I recently hosted a discussion with a small group of people aged between 21 and 34.

The group, made up of employees from junior and middle management, was talented and ambitious with the potential, the CEO told me, to succeed at the highest level in the company.

Her worry was whether they would stay and if the culture of the business really supported the growth and development of talented people. “A lot of our best people leave once we have trained them, it’s very costly and frustrating to keep starting all over again.”

It’s a problem many companies face.

The purpose of this discussion was to build the awareness of the Executive Team.

They wanted insight into how this group felt about the leadership of the company. They wanted to know if this really was a great place to work, why they had joined and what would cause them to leave.

This Executive fully appreciates the extent to which politics, confusion, turf wars, enlarged egos and dysfunctional behaviour at the top breaks down employee morale and productivity and how much this contributes to suppressing (and depressing) talent, causing them to leave.

This team is vigilant and determined to build a healthy organisation.

Respect, trust, confidence and pride in the culture are the hallmarks of a great organisation and the CEO in particular wants to know that these are present in her organisation.

To the credit of the group, once we kicked off, no one held back. From the start the discussion was animated, engaging and free flowing. Soon we were oblivious to the executives sitting around us, who were scribbling notes and listening intently.

Ninety minutes flew by and at the end definite themes had emerged.

1. Right now in their careers opportunity, guidance and autonomy is vital.

They need real work and responsibility that challenges them and leaders who will support them on the way. Few people, even the most talented, are able to be successful on their own.

But they also need space. They need to make mistakes safely and they’re not able to grow with managers constantly looking over their shoulders and interfering.

Peter Drucker said “that most of what we call management, consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” There comes a time when senior managers need to get out of the way and let people get on with it.

2. This generation is strongly motivated by the need to make a difference.

They want to make an impact and they want their work to have meaning. For many this includes being role models for their community – to show other people that it’s possible to come from very little materially and get somewhere in the world.

From their leaders they also need inspiration … more ‘why’. More knowing that what they are doing serves a real purpose. For any person, feeling that one’s work is neither appreciated or valued is demoralising, but its especially so for this generation.

3. “More feedback please!”

“Tell me how I am doing. Be direct and honest and please don’t shield me from consequences or the truth. Mostly don’t ignore me. Please don’t hire me and promise me great things and then ignore me.”

These words were spoken passionately and over again and were perhaps the biggest takeaway for this Executive Team.

One of my favourite management maxims, “Know me. Value me. Focus me” sprung to my mind.

To give of their best, everyone, especially this generation, wants clear direction and expectations, to be known and valued for who they are and to believe that what they do makes a difference and matters, especially to someone in authority.

I left the discussion with the overwhelming feeling that in our own striving, those of us in our 40’s and 50’s must not let this new generation down.

We are blessed with talent in our companies.

Our job as leaders is to see it. Nurture it. Release it.

As always we love hearing from you. Please comment below and let us know what you think. Is your organisation really a great place to work?