Neil Williams, Millennials, Finance

Early career employees energize any organization. They help drive innovation and speed of progress through fresh perspectives and a hunger to learn. They’re technology forward and driven to quickly forge their mark in the workplace.

They are, of course, well known as millennials — with their own career expectations and way of looking at life. Last year, they became the largest generation in the American workforce. As they begin to dominate the workplace, deeply understanding those expectations and making proactive changes based on them can contribute to your organization’s ability to attract and retain top talent at any level.

Today’s early career employees want to do work that has significant impact from day one. They seek rapid learning and rapid career development. Is it realistic or fair for someone to expect to do meaningful work from their first day? It’s a legitimate question, especially in traditional finance roles where someone with an MBA might work on spreadsheets for the first six months.

Once you get past initial differences in style — their willingness to speak up in a way that others may not, for instance, and their life-stage tendencies to blend work and personal time — those early in their career are looking for things every employee wants: a chance to do work with purpose and the freedom to achieve and quickly prove themselves.

Whether in finance or across your organization, it’s critical that your workforce mirrors your current customer base and the customer base you want to have down the road. Now that millennials are the country’s largest living generation, if they aren’t well represented, you should worry about whether you’re building the right products and services.

Neil Williams

Neil Williams Neil Williams, Millennials, Finance

There’s a perception that millennials may view jobs in finance as being less exciting than those with direct impact on customers like product or marketing roles. But companies simply must work harder to explain the role that a finance professional plays and why it, too, is work with a purpose.

At Intuit, we believe the onus is on us to reframe what we’re asking people to do and why we’re asking them to do it, so they can see it in a different light. Success in finance is measured by the insights you can bring that have influence across the organization. Finance can drive change.

Cross-training is one way we’ve mixed things up. Some people on our finance team have undergraduate engineering degrees. They can speak the language of the business partner they’re working with, delivering the financial perspective in the language that a computer scientist or electrical engineer can understand. It can really help finance navigate across the organization.

Customer engagement is another big motivator. We created a customer retention team after finance team members called customers to understand their reasons for letting subscriptions lapse. We’re now saving $175 million a year in subscription revenue because of the new initiative. We also have 25 small finance teams that have volunteered to work with small business owners who are using our QuickBooks product. For a millennial who wants to have real impact and purpose, spending time with customers and learning how their business works and what their challenges are is incredibly motivational.

Following are some tips for making sure your own organization is top of mind for young professionals:

Open the aperture in finance hiring. Be willing to look for people with more diverse backgrounds and skill-sets, and help them understand how a role in finance can be important and meaningful. Be cautious about unconscious bias around age and work experience.

Remember that motivation is universal. Look at the similarities between the millennial workforce and your older employee population, as opposed to accentuating the differences. Flexible schedules and on-site amenities like a workout room or snacks make the environment more welcoming for everyone.

Reexamine your rewards programs. Millennials want more frequent rewards. The annual incentive bonus is important but can be enhanced by something more motivational and immediate along the way. It can be a lunch or a pizza night. The point is to closely associate it with the event that happened to earn the recognition.

Embrace more frequent feedback. Early-career talent value more frequent conversations about how they’re doing. If you’re still tied to an annual evaluation cycle, consider adding a more frequent check-in. At Intuit, this has evolved into a monthly discussion. Is there a high-performer on your staff who wants to touch base twice a month? Make time for it; you’ll be glad you did.

Be less of a boss and more of a mentor. More engaging interaction with a boss or supervisor includes coaching moments outside of formal feedback. I’ve seen millennials walk into a manager’s office if the door is open. Nobody gets tossed out because they walked in unannounced — the interaction is too valuable. It’s a very non-hierarchical approach and it can do wonders for your culture.

Younger employees want to be measured on what they’ve accomplished, not how many hours they’ve put in. If your organization can be more flexible about how (and where) works gets done, employees can maintain a better work-life balance — and that reinvigorates passion in the workplace.

Neil Williams is Intuit’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. He is responsible for all financial aspects of the company, including corporate strategy and business development, investor relations, financial operations, and real estate. Before joining Intuit, Williams was CFO of Visa U.S.A.

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