The Power of Engagement: Cracking Millennial Culture

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace.

Today’s guests are Kevin Sheridan, New York Times best selling author and expert on employee engagement and virtual management and Kyra Cavanaugh, President of Life Meets Work. To hear the entire show, click here.

On the show today, two authors discuss employee engagement and organizational culture.

Kevin Sheridan engagement

Serial entrepreneur Kevin Sheridan has started three companies over the span of his career, the last one being HR Solutions International. All three of his founded companies measured some form of job satisfaction and employee engagement. He sold HR Solutions International four years ago and turned to writing, penning two books, one which became a New York Times best seller. Currently he is a public speaker and talks about engagement, onboarding, generational differences and more.

Keeping Up With the Changing Workforce

“Many companies have started seeing how important it is to acknowledge and respond to the changing workforce we have. As of last year, millennials have eclipsed baby boomers as the single largest segment of the workforce. Their drivers for engagement are entirely different,” explains Sheridan. Some companies have started respecting the fact that millennials give their life more importance than their work and that they don’t want to spend endless hours at the office. Companies that are fast-paced and smart are realizing that workplace flexibility is inevitable and that corporate social responsibility is highly valued by this new generation. There is an increased interest in pre-boarding and onboarding based on reports that show that the experience of a new employee joining the organizations is awful. Apparently only 44% of the people onboarded feel that their welcoming experience was good. Sheridan quotes from his book that one out of every 25 new employees quits on the very first day solely driven by a terrible onboarding experience. Thus, Sheridan feels that most companies aren’t managing their human capital well but is hopeful that they will get it right someday since he is seeing companies showing interest in bringing about a change.

Non-negotiable List for Hiring

According to Sheridan, 40% of recruiters regret hiring the people they made offers to. Sheridan has something he calls the non-negotiable list to help hiring managers to avoid this problem. It was compiled as a result of a lot of mistakes they made at his old company while hiring the wrong people. He often noticed that when an employee quit, the hiring manager would raise flags in hindsight which often led to the question that why was that employee hired in the first place. The list contains 20 different items that would immediately disqualify the candidate. People who can’t look you in the eye, who can’t answer rudimentary questions or are chewing gum during an interview certainly not on Sheridan’s hiring list. He says that 36% of candidates either text or read a text during an interview. That is another habit he dislikes and is a part of the non-negotiable list.


According to the Gallup study only 30% of the workforce is engaged. According to Sheridan, the top driver of engagement is recognition. There is a dearth of recognition. In his book, “Building a Magnetic Culture,” Sheridan talks about horrible bosses. He says that there’s a reason why Hollywood made a movie called Horrible Bosses. It’s because there a ton of terrible bosses out there who are never going to go out of their way to appreciate anyone. And then there are some bosses who would like to but are just way too busy to take a minute and thank their team members. The best way to inculcate recognition into the culture is to make it inescapable, says Sheridan. He quotes Zig Ziglar saying “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” Thus, if something is done on a regular basis it becomes a habit and eventually the organizational culture.

Given that the majority of the workforce comprises of millennials, the second driver of engagement is career development, according to Sheridan. Most managers never conduct a meeting with their subordinates where they’ve sat down to discuss the latter’s career growth within the organization and to figure out how the manager could help in the process. “Millennials don’t just want a career path but they want a career trajectory that’s essentially a rocket ship. They want to accelerate the process so it’s even more important to leverage the second driver of engagement that is career development,” he explains.

Virtual Management

Being a baby boomer himself, Sheridan didn’t believe in virtual offices and insisted on seeing his employees. However, he was coached by two of his younger colleagues who morphed him into being a huge believer of virtual work. In fact, he went on to write a book on the topic called “The Virtual Manager.” It talks about why workplace flexibility is critical. It shows that if you want to the best place to work you should have a work from home policy if the jobs can be tele-commutable. “80% of the Fortune Best Places to Work allow workplace flexibility. 81% of all the people who work remotely have reported that they have better productivity. That’s because the thieves of corporate productivity is interruptions. The average American worker at a corporate workplace environment is interrupted 60 times a day and they return to their task only 40% of the times. The other 60% of the times they have to restart their task,” elaborates Sheridan. Organizations have reported their remote workers are definitely more engaged. Trust is another aspect of virtual workplaces. Sheridan strongly believes that one cannot have a successful virtual relationship without trust. In order to hire the right kind of remote employees, Sheridan has a list of 4 S’s for self-characterization – self-starters, self-motivated, self-disciplined and self-sufficient. Sometimes, it is very easy for virtual employees to feel isolated and disconnected. Thus, Sheridan advises companies to give that extra bit of recognition to remote workers and to have regular calls to make them feel connected with the team and be motivated.

