How to engage your young team members

I recently noticed an interesting discussion on a Linkedin group I’m a member of that addressed the following question:

How do you keep young graduates engaged and focused, when some of the seniors aren’t? Any suggestions ?

I thought it would be worth sharing the response from one of the young members of the group.  His name is Jordan Fritz and he said:

I may not be able to help you much with keeping the seniors focused but maybe I can help with the young graduates. I am currently in school for accounting and may be able to shed some light on what makes us tick, the word from the graduates and almost graduates if you will. First, we need to feel appreciated. I hear too many students complain about how they do not do anything important or relevant to the field. I hear too many students say they are glorified secretaries, or even worse, grocery getters. Secondly, students thrive on positive reinforcement. We are uncertain of our skills, no matter how cocky we may appear. A good job goes very far. Finally, provide opportunity to prove ourselves. I worked at a tax prep job in which all I got were 1040EZ’s for the longest time. A schedule C was the highlight of my week.

Let’s recap the three things he’s suggesting would “motivate” him:

  • Treat me kindly and show that you appreciate the contribution I’m trying to make
  • Give me encouragement, mentor me, teach me
  • Give me an opportunity to grow … don’t bury me forever under boring mind-numbing work, challenge me, push me.

Here is a summary of the other comments in the Linkedin conversation:

Seniors are role models…

You need to address the problem with the seniors – without doing this, even focused graduates will end up disenfranchised. If you can get back the attention and focus of the seniors, then you can get the seniors to engage more positively with new graduates which will in turn ensure they are far more focused than previously.

360 degree reviews called for…

Appraisals should be used to get honest feedback from staff and then feed this into improving the practice, rather than either ignoring it or paying lip service to it. If staff feel that an improvement they suggested has been implemented, they are much more likely to come up with more ideas, some may be good, some not so good. but as long as they are considered, that will affect morale.

More internal communication is called for…

Some of the Seniors had plateaued and we have decided to give them a nudge, by communicating more clearly the company goals, and how to step up to the next level to create some room for the graduates to grow into. As usual some have responded and some haven’t.


A senior accountant I respect once said, controls are as good as the integrity of those implementing them.

What about trying to motivate the seniors…

Find out what makes the seniors tick, then set achievable, but stretching, targets with rewards based around what they want. Usually at senior level (I am assuming they are qualified accountants) they are well paid, so often pay is not a great incentive. But if they hit a target and received an extra day holiday each quarter, then if all targets an extra day (so a week extra in a year if all quarterly targets hit) this may be taken as a better reward than mere remuneration.

Unfortunately accountants are great at thinking that incentives involve money, whereas in fact, once you have a salary that allows you to have a decent lifestyle and save, money often becomes a secondary consideration and certainly the positive effects are more short term than other forms of reward can produce.

And now for some common sense…

Three things help us tap into people’s enthusiasm. 1. Sense of fairness. 2. Sense of camaraderie. 3. Sense of achievement.

Without a sense of fairness you’re stuffed! But if, like most firms, you treat everyone in your team with respect, and pay fairly, you’ll be ok on this one.  Camaraderie is best achieved by rallying people around a common goal/vision and values – as suggested by earlier comments.

Managing and improving a sense of achievement is often the missing piece.
How do your seniors (works for everyone) know they’ve had a productive/valuable week?
Clarity on this is often missing and recognition (not reward) of achievement is often in short supply too.

I have seen clarity and accountability and recognition of weekly contributions profoundly change a team culture – from apathy to enthusiasm.

For more on this look at the research by David Sirota (2.8million employee surveys) The Enthusiastic Employee.

The issue of motivation was the inspiration I had to recently do a webinar on emerging management models. If you would like to view a recording of that presentation click here.  I firmly believe that during the next 2-3 decades management innovation in professional service firms is going to define the winners and the losers.

As Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, correctly (in my opinion anyway) notes, “there is a disconnect between what science knows and what management does”.  Take a look at his TED presentation and give some thought to this and to ts implications for your own firm and team.



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