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Cracking the Millennial at work code since 1999

Interview with with Xchanges: Change League Magazine - By Katia.Pallini@insites-consulting.com and Hakim.Zemni@insites-consulting.com

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By Thomas De Wulf

Managing Director at ORMIT Belgium

"Today too many companies recruit just to recruit. Yet, the design of your candidate profile within your long-term strategy is crucial. Companies need to understand which profiles match their personality and context. It's about matching who you are, what you want to become and which candidate you want to hire. It's about formulating a true Employee Value Proposition. Without merely looking at the hard criteria and résumé. Today there is still a tendency to focus on people's curriculum. Yet I feel there should be a greater focus on what drives a person." Thomas De Wulf, managing Director of ORMIT Belgium, shares his views about the Future of Work in an interview with Xchanges.

Considering his front-row seat in the flow of starters into the professional world, we wanted to hear more about his view on the Future of Work. We met up with Thomas on a sunny August afternoon in the offices of InSites Consulting, Ghent.

Thomas De Wulf’s first encounter with ORMIT, where he is now Managing Director of Belgium, was, as he calls it, ’un coup de foudre’ (i.e. love at first sight). After working in the telecom industry for two years and realizing that a desk job was not how he wanted to spend his working days, he spotted an ORMIT advertisement in the newspaper that literally changed his life. The ad featured a mirror, which, when you looked into it, would show all these company names floating around you. This portrays the ORMIT concept, where a starter gets a two-year contract during which they work for different brands and companies and get a taste of a variety of roles, functions and company cultures. Founded in 1999, ORMIT was (and definitely still is) a pioneering and agile concept. Today, 18 years later, Thomas leads the Belgian unit and during our interview, it became apparent that his love for the ORMIT concept hasn’t faded. 

Q: The ORMIT concept revolves around paid traineeship, but what is so unique about it for you?

The concept of paid traineeship was (and is) not entirely new, but what differentiates it from the standard traineeship is that it is cross-company, and that the focus does not lie on one concrete role or function but rather on the development of cross-functional and (personal) leadership skills. You could call this ‘controlled job-hopping with an emphasis on personal development’ for lack of a better word. The core is centered in growing self-leadership, namely understanding your strong and weaker skills and how you can organize yourself to make a difference. The traineeship (and the time at ORMIT) is fixed-term, so after finishing the program, these young talents (have to) enter the job market (often working for one of our clients) and become part of our alumni network. 

Q: Why do today’s young talents onboard such a program?

We see that today’s youth - and I recognize this from when I was a starter - is struggling with the abundance of possibilities. They are confronted with a feeling of not knowing where to start and this program gives them the opportunity to get a taste of what is out there. Next to that, it allows them to enter these (often big-name) companies at a level where they can have an impact. As ‘ORMITer’, which is seen as a sort of quality label, you have the opportunity to start working in challenging positions with the responsibilities that come with these.

Q: And why are companies interested in the program?

Our strength lies in the quality we offer, our talent network and the high-value training and coaching that comes with these programs. Traditionally, coaching programs are one of the many job responsibilities of HR teams, that often move these programs to the background because of the many tasks that pop up with a higher priority level. Yet coaching is our core, we work with dedicated coaches to guarantee a deep level of ongoing tutoring on an individual level. We help companies get the right talent which is something many struggle with.

Q: Why is it that many organizations struggle with their employer brand to attract the right talent today?

Of course, it depends on the type of organization; some are aware of their brand’s power. What I do see with many (often big) corporations, especially in times of a crisis, is that employer branding efforts often end up at the bottom of the list. It is often like a motor, where they alternatively turn it on and off. Yet establishing a powerful employer brand requires a lot of time and continuous effort. A second challenge is the image problem big corporations struggle with; they are in competition with start-ups that tick many of the starters’ boxes: start-ups often feel as a ‘movement’ rather than a company and starters want to contribute to the change related to that movement. They want to have an impact and add value to the movement. At the same time large corporations offer broader, more ‘complex’ challenges with a larger, often international scope and impactful responsibilities, making them very attractive for young talent.

Q: And how is that different between big corporations and start-ups?

We often see young talent entering large corporations feeling something is missing or finding that improvements can be made. They come in with the mindset that they will change things, make things better and have an immediate impact. But of course, things don’t change that easily in large companies. In the first few months it often really feels like ‘welcome to the real world’ for starters: they lack an understanding of the organization’s history, hierarchy and existing processes which are usually there for a reason. This is what we also try to work on during the in-company projects, as we aim for them to join the client side at the end of the program. It is important to make them realize that there is a difference between expectations and reality. This by empowering them to take matters in their own hands and take action where possible to shape their own personal growth path as well as that of the company; even my job can sometimes be boring, administrative or executional. It might all seem strategic and impactful from a distance but in reality, strategy is just a small part of what I do on a daily basis. And you could say that binding these talents with companies is our main pillar.

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“It is important to make them realize that there is a difference between their expectations and reality; even my job can sometimes be boring, administrative or executional. It might all seem strategic and impactful from a distance but in reality, strategy is just a small part of what I do on a daily basis.”

