Younger employees need 'lightweight signaling' to do their jobs

Millennials need short, concise feedback to do their jobs effectively.

retaining millennials
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I'm just starting to understand what "lightweight signaling" means for millennials in the workforce and for those raised with easy access to technology. It's an emerging term and one that has not been covered too often. In larger technical departments, the idea is important and could make the difference between workforce success and failure.

Essentially, lightweight signals are similar to tweets or Facebook likes -- short, contextualized statements to encourage or correct an employee throughout the day. They are slight inferences and suggestions, not direct commands. An example might be to call out someone in a meeting for doing a good job. While that might be something you are already doing, the idea is to be more intentional and consistent.

Millennials in particular respond better to these signals because they were raised with multiple (almost overwhelming) feedback signals. They are inundated with feedback, but need managers to provide additional nuggets of praise and instructions.

The good news? According to Ciara Peter, a product executive at BetterWorks, managers can apply the concepts in the workplace and lead millennials more effectively. She says it is much more than a mini performance review during the day. It’s really even smaller doses of feedback, either positive or negative, that fit into the everyday process.

Peter says lightweight signaling is a model that has to be intentional and purposeful, one that you are practicing regularly, and one that isn’t just something you use occasionally.

“The ratio of likes to comments on Facebook is approximately 10:1 per post,” explained Peter. “While a like has less context than a comment, the time it takes to send a one click signal is exponentially lower than the mental energy of crafting a well-presented comment, yet the recipient still has an immediate feedback signal which represents their friend’s sentiment on the content. This is not to say 1:1s or performance conversations can be replaced by likes or cheers. It is more about providing early and consistent signals so employees are not blindsided when it’s time for the more formal conversation to take place.”

She also explained how lightweight signaling should be conducted in the workplace.

“Feedback should be concise enough that it can be received in formats that are digestible and take the shape and form of communications used by the recipient in their personal life, whether that be a quick email, comment feed (public or private), or push notification.” she says. “For example, people who use FitBit [a step counter with many extra features] to measure how much they walk each day take 30% more steps than people who don’t. This acts as a receipt of progress and helps employees feel great about their accomplishments without requiring any additional work. The more closely feedback mimics the gestures of the Big 3 social apps used in millennials' personal life (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat), the more likely it is to be applied.”

Where will this all lead? For those who practice lightweight signaling, you’ll see that employees respond because they have the feedback they need to do their jobs. You’ll see progress on even complex tasks, and you’ll see projects completed on time. It’s a way to direct your team without waiting for a monthly or weekly status meeting to redirect employees.

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