It turns out this is exactly the same problem faced by professional service firms - the McKinseys, Deloittes, and BCGs of the business world. They have to entice a group of disparate professionals to give up autonomy in return for a group share of the profits, while at the same time maintaining the bonds of a matrix-structured organization which threatens to fly apart at any moment under the centrifugal force of massive ego! Have they cracked the code?
Laura Empson, Professor in Management at the Cass Business School, London, and Ann Langley, Professor of Management at HEC Montreal think they have. Their model of the professional service firm (2015) is an elegant guide in how to use multiple manifestations of influence where direct authority is limited or questionable (think millennials). So how does it work?
It's a 9-box matrix which spells out what you can do to keep millennials corralled yet happily productive.
- Coaching and mentoring millennials, which goes beyond a simple transfer of technical skills to encompass more personalized coaching in interpersonal skills. This is a key theme in how to lead professionals, so if you don't have the requisite skills perhaps now would be a good time to get yourself trained!
- Balancing the competing economic and organizational interests of the company with the expressed need of professional millennials. This requires subtlety and persuasion based on your experience of what and who works best for all concerned.
- Championing projects undertaken by professional millennials to help get them more embedded into the organization and better recognized by clients and stakeholders.
- Nurturing your millennials by making them feel valued, supported and cared for and removing obstacles to getting their work done. The idea is to build trust, loyalty and cohesion through connecting them with key influencers in the company.
- Enabling their initiatives - without drawing attention to yourself - through removing roadblocks and promoting their entrepreneurialism.
- Consensus-Building with your peers to help resolve the inherent tensions between the needs of your millennial professionals and the needs of the collective.
And thirdly, you can employ Personal Embodiment at the strategic level by:
- Role-modeling what is expected of professionals in the company; demonstrating passion and belief; treating everyone with dignity and respect; demonstrating the highest integrity; giving credit to others and taking responsibility for failure.
- Meaning Making through framing and defining the reality of the environment and providing personal support and opportunities for millennials to make sense of their surroundings.
- Visioning - articulating and enacting your vision for the company; building on your own credibility and reputation; and providing a beacon of common values which will entice professional millennials to want to be associated with you.