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Commentary: Attracting millennial talent, the edge start-ups have over large enterprises

In the competition for talent, organisations can regain the initiative if they focus on what makes millennials tick, says one observer.

Commentary: Attracting millennial talent, the edge start-ups have over large enterprises

Office workers in the central business district of Singapore. (Photo: Try Sutrisno Foo)

SINGAPORE: By 2025, millennials will make up 75 per cent of the global workforce, according to the World Economic Forum.

Born from 1979 to 2000, they are the next generation leaders and some say, the most creative and innovative we have seen.

Millennial-led companies, including some notably with Singaporean founders or Singapore-based, such as Razer, Carousell, RedMart, and Grab, have demonstrated an impressive ability to champion disruption, leverage technology and attract talent.

These companies threaten the notion of working for traditional and institutional companies that have been part of our social fabric for decades.

Clearly, attracting millennial talent is key to enterprise success.

And what can organisations with heritage do to learn from start-ups and shake up the “oldness and outdated” perception?

READ: A commentary what a digital workforce of tomorrow looks like.


Millennials care about social impact and a greater contribution to the world.

From Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2017, more than 50 per cent of 8,000 respondents say they feel accountable for social issues related to environmental protection and social equality.

This level of social consciousness may have arisen out of exposure to issues through social media amplification and peer influence. But it also suggests that millennials care deeply about the world around them and want to be able to effect positive change in the roles they undertaken.

For e-commerce start-up Carousell which has raised more than S$100 million in funding and count the likes of Sequoia Capital and Rakuten as investors, co-founder Quek Siu Rui describes what success means to him.

For me, success is less about making a billion dollars. It’s really about the ability to build products and services that could potentially benefit and help a billion people.

So to attract millennials, it seems organisations can no longer rely on a beautifully crafted vision statement or worse still, solely exist to achieve business objectives.

Carousell CEO and co-founder Quek Siu Rui (Photo: Brandon Tanoto)

Millennials expect their managers to care; and are genuinely interested and concerned about a higher purpose, one that transcend profits and business goals.

To attract millennials, organisations will, more than ever, need to examine how they can envision and contribute to a future that is larger than their own.


Millennials want to be inspired and engaged at the workplace.

For many, this may connotate popular practices and benefits made famous by leading companies such as Google including dress-down days, bring your own devices (BYOD), catered lunches and flexible work arrangements.

Google staff at Google Singapore's office. (Photo: Tang See Kit) Google staff at the new Singapore office. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

While more progressive workplace practices do create buzz and are great employer branding tools, there must be a more profound, inner motivation that attracts millennials.

READ  A commentary on why a nice office alone won’t attract millennials to your company.

Millennials believe they deserve to be led by someone they can look up to.

So ensuring that organisations develop and promote strong leaders, who are also role models who will develop their people, is an imperative.

While other generations also desire to work for good leaders, millennials expect it. 

Based on research by Mercer, a leading HR consultancy, which studied data collected from 600,000 employees in 43 organisations, “transformational leaders” positively influence career confidence and work-life satisfaction, factors that millennials pay attention to.

Transformational or inspirational leaders, exemplify a unique style of workplace leadership that focuses on articulating the bigger picture, providing clarity on work priorities, building trust and commitment, actively listening and communicating, and galvanising team effort.

Start-ups have that advantage as founders innately demonstrate vision and a very high level of commitment and work ethic to succeed – because their start-up’s survival is at stake.

In one interview, Razer CEO Tan Min Liang explained: “It’s easy to say (you want to create great products), but the proof is in the pudding when you dedicate your life to it.”

In turn, this creates a positive and enabling work culture through a common goal, something which millennials are drawn to in a start-up environment.

File photo of Razer CEO Tan Min-Liang. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

So how can organisations build this “founder’s mindset” in managers?

It starts with the top management’s commitment to role model the right behaviours and treat the organisation as if it were their own business.  

Instead of dismissing leadership development as a business cost or good to have, organisations need to invest, just like education, to build that leadership capability as a talent magnet.

Consequently, organisations need to examine if they are truly committed and will hold their managers accountable for exemplifying inspirational leadership to attract, motivate and retain talent.


Millennials thrive by creating something they can call their own. It is their way of projecting contribution and success.

And the beauty of a start-up is the entrepreneurial environment, which aggressively encourages ideas to flow and people from all background to contribute, an attribute which millennials value.

For many organisations which have scaled business sizably, this entrepreneurial environment is somewhat elusive as business processes and systems kick-in and it becomes a higher priority to drive efficiency and optimisation.

Many organisations are potentially at risk of losing the edge in new value creation if they do not invest in platforms where everyone, regardless of hierarchy, experience or age, can initiate ideas, insights and action.

A man in an office. (Photo: Pixabay/StockSnap)

The key question is how can organisations attract and tap on millennial talent to create new business value?

Requiring a high level of humility and curiosity to learn from others, managers need to start thinking about promoting an open work culture that embraces diversity of perspectives.

This is a belief that resonates with millennials.

At Shiseido, with 146 years of heritage, this importance is encapsulated in the concept of “multi-value creation” and promoting a culture that encourages people to “love the differences”.

Going beyond acknowledging the need for diversity, it is about developing and sharing expertise, sponsoring an open ecosystem for colleagues to embrace different values, blend ideas and create new value propositions as part of innovation.


Talent is never going to just walk through the door.

If organisations are to excel against start-ups to attract millennial talent, they need to do more than enhance branding, compensation and workplace practices.

They can start by developing better leaders and creating that vision that will benefit society.

David Pang is chief of staff at Shiseido Travel Retail.

READ: A commentary on work-life balance.

READ: A commentary on millennials, the biggest customer Singapore retail cannot ignore.

Source: CNA/nr