We recently looked at some of the issues around millennial engagement and retainment, and wondered if intrapreneurship is the answer to the millennial problem.
By investing in intrapreneurship programs and in an intrapreneurial culture, companies increase their chances of attracting and retaining the millennial talent they need to drive innovative change within their organizations.
But what’s the millennial perspective? We spoke with two millennial intrapreneurs, Tucker Matheson from PwC and Samantha Klein from IBM, to gather their thoughts on the topic.
For Tucker Matheson, having his voice heard is one of the most important steps to being a successful intrapreneur.
For the last two years, Tucker, a management consultant at PwC Advisory, has co-led the Advisory National Staff Council at PwC US. Made up of top performing staff from across the country and from all the different markets and sectors the company serves, it communicates directly to leadership any concerns and recommendations from staff on the ground. The council also acts as a point of contact for national leadership teams to get direct staff feedback on initiatives.
“I’ve seen the value of having a voice,” says Tucker. “I think the organizations that listen and act on staff feedback and initiatives are the ones that are going to keep and maintain the leaders that they need at the end of the day.”
It was through the Advisory National Staff Council that Tucker and a colleague were able to present and push their idea of creating a social innovation challenge to senior leadership, an idea they developed after attending the One Young World conference in Bangkok in November 2015.
“It’s the largest global forum of young leaders in the world today. The cornerstone of what the conference is about is how young leaders, and the organizations they work for, can take action on social issues,” says Tucker, a mission he and his colleague brought back to PwC where the average age of its over 200,000 employees is 27.
The development of the social innovation challenge has stalled, Tucker admits, with a recent CEO change in the US, but he’s confident that with their new CEO PwC will keep moving forward with innovation and challenging the status quo.
“I’m probably one of the few of my [millennial] friends who have been at one company for five or more years. The reason I’m at PwC is because, if I want leadership experiences and I want to be intrapreneurial and push ideas, the environment is there to do it. It’s just on me to take action,” he says.
Tucker believes that other companies are starting to understand the benefits of intrapreneurship and listening to their staff. However, in terms of winning over millennials and driving innovation and business growth, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
He categorizes companies in four groups. At the top you have companies like Google who give their staff the time, resources and support needed to scale ideas in-house. Next come the PwCs, Apples and Starbucks of the world. “They’re all doing good initiatives. They’re listening to staff, they’re trying to be innovative in the things they’re doing.”
But the third chunk of companies, says Tucker, look like they’ve started with intrapreneurship – they’re doing innovation competitions and have cool innovation lofts – but they don’t really understand it and are mostly doing it because it’s the trend.
In fact, he knows of millennials at companies like these who have held innovation competitions where the game was played but the winner was, to some extent, unofficially selected ahead of time. “The companies pick ideas they were already thinking about or that fit in with their traditional business model,” says Tucker.
The last group of companies, he says, are purely motivated by profit and don’t care about or invest in their employees. Millennials don’t want to hang around long in organizations like this.
Tucker believes that a sole focus on profit along with not giving staff a voice is holding companies back.
“I think the biggest hurdle for a corporate is this focus on capitalism to the max. I get it, earnings and the capital markets drive business activity, but I think only focusing on that hurts the organization in the long-term. You have to give your staff a voice and create an environment where they are heard, respected, and challenged to step up and be future leaders of the business.”
By listening to your staff, they become more involved in the purpose of the organization, and committed to its strategy and agenda. Similarly, leadership gains useful feedback and recommendations that they might not be able to see.
As Tucker points out, “employees have a different view within the organization that can be very useful for leadership who is typically focused on the macro picture. Employees are the ones that can see a strategic market opportunity in a specific business line, because they are talking directly to customers every day.”
By building a company culture that truly listens to staff, you’re one step closer to an intrapreneurial and millennial-friendly culture.
“I think until you have a voice it’s hard to have the confidence to start something innovative and for intrapreneurship to flourish,” says Tucker. “If I know my feedback and my thoughts are respected, well, maybe this idea I have will also be respected, you know?”
Wild ducks for innovation
Samantha Klein is one wild duck. And she believes the more companies embrace and encourage their own wild ducks, the more they’ll be able to drive innovation while attracting and retaining millennials.
But what’s a wild duck anyhow? “The people who are really thinking differently,” -says Sam.
It was Thomas Watson Jr., the second president of IBM, who first made the term popular in IBM lore: “We are convinced that any business needs its wild ducks. And in IBM we try not to tame them.”
A company like this that encourages employees to challenge the status quo, and to use their diverse interests and skills to work with colleagues is a wild duck’s and millennial’s dream, says Sam.
When Sam joined IBM less than two years ago, she was already passionate about millennials and their success and happiness in the workplace. So it was natural for her to think about millennial issues.
Soon, she was invited, along with three other millennials, to give a presentation to executives. The big question: how can IBM engage millennials more in the workplace?
The key, says Sam, is to allow millennials to work on ideas that interest them, even if it’s not in their job description, and help them align with the business to accomplish their goals.
This was the thinking behind what became the IBM Millennial Corps – a place for millennials to come up with new ideas and connect physically and digitally with each other and the rest of the company.
In true wild duck fashion, Sam and her colleagues developed and ran the Millennial Corps as a side hustle while working at their day jobs. Once they’d built it into a thriving community of over 4000 people, their gig became official. Sam’s new job title? Next Gen Intrapreneur.
“I think the companies that are really allowing their younger employees – and employees in general – to experiment with new and different ideas that might seem out of the norm are the ones who are going to win in this digital economy,” says Sam.
Millennials (and the up-and-coming Gen Z) often have an abundance of passions and interests, says Sam, and being able to work on a variety of projects is important to them. “With the internet now you can have so many interests and passions and hobbies. Millennials want to bring all those things to their work,” she says.
“So if a company like IBM can create an environment where you can bring all those passions and skill sets, where you are empowered to take risks as long as you are supporting your company’s strategy, then you have the best of all worlds.”
Developing that environment means connecting with interesting, diverse people inside and outside their team and your company, says Sam. “You get your best ideas from talking to as many different people with different perspectives as possible.”
She also points to IBM’s social collaboration tools, which make it possible to connect with any one of the 300,000+ people within IBM at any time, as being crucial to the success of the Millennial Corps.
If the corporate environment is too bureaucratic, you risk stifling millennials.
“When we have an idea we need to know where we can take it and then collaborate with colleagues to make it work. We don’t have a lot of patience, and the world is moving at the speed of digital,” says Sam.
Intrapreneurship plays an important role in attracting and retaining millennials, and while Sam thinks some companies are doing it right, many have considerable room for improvement.
“I think companies need to embrace the idea of empowering their younger employees, or their employees in general,” says Sam,“ and really great things can happen.”