What Are You Reading?

Kevin Sheridan is currently reading “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle. It’s an exploration of self that talks about who you are, how your ego can control you and how to live your life differently. Sheridan drew some interesting parallels to employee engagement while reading this book.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Kevin via his website

Kyra Cavanaughengagement

Kyra Cavanaugh is the President of Life Meets Work, a company with a team of 20 people that offers consulting, training and coaching services to companies that are looking to redefine how work gets done.

Cavanaugh has an extensive background in marketing, sales and business development. This unique background makes her stand out in her current field. She doesn’t have the typical HR or organizational development experience. But she always believed that people were the key to a successful operation yet the people side of business was relegated to the front of line leader roles. She started wondering why businesses can’t focus on the impact the people can have on operations. She was very intrigued by this dynamic and believed that it doesn’t require a lot of investment on an organization’s part to take care of its workforce. “You can be a highly profitable company and still care about your people. It doesn’t have to be one or the other,” explains Cavanaugh. This interest eventually led her to her current role.

Getting Work Done Differently

Cavanaugh believes that leaders need to look at each employee as an asset – not someone who has to be managed but as someone who has to be optimized. Once the senior leadership makes those connections, then people are going to be highly productive. Cavanaugh does a lot of training with middle-level managers and HR managers and has observed that most of them are running out of ways to motivate their subordinates and keep them happy. They’re running out of ideas to get people to do more work. Her passion lies in helping leaders understand that it isn’t about being nice to employees but it is about understanding the contributions that happy and motivated people are making. It’s easy to sell wellness programs and benefits but that’s not what motivates employees to work better. The challenge for HR and OD professionals is to engage their leadership to do the hard work such as building connections and recognizing their people.


“I think we have to stop blaming the millennials. I see a lot of leaders blaming this generation for all their people challenges. They feel like if the talent shortage wasn’t catching up they wouldn’t have to do all the hard work that is now required to manage people,” says Cavanaugh. She believes that it’s time to think about performance management but not by abolishing anymore reviews. The hard work is not about rethinking performance reviews. It is about making sure every single manager is able to convey their expectations in a way that people can really understand. It is important for everyone to be able to hold each other accountable, whether it’s peer to peer or leader to subordinate and vice versa. In her interactions with managers, she is amazed to see them finally be able to see what the breakdowns are and that holding each other accountable is just a follow on to setting those expectations in a way that everyone can measure.

Capacity and workload is another challenge area that Cavanaugh often comes across. “It is no longer okay to expect people to be available 24/7, 365 days a year. Employees want to have the work-life balance. This requires the manager to step up and let the leader know if some task is just not possible in the allotted time frame. Yet so many people are still in that post-recession fear of losing the job if they manage up. Thus, they find it difficult to tackle the problem of overwork,” she says. These are some of the challenges she feels organizations and managers are facing in the current work environment.

Making a Cultural Shift

Cavanaugh feels that it’s incredibly difficult to make a cultural shift within organizations. It’s almost like moving the Titanic, she jokes. She says that it seems daunting for companies because they look at it as a seven-year Odyssey that they’ll have to embark on. Cavanaugh has been successful in changing this mindset by guiding them to shrink the change. She advises them to get their managers to convey to their teams just a couple of things that they should do to make a difference. Autonomy, trust, the ability of people to make decisions, etc. are the things that require change. According to her, it’s great if the CEO is on a seven-year mission to implement change but that doesn’t really happen. Organizations change when there are conversations between managers and their teams to figure out what matters and what is the value they are offering and finally how do they bring more value to their work so that they can focus on the things that matter. In her book Who Works Where (And Who Cares),” Cavanaugh talks about this topic of cultural change. She mentions that cultural shift happens one team at a time. That is much more doable than embarking on a massive journey.

What Are You Reading?

Kyra Cavanaugh is currently reading The Seven Spiritual Laws of Successby Deepak Chopra. She is using the book to rethink her leadership style. The book reveals how to align with the subtle yet powerful, unseen forces that affect the flow of money in our lives.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Kyra and find out about her book at