Internal Cultural Shift at PwC Yields Advice for Motivating Millennials

Don Tennant
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Talent management and career progression have been transformed at a consulting behemoth, and it took the millennial generation to do it. That firm is PwC, and it’s using its own lessons learned in rethinking the way it connects with its employees to advise other companies on how to engage and motivate millennial workers.

PwC’s findings from a study of millennials have been released in a report titled, “The Connected Employee Experience.” I recently discussed the findings with Toni Cusumano, PwC’s U.S. technology industry people & change leader, who explained that what sparked the study were issues PwC was facing internally with younger employees not buying in to the traditional “work crazy hours with the hope of making partner” career path. I asked Cusumano if it would be accurate to say that there’s been a culture shift at PwC to accommodate this new reality, and she said that would indeed be accurate:

It was spawned by the fact that we conducted this millennial study about three years ago in partnership with The London Business School and USC, and what we learned was that the millennial generation approached work in different ways than the traditional Gen Xers and boomers that were in leadership positions within our firm. When we looked out ahead at how we were going to continue to remain in a very competitive position, and, in fact, begin to think of ourselves as a “category of one” firm, we needed to really pay attention to this new generation. We looked at the demographics of our work force, and we recognized that by 2016 we were going to be greater than 80 percent millennial, and we wanted to understand what motivated and drove that generation. So from that study, we have driven a talent transformation that has globally permeated how we think about work, how we’re engaging our people, and how we’re creating our own connected experience with our employees, not just to better engage that generation, but also to recognize the fact that there are multiple generations in our work force. That study really led us to the concept of creating a connected work force, and a connected experience for employees.


The report noted that PwC wanted to address the issue based on real data, not on myths about millennials. I asked Cusumano if PwC was able to debunk any myths, and she cited a misperception regarding flexibility:

I think there’s a perception that millennials are the only ones that want to have flexibility in their work, and we debunked that. We showed that different generations equally want flexibility in their work. How they get flexibility may differ, but there’s this perception of millennials as the generation that requires flexibility, where in actuality all generations were looking for some degree of flexibility.

How about the widely accepted notion that millennials have a sense of entitlement? Is that fact or fiction? Cusumano indicated that what’s often referred to as a sense of entitlement is really just a different set of expectations:

They have a different perspective on the meaning of what work is, and where it fits in their lives. So to a certain degree, you could make a judgment and call that difference “entitlement,” or you could look at the reality of how this generation was raised, and what they expect from a work environment, based on what’s important to them, and what they value. You could just recognize that like any past generation, there are differences. So we don’t go so far as to say they’re an entitled generation. We basically say they just have different needs and different desires. And that’s part of the reason why we have this point of view around creating a connected experience. Our belief is, whether you like it or not, they’re part of our work force, and they’re a very viable, vital part of that work force. And it’s important that companies rethink how they’re thinking about that talent and that particular generation—and all generations—in how they create a connected experience that takes what those unique needs are, and creates an opportunity within the company to motivate and sustain them.

I asked Cusumano what she’s found with respect to preferences among millennials to work as either full-time employees or independent contractors, and she said that distinction doesn’t tend to make any difference to them. It’s all about the work they’re doing and the opportunities they’re given:

What I would say based on my experience of what I’m seeing in Silicon Valley, is it’s not that they prefer being a full-time employee or an independent contractor. It’s the fact that their desire is to continue to grow. What is different about this generation is they come into an organization really thinking about the experience that they’re going to get, and they tend to have a shorter lifespan of what that experience is. In six months, they might be saying, “What’s the next thing I can go do?” So we found, essentially, it’s not about whether it’s full-time work or part-time work. It’s really about the kind of work they’re doing, and the kinds of opportunities they have internally to move around. That ties back to the connected employee experience—companies need to think differently about how they create mobility within their organizations. An employer needs to create an experience for millennials whereby they can potentially see five or six different careers within that company—so they don’t need to work as a contractor for different companies.

I wanted to get Cusumano’s insights on the growing freelancer economy, in light of research that has shown that roughly one in three working Americans are independent contractors, and that that will increase to more that 50 percent by 2020. I asked Cusumano what that means, in terms of employers needing to rethink talent. She said it’s a reality that companies have to grapple with:

We absolutely see that trend, for many reasons—generational reasons, the nature of work, and we have a global economy in which people have a lot of options. What I’m seeing, particularly in the technology sector, is that companies are rethinking talent with respect to what we might call an “elastic work force,” or a “flexible work force.” They’re having to rethink how work gets done, and by whom. When they look at the work that needs to get done, they’re relooking at the traditional organizational structures that say, “I have to have x number of full-time employees, and potentially y number of contractors.” They’re creating flexibility in the organization model, leveraging what we call internally an “alternative work force,” and figuring out the balance between how you manage your full-time work force, and how you manage your alternative work force. For non-full-time employees, HR leaders have to grapple with what kind of an employee experience they need to create [for contract workers] to ensure that the company is serving its customers in the right way, and at the same time creating the same loyalty, commitment, motivation and energy as if they were full-time employees.



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