Q: How do you then bridge the perception gap between large corporations and start-ups?

What we do, for example, is apply the concept of ‘reverse mentoring’: we acknowledge the company might not be the leanest machine so we invite the ORMIT intern to a board meeting where they can get visibility and ventilate their perspective on what to improve and how. This is a good platform where they also hear why certain things are as they are in a company. You could say we involve them as ‘Millennial consultants’ and bring them context and perspective. During these sessions, we actively confront them with their doubts and offer them a new perspective. We basically show them the reality of running a business. We also make them understand that the grass might not be as green in other companies as they may think. Bringing this fresh look in the board meeting is very inspirational for management, but next to that trainees also learn a lot: how to bring across a message to a senior board and how to drive change internally. 

Q: Millennials are often said to be a completely different workforce with their very own needs, compared to the youngsters of the previous generation, GEN X. Do you recognize that?

I don’t like to think in terms of generations and I recognize myself in many of the so-called typical GenY trends and aspirations. I don’t think this generation is fundamentally different from the previous one; basic human emotions are universal and of all times. What I do see is that the current young generation is maybe more daring and open towards management than we used to be. They expect transparency and open conversation. Recently, an ORMITer asked me what we do with our profits. The question took me by surprise; it is something I wouldn’t have dared ask management myself as a starter. And the real motivation behind that question was not so materialistic-driven as one might assume. The person was rather testing my transparency and openness on the subject. So, in essence, I do believe that today’s youth is maybe a bit more outspoken.

Q: Some believe today’s starters are much more materialistic and money-driven than previous generations: is this a cliché or the truth?

It’s a cliché, fortunately. At least we don’t see this happening at ORMIT. People of course want a salary in line with the market, but most importantly they want coaching: we invest in their personal growth and that’s what hooks them to the program, more than the money.

The same goes for work/life balance, also a trend attributed to GenY at work. But we don’t see that, partly maybe because we work with ambitious young starters in the early days of their careers. What we do see though, is that young employees need a purpose that motivates them, a reason for them to join a company and an organization with a solid mission. They also want sufficient coaching to guide them when things go wrong or when they find themselves not experienced enough to successfully manage a project. They also want flexibility and freedom: they want to decide when to work, where to work, whom to work with and how to work. And as long as the objectives are met, we are totally fine with that. I would advise all companies to go along with this need for flexibility if they want to keep their young workforce. Let them think ‘outside the boss’ :-).

Q: So, besides a fair wage, a clear purpose, coaching, openness and flexibility, how would you further advise to keep Millennials on board?

Today I think too many companies recruit just to recruit. Yet, the design of your candidate profile within your long-term strategy is crucial. It all starts at the recruitment; companies need to understand which profiles match their personality and context. Do you need a young generalist profile in a commercial role that wants change every two years or do you expect them to stay for five years for example? It is about matching who you are as a company, who you want to become and which candidate you want to hire. It’s about formulating a true Employee Value Proposition. Without merely looking at the hard criteria and the résumé. Today there still is a tendency to focus on people’s curriculum, the study choices candidates have made and the hard skills they have acquired. Yet I feel there should be a greater focus on what drives a person. Personally, I would rather see a candidate introducing themselves in a video than a CV.

“Today there still is a tendency to focus on people’s curriculum, the study choices candidates have made and the hard skills they have acquired. Yet I feel there should be a greater focus on what drives a person.”

Q: What is your biggest challenge today as the CEO of a company active in recruiting Millennials?

Our true bottle neck, like for other companies, is finding the talent with the ‘O factor’. Only 2% of those who apply for our program get through the ORMIT screening process, because we want to guarantee quality. 2% does not mean we only recruit the clever & bright, there is an additional layer that is extremely important, namely that candidates need to have the ‘O factor’. Those are people that are open, agile, have a positive attitude and a getting-things-done mentality. They have to be flexible, open to change and willing to question themselves. These characteristics are essential during the selection process. This is what makes them an ‘ORMITer’. Coaching is the common thread throughout the whole program. And this all starts with the selection process. During the assessment, we work with actors that construct a role play, after which the candidate is provided with personal feedback and we rerun the thing again. A crucial element there is to learn to what extent the candidate is open to feedback and to what extent they apply it in the iteration. This openness and tendency to feedback and growth is a core element of ORMIT and our program.

Q: Final question for you: having been active in the recruitment and talent industry for so long, which future workforce challenges should we already think about today?

Maybe the increased digitalization and the fact that many traditional models have been disrupted by new entrants who literally changed the rules of the game. Eventually this could even happen to us. Maybe personal coaching could be disrupted by artificially intelligent coach bots for example? Therefore, it is essential that we acknowledge change, stay critical towards ourselves, keep our eyes peeled and continuously listen to our customers and trainees. It is about embracing an open mind. So, yes, the future is going to be exciting and even the ‘people business’ could be disrupted significantly if we don’t embrace change and fail forward…

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Xchanges: Change League Magazine
By Katia.Pallini@insites-consulting.com and Hakim.Zemni@insites-consulting.com