Ask any manager what their No. 1 talent issue is, and I can almost guarantee they will offer some variable of “attract and retain millennials.” That’s why I was so happy to meet Whitney Proffitt, manager of campus recruiting at investment consulting company Cambridge Associates, and hear about a millennial council the firm has developed.
One of my simple tips to find out what millennials want: Ask a millennial. That’s why developing a millennial council like Cambridge Associates’ Associate Project is such a savvy move. It draws on many best practices to attract and retain millennials by inviting a select group of young employees to weigh in on issues that are important to them, giving firm leadership firsthand information about what millennials are looking for.
Interested in starting your own millennial retention project? I spoke with Whitney recently about the Associate Project and wanted to share some of the lessons she’s learned.
What issues are you tackling with your millennial council?
We want to remain an employer of choice for millennials, so our preliminary goal was to assess our associate compensation structure. But as we dug in, it quickly became clear that we could accomplish so much more, which is how our focus expanded.
We wanted to learn more about what initially drew millennials to the firm and then identify ways to best support and engage them once they join. Our conversations confirmed that they came here for two specific reasons: the culture of the firm and the ability to do meaningful work. (The majority of Cambridge Associates’ clients are nonprofits, such as college and university endowments, foundations and hospitals.) Our goal is to ensure that the experience of working here aligns with the messaging and expectations set throughout the recruitment process.
Then we started to tackle issues that will help improve the overall associate experience, such as compensation and non-monetary incentives, flexibility and career trajectory.
How do you choose participants for the Associate Project?
We ask managers to identify leaders on their teams and then we make sure that they have a willingness and interest in contributing to improving the associate experience. Since 40 percent of our firm is at the associate level, their input is critical. But since we want to make sure that the suggestions they offer are in line with senior management, we also include executive sponsors.
More than 70 associates and 50 directors across the firm have been involved since we kicked off the council in 2015, in addition to members of firm-wide management and human resources.
What are some of the surprising things you learned about millennial employees?
We found out that while compensation might lure someone to the job initially, it’s not enough to keep them there. Associates place significant emphasis on non-monetary incentives, such as recognition, opportunities for career progression, educational support, training and mentorship. In short, they want their efforts to be recognized and to be part of an environment where they can thrive over time.
What changes have you implemented as a result of the project?
Our first step was to clearly define career progression and promotion points in each role. We’ve made two changes that are very on trend with what millennials desire in their career progression.
First, since we know that they want to move up faster, we’ve created a direct path from investment associate to the director role. We’re also advising managers across all departments to educate themselves on internal transfers and encourage their employees to explore these opportunities within the firm for both lattice and ladder progression. As we know, millennials like to job hop and one great way to keep them at a firm is to show them all the opportunities they can have without ever leaving.
To increase recognition of top performers, we now have a promotion system that’s merit-based, rather than tenure-based. We also have expanded our “bonus bands,” so that our top performers are able to earn more. The bonuses used to be defined by title, as in this position could earn up to a 5 percent bonus, etc., but now there is more flexibility to reward top performers by giving a few percentage points more regardless of their title.
To support professional development, we cover the cost of the CFA [Chartered Financial Analyst®] exam and now offer three days of paid study leave prior to the exam.
To address career development, we are going to be adding more robust training and continuing education programs, as well as improving our mentor programs.
We’ve seen that these changes are having an impact: Over the course of the last year, our offer acceptance rate increased by nearly 20%. We think it’s because our efforts have really resonated with millennials during the recruitment process; they are excited to learn the firm is committed to providing a top-notch experience for its employees. I think it provides a bit of a competitive advantage as it’s not something they are hearing from every potential employer.
And while our retention has always been strong, we’ve seen an increase in internal transfers and more promotions from the associate role into director positions.
What advice would you give to other firms that may want to do something similar?
To your earlier point, if you want to know what millennials want, you have to ask them. But the effort won’t work if you’re not identifying and engaging both the right junior leaders and those within the executive ranks.
Share your results with employees throughout the organization. And, talk about your program throughout your recruiting process by adding messaging about your culture, mission and opportunities for development and advancement.
Initiatives like this are definitely worth pursuing. Every employer would be wise to keep a finger on the pulse of the engagement levels within their millennial populations.