Courting the king!

by Michael on June 30, 2010

 Once the clock strikes Midnight tonight, one of the most sought after free agents in the history of the working world is about to get recruited. That man, is none other than,  Lebron James, and guess what….. he is a millennial! I’m sure there are “Lebron’s” at your company and the question is: What are you doing to retain those superstars at your company?  Remember, as Daniel Pink has noted, we live in a free agent nation and your best people are always exploring what the market has to offer in an attempt to continue to develop themselves.

The Cleveland Cavaliers (Lebron’s current employer) have been faced with the difficult challenge of figuring out a way to retain their franchise player. Their main retention strategy appears is pay their superstar the most money and appeal to his emotional connection and loyalty to the city. Is this really the most effective way to retain a typical millennial? I say no!

Here’s what Cleveland has done wrong:

1)      Not opened the lines of communication:  One of the most important things to Gen Y is open honest communication with senior management and leadership. In fact, according to Johnson Controls Study from 2010, Gen Y even expects to be consulted and included in management decisions. Ownership in Cleveland has stated repeatedly that they are not consulting with their superstar on decisions that are shaping the franchise, such as selecting a new coach.

As an organization are you communicating regularly with your top performers to seek their input in the future of your organization? Gen Y is a big believer watching a leader “walk the walk, rather than talk the talk.” Unfortunately, for Cleveland fans it has become apparent to me that Lebron has lost faith in the leadership of his organization.

2)      Surrounded their superstar with inferior talent: Another important factor for top performers is that they want to be surrounded by those they can learn from and collaborate with. The current state of affairs in Cleveland does not give Lebron that opportunity.

As your company continues to grow its important that you surround your top performers with who can challenge them and whom they respect. Top performers thrive in environments where they are working with other bright, creative individuals. If your organization has grown stale in the talent department it’s only a matter of time, until your top performers seek opportunities elsewhere.

3)      Poor leadership has led him to question the decision making at the top: GenY grew up during a time when leaders have been looked at skeptically. Just think about all of the scandals that have shaped the perception of leaders for Gen Y: Bill Clinton had the Monica Lewinsky scandal, countless other politicians have had fidelity issues, George Bush led us into a war that many Gen Y’ers strongly opposed, corporate greed from wall street lead to the worst recession since the great depression and the most recent example is that of BP leaderships poor handling of the current crisis in the Gulf coast. These are just a few examples of why millennials have a hard time trusting those in leadership. Leaders have to earn their trust. As I look at the ownership in Cleveland and the important decisions by which they were being evaluated they mishandled several of them:

A)    Hired a coach who couldn’t get maximum productivity out of his team

B)    Had a person in charge of talent management that proved inept at building a winning organization. Ultimately both of those people were fired in an effort to show Lebron they recognized the need for improvement. However, how can you expect Lebron to trust ownership’s judgment on the next hires based on their track record of poor decisions?

What is the track record of the leaders in your organization? Do they consistently deliver on promises? If not, I can assure you that your superstars are becoming quite skeptical of their future with your company.

On the flipside of retention is attraction. So if I were the owner of an organization here’s what I would do recruit Lebron:

1)      Put my best face forward in the initial recruitment effort:  Several franchises seem to be adopting this philosophy and are pulling out all the stops. For example, the New York Knicks reportedly were going to include Chris Rock, top local chefs, and even the mayor in their pitch to bring Lebron to NYC. Other organizations are using their current star players as their “pitchmen” to lure Lebron. Lebron, just like a typical millennial, will be forming his impression of organizations based on these initial presentations.

As a company, its vital that you put your best face forward right out of the gates. Often times, this comes in the form of campus recruiting when candidates haven’t even been to your office yet. Thus, their impression of your company is based on the person representing your firm on campus. If the initial interview is actually in your office, be sure that the superstar you are courting initially meets with someone that can get them excited about the firm, their opportunities for growth, and can relate well on a personal level to them. Candidates can pick up on when someone is just “going through the motions” and your company will lose the candidate forever in those situations. 

2)      Show them the vision for the organization and how it fits in with him and his career goals:  Lebron has publically stated his career goal is to become the first billion dollar athlete and the most well recognized athlete of all time. Any organization “courting the king” must be cognizant of that and explain how their opportunity will enable him to reach his goals. If you are Chicago than you can talk about how winning championships gives him greater exposure to the worldwide audience and gives him credibility of one of the all time greats. If you are New York, you talk about being in the entertainment mecca of the world.

As this relates to talented millennials in the workplace, it’s important you discover what their career goals are during the interview process. Once you find out what their career goals are you must align them with your what your company is looking to accomplish. Talented employees also want to know they are part of something bigger than just simply making money.  Therefore, by tying their vision and mission into your organization, you are instilling a sense of purpose which will aid as a retention strategy for the future.

3)      Include his entourage in the process: Lebron has an entrourage that he will be seeking guidance from throughout the process. Any organization looking to recruit Lebron must “sell” and appeal to his team in the hopes they can persuade him to join their franchise.

When dealing with millennials their “entourage” typically presents itself in the  form of “helicopter parents.” As someone who has significant experience hiring and recruiting talented Gen Y employees, I highly recommend involving them in the process. Parents have spent considerable resources on their son/daughter education and like to have peace of mind that their child is going to be getting a significant return on that investment. What has your firm done to embrace parents in the recruiting process?  There are several examples I can recall when dealing with parents of graduates who admitted after speaking with me, they felt much more comfortable recommending their child move forward with a career at my company. Deloitte does a terrific job of including parents in the process, in fact for every promotion they send a letter home to mom or dad congratulating them on their child’s promotion. Not only does that work as a great way to attract talented people, but it keeps them around for a long time! 

As of tonight, Cleveland is clearly going to realize that the importance of leadership decision making affects not only your ability to attract other superstars but serves as a catalyst in retaining superstar millennial talent.  This gives any organization an incredible competitive advantage. With the landscape about to change in both the NBA and economy as well, the most successful organizations will have mastered the art of understanding what makes top talent tick…

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