Steve Jobs worked for Atari before founding Apple. Jeff Bezos worked for Bankers Trust before launching Amazon. Elon Musk sold his first company to Compaq before starting Tesla and SpaceX.
Can you imagine what might have happened to Atari, Bankers Trust and Compaq if they'd inspired those extraordinary employees enough to stay? The new products and service initiatives they might have created? The lucrative brand extensions? The entirely new consumer markets?
I'm not suggesting that every business has the world's next genius billionaire in their midst, but take heed; more and more young people are entering the workforce with similar drives to Steve, Jeff and Elon. And not to generate overt wealth or fame, but to simply dent the universe somehow.
The next generation of workers want to make a difference, not just a living. These are smart, educated and confident folk driven by a desire to meet unmet needs, right wrongs and improve the offering in neglected sectors. They're more intent on building legacies than nest eggs.
And it's never been easier for them to start their own business. This new breed of digital native is totally comfortable creating virtual challenger brands to compete with conventional companies. If you can't offer them a workplace that fosters their potential to change the world, they might just change yours.
How to keep your best employees
- Give them meaning not just money
The old carrots of salary and title are losing their efficacy as staff incentives. More and more employees see work as the way to be more, not just have more. They want to know that their employer is creating value, somewhere, somehow. Not saving the planet necessarily, but at least adding to society, instead of always taking from it (which let's face it, is the prevailing brand image of capitalism right now). So find the authentic purpose for your organisation that creates a triple-win; for you, customers and society.
- Don't just tell them you're sincere, prove it
The power of organisational purpose isn't unleashed by nailing a few rousing words to your reception wall. Whole Foods Market don't say they want to help the world become healthier and cross their fingers. They evidence that desire every day in how they run their business: the products they sell, the store design, the staffing, their training, everything from the wording on their website to the discussions in their Boardroom. That's what authenticity is. Nail that and you will not only attract the best employees in your sector, you’ll keep them.
- Liberate their potential
Inside every authentically motivated employee is a potential entrepreneur. A person with surprising imagination and drive and a head full of creative business solutions. Most companies keep that entrepreneurial spirit clamped down by rigid process and hierarchy (and not a small amount of misplaced management ego). Knowing that employees today want self-actualisation in their careers, smart employers are unshackling that spirit.
They use the potential of their organisation's true purpose as a fuel to fire human potential. Traditional companies doubt the entrepreneurial ability of lowly workers. And they see plenty of evidence to convince them they're right. But it's a self-fulfilling belief: the more you believe it's possible, the more you'll see it.
The truth is your star employees may not become your competitors. But if you don't give them authentic motivation, they will leave. This incredibly, always-on, transparent, ever-changing world we live in offers them too many options not to. So find your company's true purpose, inspire your people with it and give them the freedom to bring it to life. None of you will ever regret it.