Can bowling and teamwork keep millennial employees engaged? Boscov's Department Stores CEO Jim Boscov certainly hopes so. Not only are retailers pushing to attract and retain young customers, but they are, like employers everywhere, also trying to figure out how to attract and retain millennial employees.
"You know there are changes too in terms of the different generations that have come along," Boscov, 66, told me during our Executive Q&A published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer. "For example, in our young buyers, our millennials are different than the young buyers when I was a young buyer. Their expectations are different than ours."
Question: How so?
Answer: I think is [these young] people were taught to work as a team, solve problems as groups. That's now they solved problems in school. When they come into this environment, we have to recognize that's one way that they like to work. I had a discussion with a couple of the younger buyers in our training program who talked to me about the fact that they haven't had the opportunity to meet the other people in other departments who are their contemporaries.
Q: Meaning like the buyer from women's hasn't met the buyer from shoes?
A: Yes, they tend to stick within their own division. Some of them eat at their desk, which they shouldn't do. So we started something a little bit different. We helped them create for themselves a community of about 40 people who last week went bowling and got to know each other a little bit. I hear the next thing they're going to do is to some sporting events as a group. I think that we can help facilitate it, but I think this is something that they're going to enjoy creating themselves. I think that recognizing that kind of thing is the kind of change that we're talking about. It's also essential for keeping good people. If you don't create an environment that's appropriate for the people that you're hiring, you're going to lose them. The last thing we want to do is train good people for somebody else.
Q: So what other kinds of things have you found? Are most of your buyers young?
A: We have a broad range. I think it's unusual and special and valued that we've had people with us for 50 years, including the chairman. We value people. Many of our buyers are with us for 40 and more years. Because we've got a fair number of buyers, there are always people who are ready to retire and, on a regular basis, we have a class of management trainees who are ready to step in. There are a couple of clues here. One is that they're good. So you've got to give them experience and you've got to give them responsibility right away. To sit and watch people work or to be relegated to doing nothing, you'll lose people.
Q: They say that's particularly so for the millennials.
A: Yeah, they're ready to take over right away. That's a healthy challenge, I think. You've got to create an environment that works for them. But also, it has to work for you.
Q: As in?
A: I'm not going to promote someone if they joined us last week.
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