Millennials and Mission-Driven Start-ups

Why do we work?

Over the past 25 years, entrepreneurship, creativity and mentorship have always guided me to strive for a meaningful impact on the world.  Why do I work?  To make a difference.  That difference is manifest in the missions of the start-ups with which I work and the people with whom I work.  The current popularity of entrepreneurship is great because members of both large and small companies have the opportunity to challenge why they do what they do and redirect their effort towards mission-driven projects, people and organizations.

My experience recruiting young talent into start-ups has taught me that Millennials want a meaningful connection to their places of work — they seek a broader purpose with which to measure their accomplishments.  I think this attribute is one of the more admirable qualities of the next generation whose members consider three vital criteria in choosing their place of work (in no particular order) :10417774_10100390398819438_6958808326327783366_n

  • powerful, worthwhile and clearly articulated missions
  • shared values practiced (not just preached) by the leaders of the organization
  • methods of social accountability woven into the fabric of the culture

To find and continually motivate talented and committed people (especially Millennials), you need to do all three well – really – not just lip service – but truly do these well every day.  Let me add a few thoughts on each of these.

I’m consistently amazed by very large organizations that maintain a powerful mission and sense of purpose that is successfully internalized by most of their employees. I see Google as a fantastic example – their mission is “to manage the world’s information” – certainly simple, intuitive and inspiring for people who love computers, software and technology.  When I worked in biopharma, the mission of “making a difference in the lives of patients by discovering new drugs” was incredibly simple and powerful – especially when driven to large scale and global impact at a place like Novartis or Biogen.

Adopting and sustaining shared values is part communication, part selection and part discipline.  The discipline component is often lost in early-stage companies where people think that being an entrepreneur is an excuse for behaving however they like – regardless of how might it hurt others.

And very important to me, emphasizing social accountability as a primary component of company culture is best thought of as an expression of good citizenship. Every company – large or small – is granted a privilege and accepts an obligation to be a responsible commercial citizen of our country and the world.  Through social accountability, companies model organizational selflessness that links Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of self-interest to a sense of communal responsibility and respect.  I have found that weaving this philosophy into the culture of a company is preferred. It creates a macro-framework of behavioral expectations that enables team members to consider their own selfless behavior in their day-to day-efforts.

Excessively top-down hierarchical organizations that are not mission-driven or don’t communicate openly often leave many employees (especially the best ones, with the most marketable skills and knowledge) deep in the trenches wondering why they are turning the proverbial crank.  Far too many managers continue to practice a “plug-and-play” industrial approach to managing what they perceive to be interchangeable personnel.  They expect their folks to “just put their heads down and work.”

This assembly-line mentality may try to achieve autonomous efficiency, but it demoralizes and depersonalizes work.  During strong economic climates like we’re experiencing now, the best people – especially the Millennials – will merely decide to leave for a more mission-driven organization.

One of the best things that managers can learn through this economic upturn is that if you want to attract the ever-shrinking number of most talented people, be mission-driven, practice the values that you preach and make sure your company is behaving as a good global citizen. Don’t just take – give.

This is a key part of why the best Millennials will work for you.

This entry was posted in Companies, Employeees, Entrepreneurship, Founders, Start-Ups. Bookmark the permalink.

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