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These Are the 3 Biggest Trends in Workforce Innovation

Keeping up with the changing world requires constant innovation — and this includes hiring. Evolving technology, the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, and a candidate-centric market[...]

February 18, 2020

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Tomorrow’s Talent: Market Basket CEO Gets It Right

This Labor Day reminded us of its forgotten origins

Another Labor Day in the United States has come and gone. Yet this year’s observance displayed a stunning change to the nature of a celebration that now primarily signals the end of summer vacation. Labor Day 2014 marked the return of the holiday’s origins and true symbolic associations, exposing the underpinnings of American capitalism. Labor Day celebrations were first observed in 1882 as a way of honoring the nation’s booming labor movement, a paragon to the rest of the world and a portent of America’s future might. These days, it’s not only the summer’s final hurrah, it’s also the most important retail sales weekend of the year, second only to Black Friday. Ironically, that means employees in the retail sector not only labor on Labor Day, they often work longer hours. What made this year so different was that we saw the re-emergence of the American worker’s necessity, influence, aspirations and power. A series of newsworthy labor movements underscored the holiday. The one we found most telling involved the New England grocery chain Market Basket.

Pondering the future of talent is an exercise that sparks our imaginations, preoccupies our thoughts and drives our business. And when we consider the talent of tomorrow, we must look upon the Millennials as the founders of this future workforce -- the generations they in turn will sire. In past articles, we have explored their motivations, their characteristics and their goals. The employee protests that arose in response to Market Basket firing its beloved chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas, was an epiphany. Through the lens of this microcosmic event, we genuinely witnessed the birth of our future talent -- what inspires them, what fuels them, what incites their passions and the entrepreneurial traits that will make them tomorrow’s great leaders.


The Market Basket saga

Beginning at the end of July, the managers, employees and customers of New England’s regional supermarket chain Market Basket united to oppose the board of director’s decision to oust the popular CEO. The ensuing boycotts and demonstrations emptied nearly all of Market Basket’s 71 stores, supported by customers and political figures alike.

Why is Demoulas so beloved? Mostly for his operating model: his uniformly beneficial business approach that brings back the mutually rewarding elements of stakeholder capitalism.

As economist Robert Reich observed of the situation: “He kept prices lower than his competitors, paid his employees more, and gave them and his managers more authority. Late last year he offered customers an additional 4 percent discount, arguing they could use the money more than the shareholders. In other words, Arthur T. viewed the company as a joint enterprise from which everyone should benefit, not just shareholders. Which is why the board fired him.”

Demoulas had found a way to offer his employees a generous salary while lowering costs to consumers and still bringing Market Basket a sizeable profit. His model has inspired others. One example is apparel manufacturer Patagonia, a large California company that has classified itself as a B-corporation: a for-profit company whose articles of incorporation require it to take into account the interests of workers, the community, the environment and shareholders. There are currently 500 companies across 60 different industries registered in this manner.

Not only does this mark a turning point for business, it anticipates the coming talent revolution. The ideals most cherished by Generations Y and Z, now entering or preparing to enter the workforce, are closely aligned with the principles of social and corporate responsibility espoused by this reboot of shareholder capitalism, which reigned over six decades ago and ended around the 1980s. Fascinating that it went down in Lowell, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

You typically read about striking or protesting workers as a response to issues of pay. Market Basket’s workers did something more historic: they risked their jobs, livelihoods and financial stability to have their CEO restored. It was much more than an issue of supporting Demoulas. These young employees were championing a business model that matched their ethics, their lifestyles, their goals and their long-term career ideals.


Market Basket revealed the future of talent

JLL, a financial and professional services firm specializing in commercial real estate services and investment management, commissioned London-based research firm Kadence International to survey over 200 students and young professionals, between the ages of 21 and 34, to learn about their career preferences and ambitions. What they discovered, as the Market Basket story also revealed, was the future of talent.

Intrapreneurship, loyalty and stability

The term “intrapreneurship” officially entered the lexicon around 1992. Intrapreneurship is a corporate management style that integrates risk-taking, innovation, reward and motivational techniques more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship. With the entrance of Generations X, Y and Z into the workforce, we are seeing a renaissance of values that emphasize freedom and entrepreneurialism, yet this new talent also desires steady work with opportunities for advancement.

Demoulas realized the value of intrapreneurship. He created a business model predicated on employee development, growth and autonomy. Managers were given more authority and independence to shape direction. Employees said that they were encouraged to learn and develop new skills that they could take with them to future careers. Schedules were flexible to accommodate school. And after 1,000 hours of employment, workers became eligible for profit-sharing programs, further making them part of the business.

Employees who feel taken care of and supported will demonstrate untold levels of loyalty and service, creating a stable workforce with low turnover and high customer engagement. When Market Basket employees walked off the job in support of Demoulas, the customers joined them. Few were willing to cross the picket lines.

