An executive asked me a terrific question today during a leadership development workshop. He inquired, "How do we keep young people engaged and intrinsically motivated while, at the same time, maintaining disciplined, standardized processes in the organization?" He worried that millenials working at the front lines (in distribution centers, for instance) will chafe at the notion of simply following standard processes.
Naturally, companies like this particular one can't simply ditch their standardized processes. However, they can provide plenty of opportunity for young people on the front lines to offer ideas for improving those processes. The key, however, is not to simply allow people to begin making ad hoc changes to those processes at every localized unit of the organization. Moreover, people don't want their ideas to simply get thrown into a suggestion box never to be heard from again. Companies need to find ways for people on the front lines to experiment with improvement ideas in a systematic way, and then they need to assess those experiments carefully. If the experiment goes well, they need to create a feedback loop, so that the idea doesn't just lead to change at the local level, but instead gets built into the standard processes across the organization. If young people get to experiment in this manner, they will be pleased that they are being given some potential to make a broader impact, while the company maintains needed process discipline.