Groupon Seeks to Engage the Millennial Generation

By Arlene S. Hirsch, MA, LCPC
July 5, 2018
Society for Human Resource Management

Since its humble first coupon offering—a two-for-one pizza deal from a little-known restaurant called Motel Bar—Groupon has partnered with over 1 million merchants, offering deals to consumers on activities, travel, goods and services. And it has grown from a few dozen employees to over 6,000 employees in 500 cities and 15 countries. Alongside that growth, a more aspirational vision emerged “to be the daily habit in local commerce.”

Now, it has set its sights on becoming an e-commerce marketplace that competes with companies like Amazon, Facebook and eBay. To sustain such an aggressive game plan, the company is constantly looking for innovative ways to attract, engage, develop and retain Millennial talent. And because Millennials are notoriously experience-obsessed, the company is working to create a culture that provides a unique employment experience.

“We provide them with an opportunity to become a big fish in a little industry pond where they can make a big impact,” said Karishma Patel Buford, the company’s vice president of global talent management.

As the company strives to create a Millennial-friendly corporate culture, its internal polling data matches many of the findings reported in Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report about what Millennial employees are looking for:

Meaningful work with a company that shares their values.
Continuous learning and growth.
Opportunities to use their skills and strengths.
Accelerated career and professional development.
Immediate feedback.
Flexibility.
Work/life balance.

In her workshop titled “Engaging the Newest Generation: How Groupon Is Taking Experience and Turning It into Wisdom” at SHRM’s 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition in Chicago, Buford outlined the company’s approach to recruiting, engaging, developing and retaining Millennial employees.

Creating Alignments

Buford related the “tale of two Annas” to illustrate Groupon’s preferred leadership style: The first Anna was highly competitive and driven to succeed. She worked long hours, pushed herself hard, and liked to work independently. The second Anna was more of a servant leader. She was empathetic and flexible with a collaborative style. Not surprisingly, the majority of the audience members expressed a clear preference for working with the second Anna. They believed that the people she managed were likely to be more engaged and collaborative and have greater job satisfaction.

Groupon tries to groom its leaders to be more like the second Anna because her values and style are more consistent with the company’s employee value proposition. During the hiring process, employees were told that they would be empowered to achieve their full potential and were promised flexibility and support.

“We have to ensure that managers are living the value proposition,” Buford said. “When managers deviate too much from the Groupon leadership model, HR business partners need to take on a coaching role. It’s a journey to figure out who will succeed.”

So far, Groupon has discovered that adaptability, resilience and the ability to see change as an opportunity are all necessary ingredients. It has also discovered how important it is for leaders to be organized and detail-oriented.

“We tell employees who want to be leaders: ‘Know the data. Know the details,'” Buford said.

Fostering Professional Development

Millennials love feedback. They want it instantaneously, bite-sized and continuously. So the company made a concerted effort to improve its feedback process. It replaced its mid-year performance evaluation with “anytime feedback and anytime check in.”

The primary goal of all this feedback is learning and growth. For many Millennials, if they stop growing they’ll leave.

To harness that desire for continuous learning, Groupon encourages a combination of self-learning, social learning and technology. It has even developed an app that provides on-the-go coaching.
Groupon has also modernized career paths. It has replaced the traditional hierarchical career ladder and linear upward trajectory with the career lattice. In this model, employees can accelerate their learning and progress by making lateral career moves that allow them to gain new skills and experiences that can then be used to gain a foothold to another level.

Measuring Success

Glint is Groupon’s proprietary platform. It is used to compile actionable data that allows managers to take the pulse of their teams. The data are then used to drive engagement to achieve results. It allows managers to make a real impact and gives senior leaders a tangible way to hold managers accountable.

“The goal is to measure results in a way that empowers managers to act,” Buford said.
Millennials are currently the largest generation in the labor force. As Baby Boomers retire at a record pace, Millennial influence will continue to grow. Groupon realizes that, to sustain long-term profitability and growth, it needs to find innovative ways to court and groom talented Millennials for management and leadership roles.

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