Innovation and opportunity drive the new generations of talent; they ask to contribute their expertise to the growth and success of the organizations they support. When invited to participate in these opportunities, they will commit themselves fully to helping companies realize and attain their goals. Although Market Basket predominantly hires W2 workers, many of its labor approaches mirror the needs of contingent workers. People who seek indirect assignments want flexibility, to learn and develop new skills for the future, and to have greater control over their contributions and negotiated compensation.

Fit and values are imperative to tomorrow’s talent

Savvy recruiters, regardless of worker type, are focusing their efforts on “fit” and employment branding. Placing workers in environments that mesh well with their values, support needs, work-life goals and ongoing development leads to success. Market Basket employees are living proof that company culture and fit are critical recruiting components for the century’s new breed of talent. Given the right fit, the Kadence study found, 90 percent of Millennials had worked for only one company. Furthermore, most expected to have only four jobs in their career lifespans, which is below the average today for older generations.

Young talent contribute their time and money to social causes. They evangelize brands and companies that matter most to them. This ideology carries over to the companies from which they purchase products and services, as well as the companies for which they work. Consider the extent to which Market Basket workers were prepared to evangelize the brand Demoulas created.

Employers who demonstrate the social responsibility, sustainability, ethos, customer care, authenticity and personalized attention that Millennials treasure will attract workers who shout their praises from the rooftops. Not only can this create the best kind of testimonial advertising across social media, it also enhances recruiting efforts through referrals and positive branding.

Opportunity and recognition

Millennials, the Kadence survey showed, are surprisingly focused and want to contribute to a company’s success through innovation. They also want their ideas to be recognized and rewarded. Millennials stay at jobs where they have opportunities to grow and pioneer solutions. Recognition is a hallmark of Demoulas’ leadership style at Market Basket. Countless young employees related stories of a CEO who remembers every worker’s name, birthday and contributions to the organization.

Today’s young workers want to actively participate in the growth and progress of companies they serve. Existing business leaders often wonder how they can foster this kind of incentivizing opportunity in environments that may be fairly static, such as warehouses or repair shops. However, we have seen examples where companies find simple ways to draw their workers into new innovations.

When Tyco International purchased a small security call center, a very routines-based enterprise, the new division president installed a suggestion box. All employees were asked to submit one idea a month that he would personally review. Successful strategies would be compensated with 10 percent of the profits realized from the endeavor, and the winning worker would participate in its implementation. As a result, the company pioneered new service offerings for the overall industry. A famous amusement park hosted an event where its talent were encouraged to conceive a new attraction. The winning worker would receive a reward and the chance to work with engineers on the construction of the ride. This effort led to a series of attractions that expanded and updated the park.

Training and development

Even as Millennials relish independence and autonomy in their work, they actively seek out resources for continued skills education and training opportunities. The Kadence survey demonstrated that new generations of talent want access to mentoring, formal training and on-the-job learning.

Progressive companies are assigning lower priorities to traditional training programs (e.g., compliance, office rules, conduct codes, etc.) and emphasizing workplace learning experiences, career counseling, skills development, coaching and regular assessments.

Fair compensation

Although, as we’ve explored in past pieces, financial remuneration has taken a back seat to environment, culture, opportunity and innovation with millennial generations, they expect fair pay for their services. Demoulas offered his workers competitive compensation, commensurate with their work, at all levels of the enterprise. And he didn’t skimp on benefits. He also continued to drive profits for Market Basket -- because paying talent fairly and consistently inspires them to innovate more ways of achieving success for the organization.


Engaging tomorrow’s talent today

Young as the Millennials may be in the labor force, their impact is already making waves. In a survey Zenith Talent issued to HR leaders, hiring managers and procurement officers nationwide, the resounding message they sent was that finding ways of attracting and retaining this new breed of talent will be paramount in the coming decades.

  • 56 percent predicted the greatest challenge to be redesigning corporate culture so that it attracts the best employees, given their need for flexibility and mobilization.
  • 38 percent said that sourcing and recruiting for the specialized skills needed in the future will be their primary challenge.

As the battle for exceptional talent intensifies, more creative candidate sourcing strategies will be needed. The same companies polled believe the following tactics would become more important over the next decades.

Providing flexible work arrangements


Creating socially open cultures of trust, transparency, equitability, and communication


Developing talent and providing career advancement opportunities


Remuneration and rewards packages


The members of Generation Z, the next group of Millennials to enter the workforce, have the potential to become business leaders early in their careers. Their drive is to improve their world, and they will act on those instincts. Their employment will be defined by intrapreneurial relationships rather than traditional top-down management styles. Business leaders such as Demoulas have already realized this, and have created cultures that will continue to perpetuate and embrace the values most attractive to the future of talent. Learn more about successful employment branding and selling your company to top talent.

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