Ah, millennials—their work habits, their priorities, the struggle to hire them, the struggle to keep them. These are no doubt familiar pain points for many in the business world.

Millennials’ lack of engagement is well documented, but whose problem is it, really? To this point, many efforts to develop environments that will recruit and retain young talent have been unsuccessful because the efforts have centered on the millennials themselves, when they should have centered on the organization. Sound familiar?

Holding on to that next group of stars—stars who are critical for accomplishing your current and future goals—will take more than work-life balance seminars or a slow migration to flexible schedules. For starters, your organization needs an outward-looking and inspirational purpose—one that focuses on things greater than the individual—combined with a vision that aims for a goal far beyond mediocrity. To attract and retain the brightest and the best, you need a values-based pathwayfor connecting with that purpose and accomplishing that vision.

We all have values statements, and the words in those statements are typically little different from one organization to another. To distinguish yourself and your organization from those that merely have words on their websites, you must consistently live your values. What it looks like and feels like to live your values needs to be spelled out, defined, promised, and followed up on across the organization—especially by the organization’s leaders. Staff watch, they listen, and they remember.

 

Trouble with retention may not be the fickleness of your staff; it may be the inconsistency of your leadership.

One of the tools my organization uses to develop a uniform approach to building our staff and living our values, we borrowed from General Electric—that is, the classic nine-box system of evaluating performance and potential.

 

 

It’s not terribly complicated, but it can be a tremendously effective tool. Here is how we use it.

Senior leadership meets and, using the nine-box matrix, each vice president presents an assessment of a director or manager on his or her team to all other senior leaders and the CEO. Not only does this provide leaders a useful framework to elevate their stars, it also affords them the opportunity to seek advice on how they might help staff members who are struggling. Equally important, they get to compare their perceptions of each individual and their plans with the thoughts of other senior leaders, who may have had remarkably different experiences with the individual under discussion.

These nine-box sessions help to accomplish many important tasks, one of which is to make sure that everyone defines and follows through on our values in a consistent manner. The sessions also reinforce the expectation that everyone at the table is responsible for developing all of our young leaders. Rather than feeling constrained to a single area of the organization, young leaders benefit from the knowledgeable mentoring from multiple senior leaders. Such mentoring can keep your rising star talent engaged because although the organization has a single set of values, the ways in these values play out in various departments can be, by necessity, widely divergent. This system allows important balancing conversations to be had to ensure a more consistent and clear environment.

 

The next generation of rising stars is not afraid to work, but they are not interested in putting that effort into a ragged, inconsistent department or organization.

This is a topic I discuss in depth during my keynote presentation, “Lead True: Live Your Values, Transform Your Culture, Achieve Your Mission.” One of my primary goals is to help the business leaders in my audience understand: If you want to recruit, retain, and inspire the best, you need bring to life the words on your website. If you leave your values behind, it will not be long before your organization falls behind, and your staff with options leave you behind.

High performers need to know where the organization is going, how they will be treated along that journey, and that the leaders around them are living by the same values and are willing to help them grow. Great organizations will be clear and bold about where they are going, and they will be equally disciplined about how their staff will be treated along the way.

 

First published on ForbesBooks.com/md

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