A coaching conference in China has been told that traditional organisations in Asia can communicate better with millennial staff members, but managers need to learn how to adapt.

Participants at the Leading into 2020 conference, hosted by the coaching service provider MindSpan, heard that Asian tech startups might not have much trouble dealing with millennial staff, as the founders themselves probably are just as young. However, older organisations in longer-established sectors can struggle communicating with millennial workers.

Xie Jian, executive president of China’s top furniture retail chain, Red Star Macalline Group (RSM), said his organisation had adapted its policies to empower millennials to deliver high-performance work.

“The millennial generation might say things that we have no clue about, but deep down, what they pursue is basically the same as their previous generations,” said Xie.

A veteran HR manager who has been with RSM for six years after spending 15 years in multinationals, Xie drew this conclusion after spending a year undertaking research on Chinese millennials with a group of social scientists. He found that today’s younger generations still want to feel valued, be respected, and get professional development and be rewarded – just like their older colleagues. In China, they have also inherited typical Chinese characteristics: a lack of emotional security and craving for recognition from others.

But they are indeed very different from their previous generations in many ways, Xie said. For example, a major reason they choose to work for a particular organisation is to feel happy, rather than relying on a sense of achievement or high salaries that have been a priority for previous generations.

Millennials also have less admiration towards developed countries, having discovered early in life through overseas family trips that not everything in the west is better than in China. Instead, a lot of them value traditional Chinese values more than their predecessors, Xie said.

Armed with these findings, Xie started a campaign in RSM a year ago. He helped hire millennial directors and a millennial vice president, while banishing a compulsory uniform along with a mandatory time and attendance system. “We don’t care when you start work in the morning or what you wear, as long as you perform,” Xie said. Mistakes are tolerated to encourage creativity.

To cater to the sense of autonomy that young employees demand, Xie adapted a strategy inspired by video games. For example, projects are divided into sub-projects, each of which has its own manager. These managers and their teams are given individually designed incentives of rewards and penalties, depending on their success of failure. “It is really empowering,” Xie claimed.

Entrepreneurship is also encouraged under the new policy. Senior managers who want to start their own businesses can look for investors within the company, which acts as an incubator and a partner.

Xie also demanded changes in HR mindsets. For example, “We don’t ‘manage’ people, we ‘nourish’ people,” he said.

Meanwhile, big data analysis is slowly replacing conventional key performance indicator models at RSM.

“Big data can accurately show a person’s behavioral patterns and results, giving a clear picture of his or her performance,” Xie said.

He added that more changes may follow: “Our reform is still at its beta stage and there will be a lot of improvement, but we know it is the right thing to do for our company’s future growth.”

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