As a fan of my hometown team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was a bittersweet moment to see Nick Collison retire for the team after the 2017-2018 NBA season. He may not be a household name outside of OKC, but when he retired as a member of the Thunder after 14 years in the league, Nick Collison did something an elite few have done in the NBA: Stay with a single team throughout his entire career.

Since its inception in 1946, thousands of talented athletes have played in the NBA. In that time, just over 50 have stayed with a single team in their career, with over half of them being elected to the Hall of Fame.

When your employees aren’t happy at work, they vote with their feet.

Moving between teams

Each team in the NBA wants to win a championship. The athletes are driven by a passion to achieve that goal. The rigors of the league have a way of weeding out those who aren’t willing to sacrifice selfishness for the greater good of the team.

But the NBA is more than a sport; it’s a business. As with any business, players need to be happy. When they’re not, they leave. Sometimes players leave as a free agent or demand a trade if they’re not happy with their current team. Sometimes team leadership will let players go if they’re not happy with their performance.

These are the same challenges happening today at companies like yours. Company leaders will let employees go if they don’t meet expectations. On the other side, employees are willing to leave a company if they’re not happy working there.

Meanwhile, we’re a shift from employers having their pick of top talent. Today, there’s a growing number of employees who can pick where they want to work. If your company isn’t an employer of choice, you’ll be missing out on top talent.

The millennial misunderstanding

Millennials and Gen Zers have been called lazy, entitled, and everything in-between. That’s an oversimplification rooted in a mismatch of expectations between employees and their leadership.

The problem isn’t that millennials and Gen Zers are lazier than generations before them. Instead, it’s simply leaders having a hard time understanding what drives them to be passionate about their work.

We’re all driven by something.

It’s the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. The struggle for today’s workforce is shifting further away from merely finding work to finding meaningful work. Or, as I call it: BAM — belonging, affirmation, and meaning.

Using our NBA example, everyone is playing by the same rules as they try to hit the goal of winning a championship. By the time players get to the NBA, there’s no question about their passion for achieving that goal.

There’s not a mixture of athletes all trying to play different sports or make things up along the way. Long before the game is played, everyone has already agreed to the rules of the game.

Loyalty is a two-way street

If you haven’t already, establish the rules of the game for your company — your company’s core values. Hire and fire by your core values. Set the expectation up front that you’ll do what it takes to help your employees grow and be successful at your company as long as they’re playing by the rules of the game.

If your company is quick to let someone go when they’re not meeting expectations, you shouldn’t be surprised if your employees aren’t showing the same loyalty back to your company.

Instead, you can build loyalty among your people by setting the expectations up front.

When you’re hiring by your company’s core values, you’ll find people who want to work for your company. The reason they get out of bed in the morning is the same reason you do. You don’t have to convince them to be passionate about achieving your company’s goals because they’re already driven by the same thing.


Now it’s your turn

Every team in the NBA has the same goal every year. Each player has a good idea how they’re contributing to the overall goal. Major expenses go into hiring coaches and trainers who spend countless hours trying to get athletes who are already at the top of their game to become even better.

How does your company stack up?

Do your employees know what your company goals are? Do they know how their individual roles play a part in that goal? How much are you investing in your employees to help them keep growing?

With your company’s core values established and goals clarified, make each day an opportunity to offer BAM to your tribe. Constantly reiterate expectations and work hard to help your people be successful.

When your people are coming to work each day to tackle challenges that bring them a sense of belonging, affirmation, and meaning — that’s when your company becomes an employer of choice for top talent in your industry.

Offering your tribe belonging, affirmation, and meaning is how you'll get millennial engagement to grow. Grab my free e-book to help you get started!


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