T he more I spend time with HR leaders all around the country, both from large and small companies, the more I realize that retention of millennials is a big issue. I don’t think it’s rocket science but it clearly requires an intentional plan that differs from what has been done until now. Attracting them in the first place, although a problem, is not as daunting as keeping them with you for more than 2 or 3 years. Why? Keep reading!

Oh, by the way, there are dozens of firms that claim expertise in this area, and I won’t dispute it. I’m here to add my two cents of how I advise and implement these initiatives with my clients. Listen up:

  1. Identify high potentials and create a development program for them. By the way, paint potentiality with a broad brush. It’s not about high performers today; this is about potential leaders for your company tomorrow. I personally believe you must cast a wide net among millennials, and be open minded about their interests, and how they could align with your organization’s future. A wide net high potentials program. If you have such a program, revise your admission criteria today.
  2. Add both “innovation” and “social innovation” to your High Potentials Program (HPP). Consider innovation as better ways to deliver value (credit to Saul Kaplan for this definition) in your current business, including new business models. Those discussions spark the imagination of those with dreams to transform the business to change the world: millennials. Now think about “social innovation” as to how your business can, through the normal course of doing business, change the lives of underserved populations. Are there Bottom of the Pyramid (see CK Prahalad), Shared Value (see M Porter) or social business (see M Yunus) market opportunities for your company? In addition to “innovation”, thinking about “social innovation” is a very exciting prospect for millennials. The famous “purpose” is pragmatically embedded in a social innovation project. Let them ideate how your company can go beyond corporate social responsibility into a true actor for social change while conducting a profitable business.
  3. Once the HPP program ends, people tend to go back to their departments and never meet again with their newly created “pods” in the program. Whether they were pods or actual teams, your organization must find ways to get these teams to meet again and get to work on something real. This is the cherry on the pie: take 2 or 3 innovation projects from your innovation pipeline, real ones, actual ones, and give them to your HPP teams to further develop and implement. Tell their supervisors that the organization needs them to work a few hours a month in “next practices” (not just “best practices”) for the organization. From small improvements using a LEAN approach to larger and more out-of-the-box innovation challenges, your HPP teams, freshly “normalized” after the forming and storming phases of your HPP, are ready to perform. This step is where most organizations fail. They simply focus on getting the next cohort of HPPs, effectively “firing” their HPP teams when they are probably the ones that are more ready to perform than any other teams in your entire organization.

I have seen great rates of millennials retention and incredibly powerful innovation projects (including spinoffs of viable new businesses) within my clients as a consequence of following these three steps.

#BeWise and retain millennials by assessing their leadership potential more broadly, developing their innovation and social innovation skills, and getting them to work on the development of actual innovation projects and “next practices”. Change the world through your organization maximizing the contributions of your well-prepared change agents. As easy as 1-2-3.