Keep High-Potential Millennials Engaged & Challenged With Thoughtful Resource Allocation

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Keep High-Potential Millennials Engaged & Challenged With Thoughtful Resource Allocation

Many managers assign important projects and allocate resources with a short mental checklist: who has expertise in this area, and who’s got bandwidth to tackle it?

That’s a shortsighted and limiting way to run an enterprise in this fast-changing competitive landscape. There is more competition than ever before for the best talent, especially among Millennials, who now make up more than a third of the workforce, according to the Pew Research Center.

Too often, senior leaders go back to the same high potentials — project managers who have a proven track record — and load them up with the more complex projects.

That causes fatigue and burnout, and misses an enormous opportunity to give emerging leaders a chance to develop new skills, take on leadership responsibilities and contribute to the organization.

“The best managers know how critical it is to let employees with high potential take on leadership roles so they develop new skills and stay engaged,” said Amy Zehfuss, founder & principal of Springboard Strategy and an adjunct professor of structured problem solving at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School who was formerly an executive at Turner Entertainment and Spanx.

Younger employees are more likely to get restless and start looking for another job if they’re not given an opportunity to take on increasingly important leadership roles or make meaningful contributions to major projects.

About 21 percent of Millennials reported changing jobs in the past year, according to a recent Gallup survey. That was three times higher than the job change rate for GenX and other cohort groups, Forbes reported.

But matching employees with the right combination of skills to the right projects can create a positive multiplier effect: The project gets done well, the manager’s reputation is stronger and the employee gains valuable leadership experience.

“Managers should consider things like ability to think on their feet, handle sticky situations, have a sphere of influence with other teams and also the humility to come back and ask for help when they get stuck,” Zehfuss said.

Just because someone is a subject matter expert doesn’t automatically qualify them to lead a project because they may not have the soft skills that can make or break a project, such as managing a team of people, breaking down complex projects and doing cross-functional work with colleagues in other departments.

For example, an industrial company that needs to develop a new engine might not want to put its best mechanical engineer in charge of that project. The engineer should certainly have an important role in the project from a technical and design standpoint, but may not be the best at delivering the project on time, managing the budget and working with the marketing team to create a sales strategy for bringing it to market.

Putting the wrong people in the wrong roles with the wrong processes can create costly slowdowns, excessive revisions, budget overruns and clashes with other teams.

How Bureaucracy Stymies Good Decision Making

Joseph L. Bower, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School and the co-author of From Resource Allocation to Strategy, tells the tale of a corporate controller who once got a capital project request for a chimney for an industrial plant.

Not the entire factory, just the chimney.

Baffled, the controller flew out to visit the plant and discovered that local management had built an entire manufacturing plant through numerous small work orders that fell below the threshold of needing corporate approval.

When questioned, local management confessed that they decided to build the plant that way because they worried that it would take too long to get all the layers of corporate approvals and that the delays would hurt their competitive position.

But they could not figure out how to break the chimney down into similar small work orders, so that final item had to go through the usual corporate approvals channels.

It was an example of resource allocation and corporate processes at their worst, and it made the company reconsider its processes and management structure.

If the right people were in the right leadership positions and had the best skills for overseeing projects and making decisions, an entire manufacturing facility shouldn’t have been built without corporate knowing about it.

Worse, it also showed the lengths that local leaders felt they had to go to avoid bureaucracy and slowness from upper management that would impair the company’s competitive position.

7 Best Practices

Here are 7 best practices for resource allocation that will ensure the best leaders are spearheading projects and growth initiatives that will help your bottom line:

  • Prioritize projects. Put the most energy and resources behind the most valuable projects and initiatives that have the greatest potential to deliver outsized returns and impact to the business, and then spend more time carefully thinking through who are the best leaders for each project.
  • Consider capabilities and interests. Choose people on your team who have the best combination of experience, knowledge and softer skills like emotional intelligence and an ability to build consensus to ensure success.
  • Create “stretch opportunities.” Employees who show promise as rising leaders should be given a chance to stretch into new roles so they stay engaged and can develop the skills needed to become future senior leaders.
  • Take a multi-generational approach. Try to include people from several generational cohorts on all project teams to be sure you’re getting many viewpoints and insights on the project. Baby Boomers may have a very different approach to solving a problem than their GenX peers, while Millennials may bring views to the table that their older colleagues would never have thought of.
  • Do a skills gap assessment. If someone in a leadership role is lacking critical skills, devote extra time to coach the person, or pair them with a mentor who can help guide them through developing those skills.
  • Align with professional goals. Make sure your team understands that their performance and success on projects is directly correlated to their earnings and advancement potential.
  • Stick with it. Resource allocation is both a science and an art, and you will need to make adjustments and perhaps pivot along the way. Draw clear connections between projects and the underlying business objectives to keep people focused and motivated around why their work matters.

Taking a more thoughtful, strategic approach to resource allocation will keep employees happier and more engaged, reduce turnover and give up-and-coming Millennial leaders a chance to shine and develop skills that are critical to their future success.

In Summary

Managers must take a more sophisticated approach to resource allocation than the typical considerations of capacity and subject matter expertise.

Certain employees who are good at one thing, such as running a manufacturing plant, may lack the softer skills of managing a team or interacting with colleagues in other departments such as marketing or sales that they’re not accustomed to working with.

When allocating resources, sophisticated leaders should consider the capabilities of employees, create stretch opportunities for them to grow, include workers from several generational cohort groups on important projects, coach employees on skills development and align performance with earnings and advancement potential.

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