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The War on Millennial Talent: The Silicon Valley Model

Last week we launched our Millennials at Work paper, offering insights on how to attract, engage and retain Millennials. A place where the marriage between companies and Millennials seems to be very successful, is Silicon Valley. In the complex and fast-changing tech industry, digital native Millennials are in high demand and today, many Silicon Valley companies are heavily skewed towards Millennials in terms of their workforce. The current median age of employees at major firms in the area ranges from 28 to 31. Apart from the significant entry salaries, stock options and free perks that this war on Millennial talent entails, there are more reasons why Google, Apple, Facebook and Tesla have been ranking top of the list of ideal employers for undergraduates for many years in a row.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: Why #SiliconValley companies top the list of #idealemployers for undergraduates insit.es/2nHnwoS by @Joeri_InSites via @CoolBrands

First, instead of focusing on fixed processes and the traditional idea of productivity, many tech companies have an innovation focus, which often results in a more collaborative, output-oriented culture that allows for high levels of autonomy among talented employees.

High value is also assigned to experimenting and continuous learning in order to realize an incremental, iterative progress; a common mantra is “Do it. Try it. Fix it” (source). Most tech companies tend to be intolerant of corporate bureaucracy and Silicon Valley executives often stress the importance of speed to their employees, with quotes like “Move fast and break things” (Mark Zuckerberg).

Move fast and break things

Last but not least, Silicon Valley serves as a Millennial-proof work model: one that embraces big ideas and aspires to greatness. Millennials often see tech as their way of contributing positively to the world; with Google running a division to decrease mortality and SpaceX exploring new ways of travelling, it is easy to understand why Millennials can find a sense of higher purpose in this line of work.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: How #SiliconValley serves as a #Millennialproof work model, at least for now… insit.es/2nHnwoS by @Joeri_InSites via @CoolBrands

Although this marriage has been very successful so far, more and more criticism arises and companies should be careful if applying the Silicon Valley model one on one. Much of the criticism can be attributed to too fast a growth and the corresponding neglect by HR. For companies, growing quickly in a very short period of time creates a serious HR challenge.

According to data from PayScale, tech start-ups with 100 or fewer employees have half as many personnel professionals as companies of the same size in other industries. In many tech start-ups, the role of the human resource department is therefore focused on acquisition, with other personnel aspects often ignored.

Uncertain work context

The Stanford Project on Emerging Companies, a longitudinal study of 200 Silicon Valley start-ups during the first dot-com boom, found that tech entrepreneurs gave little thought to human resources. Nearly half the companies left it up to their employees to shape the culture and perform traditional human resource tasks and only 7% had the type of formal personnel management seen at typical companies. This lack of personnel management can easily lead to excesses or misbehavior, from general business mismanagement or even bankruptcy to excessive working hours (and corresponding health problems) to the rise of a brogrammer culture with limited attention for diversity.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: Most #tech #startups focus on #acquisition, ignoring other #personnel aspects insit.es/2nHnwoS by @Joeri_InSites via @CoolBrands

Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-founder and former Chief Executive, said his biggest mistake at the company was a HR-related one: not hiring enough experienced people during the company’s period of hypergrowth.

Finally, the utopian idea of tech companies operating in a positive-sum game and only helping to make the world a better place is being questioned increasingly.

Eager for more insights on how to build a Millennial-proof HR strategy? Get your download of the Millennials at Work bookzine or replay our Millennials at Work Webinar to hear the story first-hand from our NextGen expert Joeri Van den Bergh.

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Posted in Insights