In the previous two articles of this series I discussed who Millennials are and what they needon the job these days in order to stay motivated and loyal. In this final article, we’ll take a look at some practical things architecture firms can start doing right now to hold on to, encourage and develop their young talent.

Getting Real, Staying Committed

Before I get to those practical changes, however, there is one final issue that needs to be addressed. After perhaps sensing an impending shift in the way business gets done, the senior leadership at many architecture firms have already started to refocus their efforts in leadership and skills development, as well as employee impact and engagement. Many have also attempted to put into place an assortment of forward-thinking initiatives and tools, like open work spaces, cutting-edge design technology, and innovative job descriptions.

Yet, for all of this effort, there remains a big divide between what firms say they are committed to doing versus what ends up getting done on the ground. In fact, it seems the more firms try to cater to their young employees, the more the very things they are trying to avoid only rear their ugly heads. The solution as I see it is for firm leadership to reassess not just their systems, but the attitudes and values behind them.

I’ll give an example… There is a wide-spread perception that Millennials as a cohort are job hoppers.

Let me turn the tables a bit.

Few will argue with the fact that many bigger architecture firms these days seem to care more about short term gains than they do about the long term life and career of their professional employees. Pigeon-holing employees into limited roles, pressuring them to work long hours and offering unattractive compensation packages is still standard procedure. This goes hand in hand with the fact that young architecture candidates see an archaic linear path to career development looming up ahead.

Given these circumstances, it’s not so surprising that Millennials are such a nomadic bunch. What are they getting back for all of their hard work, anyway?

Reputation and flashy benefits alone are not enough to motivate and hold on to top talent if these individuals feel they are unappreciated, under-utilised, unchallenged, unheard, treated like a commodity and bored. The first big epic step architecture firms need to make is to recognise this attitude of short term gain, realise how self-destructive it really is, even to their bottom line, and truly be committed to making a change.

The Evolving Architecture Firm In the Age of the Millennial

As firm leadership do some soul searching, there are four key areas that need the most attention and investment:

Rethinking Benefits and Career Advancement

This means benefits that look beyond seniority to reward hard work as well as soft skills, such as taking initiative, thinking creatively, collaborating, and helping other team members. It means spending more resources on skills development, with a particular emphasis on a learning-by-doing model where, for example, architects can spend project time physically on site, or can get experience working in various different departments of the firm. It means including ways for them to make a tangible impact, like improving the efficiency of the design process or enhancing the client experience. It means investing in your employees and not treating them like a commodity that can be easily replaced.

In the end, promotion and skill acquisition then become a personalised process, not a systematic, faceless exercise in human resources.

Rethinking Hiring

There are two parts to this.

The first involves an evaluation of the job titles and corresponding responsibilities that are currently in the firm. Firm leaders need to pinpoint where people are unhappy with their work, where mistakes are consistently getting made, where the design process is getting held up, and then use this information to redefine and realign positions. Redundant and irrelevant positions will disappear, while retained positions can expand so employees have the option to take on new and/or challenging projects.

The second is about the hiring process. When an architecture firm wants to hire a Millennial, senior leaders have look beyond skill set and focus on finding those candidates who don’t have the stereotypical narcissistic, entitled, and inpatient personality traits that can make leading young workers so difficult.

Rethinking Feedback

There is the perception that Millennials need hand-holding on the job. But perhaps this is really about a need on their end for personalised, constructive feedback that allows them to see their progress over time and is backed up with clearly communicated options for career development.

Though it may be true that Millennials have a difficult time when it comes to the virtue of patience, there are many young hard workers out there. They just need to know where they are holding and not feel like their contributions are being drowned out by the contributions of others. This can be done through smart mentoring programs and peer and management reviews as well as self-assessment reports where the employee offers a synopsis of his or her work progress.

Most Millennials need some measure of autonomy, the ability to have some input in the direction of their career development, and not have it inadvertently “erased” through shifting policies or decisions made by those disconnected to the actual work getting done on the ground.

Rethinking Communication

Senior leaders should reassess the way communication gets done and data is created, managed, stored and shared within the firm. Since Millennials are bent on real-time or near real-time communication and the access of information, in-house communications technology may need an upgrade.

In particular, senior leaders should be looking for ways to open the lines of communication throughout the firm. For example, there can be an internal instant messaging system that allows employees to contact members of their teams, other departments, as well as clients and perhaps even senior leaders. There should also be a move towards cloud-based document management solutions so that employees can access and edit files anytime from anywhere.

In short, when it comes to Millennials, money, great benefits, cutting-edge design technology, and the promise of future career development is not everything. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this is that sometimes what matters most is just the work and the feeling of being understood and useful.