In the first part of this series we took a look at who Millennials are. In this article we will look at what Millennials in the field of architecture want and need in order to thrive at work.

Bridging the Gaps

As Millennials continue to fill the ranks in the workplace, the senior leaders at many of the top architecture practices have been trying to figure out how to best hire them, motivate them, and hold on to them. But for all of their effort, pesky issues, such as high turnover, low job satisfaction and poor performance continue to persist.

At my executive recruiting firm we are constantly fielding requests for assistance from architecture firms big and small that are struggling to attract, retain, and motivate talented young candidates. Even the biggest names in the industry can’t seem to keep their potential top performers, let alone encourage them to do their best.

Leaders are often at a complete loss for what to do. Should they change their compensation package? Promise future equity? Attract talent with cutting edge design technology? Hire a more diverse workforce?

The truth is the challenge that Millennials bring to the architecture industry has little to do with things like compensation, cutting edge design tools, or the promise of future equity. There are basically two great divides driving the friction between young architecture professionals and the firms that employ them, and both of these divides are equally important and equally influential.

The first one is a clash between the attitudes and work preferences of Baby Boomers versus that of Millennials. As I mentioned in the first article of this series, the transition that is happening today is not just a mere passing of the leadership torch from one big generation to the next. Instead, senior leaders are handing over the reigns to a whole new way of doing business, communication, and management that seems (on the surface, anyway) totally foreign to what they have always known.

It’s the change itself that is threatening.

The second great divide has to do with what firms say they want to do versus what they actually end up doing. But, more on that in the next article…

What Millennials Need on the Job

If senior leadership is serious about catering to their future leaders, then they need to bring about nothing short of a cultural shift. They are being forced to rethink the way projects get done and talent is developed not just to stay competitive, but stay relevant.

That said, here are three of the most important key points today’s senior leaders should know and act on when it comes to their Millennial hires:

1. Millennials want career development through self-actualisation and experiences. It’s important for senior leaders to understand that their Millennial employees have personal and professional goals that are totally different to theirs. Millennials expect their employers to help them succeed through individualised support and experiential learning. A firm can’t just provide money or a standard path to career development; it has to deliver self-actualisation. In return, Millennials are ready and willing to passionately invest their time and energy towards the advancement of the firm.

An interesting example of this in action is Pepsico. The popular food, snack and beverage corporation recently launched a career and leadership building initiative that focuses on what it calls “critical experiences.” These are hands-on experiences that develop key life skills in addition to leadership and functional skills by placing candidates in new environments and roles. Assignments could include turning around a failing department, pioneering a new product or vision, or taking part in a firm sponsored community service initiative. Through learning-by-doing and stepping out of their comfort-zones, young professionals are exposed to different people and fresh perspectives. All of this helps them to expand their understanding and ultimately think differently.

Modern architecture reflects the increasing complexity of the world we live in, and as such, there are many, often shifting, factors that can influence the outcome of a project. It is practically impossible for young professionals to deliver optimum results if they are confined to their desks and pigeon-holed into a specific role. It doesn’t matter how talented or motivated they are, nor how many design tools you throw at them.

2. Millennials want “sensible” flexibility and freedoms. Many senior leaders today bemoan the fact that Millennials seem unfocused at work and have little regard for authority or standard procedure.

Here is where a little understanding is in order. Millennials need some measure of autonomy to perform their best on the job. They may need to take “mental breaks” throughout the day, get a change of scenery, or work flexible hours. They may need to keep their phones in front of them at times. But at the end of the day, they will get their work done.

When it comes to communication and collaboration, Millennials loathe constraints. The ability to reach key people at key times is extremely important to them, and the opportunity to have their opinions heard is energising.

The culture within the architecture workplace needs to adapt to the way Millennials approach focus, discipline and communication. This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t ever be a hierarchy, or limits or constructive performance feedback, but forcing strict conformity will only backfire. Such a move will continue to bring about the very things leadership is trying to avoid: high turnover, low job satisfaction and poor performance.

3. Millennials want the best technological support for collaboration. While many architecture firms are busy updating their design technology, Millennials are bent on collaboration applications that are easy to use and allow for flexible, seamless communication, just like they have for their personal use.

One recent survey reported that just over 71 percent of Millennials face challenges using the collaboration tools provided by their firm. In general, Millennials prefer the real-time communication on chat applications, online meeting software, and texting versus email, which is slow in comparison. They also prefer cloud-based document management solutions so that they can access files and information anytime, from anywhere.

To sum up… architecture firms need to rethink the way they approach benefits and career development, by moving away from the old job seniority-based hierarchy model and embracing the skills and experience model. They need to create opportunities for autonomy and give them the space to do their work

But to do this, they need to build a bridge between the old way of doing business with the realities of today, to respect the past while showing a distinct interest in the current disruption that is redefining the architecture industry and many other industries like it.

I’ll offer some practical tips on how architecture firms can do that in the final article of this series.