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Create a Fortified Culture – Going from Vertical to Horizontal Engagement

And poof! They are gone.

As though the wizard, Merlin himself came to your workplace, Millennials keep leaving left and right. When you are finally able to backfill a position, poof! someone else leaves. How do you stop this from happening? Is it inevitable with the Millennials of today?


Having studied Millennials workplace behavior, and as a Millennial, I can tell you this is happening to just about every company. Even companies with amazing branding like Amazon and Google, both have employees on average leaving before two years. However, some companies like Hyatt, are able to make some positions stay as long as 12 years! So what is the secret? What is going to keep Millennials sticking around?


Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet, otherwise, some writer would reveal the secret for clickbait, everyone would read it, and then every company would have Millennials staying. From the companies that I have worked with, there is one big thing I noticed that creates a culture that dramatically increases the chances of a Millennial staying at a company. It’s not a secret, everyone knows about it.


The simple technique: ‘Going from Vertical to Horizontal Engagement.’

Vertical Engagement


After hiring an employee, one relationship starts, manager to direct report. The direct and manager continue to interact building a relationship positive or negative. For instance, outside of everyday interactions each month or so, the manager and direct sit down together and discuss job essentials. A manager has the opportunity to build an authentic relationship that the employee can learn to trust them with their insight and judgement. The manager, having a position above in the corporate hierarchy and engages directly below constitutes ‘vertical engagement’.


Horizontal Engagement


Lighthouse, a manager training firm, states that ‘the key to retention is building strong working relationships’. Is building relationships between manager and direct report enough? What I have seen- no. When employees form relationships on the same level in the hierarchy that constitutes ‘Horizontal Engagement’. The employee interactions are going beyond just manager to report, but spreading throughout the organizations in a web structure. Reach up and down and all around building stronger and stronger relationships.


But how do you this effectively? Here are five quick tips to implement this technique in your organization:



  • Embrace Water Cooler Talk


First, have set times where people are able to interact with one another. Anything from having team lunches covered by the company to simply buying a water cooler.



  • Outside Work Activities


Sometimes getting employee off the corporate terrain and into the world doing something else can be the perfect icebreaker. Volunteering time off, company retreats, or Christmas parties are all viable options.



  • Team Projects


Getting people from different teams working on a project is a great way to indirectly build stronger relationships. A lot of companies are rotating teams and leveraging Design Sprints to get people interacting on business related issues.  


  • Fedex Days


 3M originated this technique where people would be allocated a portion of their time in the workplace work on a unrelated work project. To foster horizontal engagement, people have the ability to form teams and work on projects together.


  • Play Matchmaker


Sometimes all it takes to get someone out of their shell is to introduce them to people who have common hobbies. On more of a system level, large companies like Google have internal talks and activities where employees are able to participate and meet coworkers who have similar interests.


Jeff Butler

Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.

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