have to let people make mistakes, learn and recover.
As a leader, I tell my team that it is ok to make mistakes. Our goal is not to make the same one twice. Most all people want to do really good work. If we encourage them, advocate for them, propose a path, clear obstacles and barriers and allow them to learn by making mistakes, we gain their loyalty for a long season.
Macy was a fairly new and young employee. She was making her first presentation in front of a large group of senior and seasoned leaders. She was well prepared, but no doubt, had been anxiously anticipating the day for weeks. After an amazing presentation that clearly demonstrated her knowledge and expertise, the group began to ask her questions, quite pointedly. Two senior leaders asked her questions to which she, at the moment, did not know the answer. Caught off guard, Macy was visibly nervous and struggling. Gently, her boss interjected and deflected the attention off Macy. This leader was advocating for his young talent just by helping her navigate an uncomfortable situation.
As I watched the situation unfold, I was not sure what Macy was thinking, but I was watching the leader and thinking that I might would have walked across hot coals for him in the future. I took careful note of the technique, determined that I would certainly want to advocate and assist my own staff if the opportunity every presented itself.
Young talent is a goldmine for an organization, but the investment requirement from leaders is significant. Empower them, guide them and teach them and then watch what they can do for you.