Which scenario best describes your current management frustrations with the 20-somethings entering your organization?
1. You just explained appropriate corporate protocol only to then discover their questionable comments and postings on Instagram and Snapchat.
2. You are perplexed by their informal communication style, both written and verbal, with seemingly cryptic acronyms and expressive emojis. You find yourself Googling “Urban Dictionary” terms on a weekly basis.
3. You spent thousands of dollars on new technology for them; trained and accommodated them, but they ended up leaving for the seemingly cooler company with a younger culture. They’re only 23. Where is this cooler, younger culture?
4. You keep seeing ear-buds when they are hanging out in the office—actually, why does it look like they are hanging out as opposed to working?
If any of these scenarios resonate, you understand the shift taking place inside organizations, as 75 million millennials move over to make room for incoming Generation Z (individuals born after 1995). While many of today’s leaders are frustrated with each new generation’s demands, the introduction of a radically changing work dynamic is not new.
Ted Hammond, born in 1935, raised to honor duty before self, respecting rules and authority, was shocked when Tim Hitchings was hired as a project manager in 1978. At 25, Tim was sharing his fresh perspective on stakeholders and short-term objectives, while showing a marginal respect for titles and a voracious appetite for success. Tim also avoided conflict.
Tim, born in 1953, raised to see the big picture and work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, was proud of the vision and values he had created. He was shocked when a woman named Toni Howe was hired as a project manager in 1997.
At 24 years of age, Toni was a self-reliant upstart, rather impatient, focused on achieving measurable goals and a bit cynical.
Born in 1973, Toni, a latch-key kid programmed to “just do it,” to be opportunistic, and to think globally and act locally was shocked when Taj Huri was hired as a project manager in 2011. At 23, Taj was confident, tenacious and very tech savvy. He ran circles around Toni when it came to the latest IT innovations. He wanted to be respected as a peer, get constant feedback and chart his career track.
Taj, born in 1985, shuttled in a car with “Baby on Board” warnings, grew up in a home full of participation trophies celebrating his 19th place in Field Day events. At 23, he was shocked when Toni went all day without talking or texting him. She expected him to start researching their next initiative alone. Taj requested time off to go to a music festival with his friends. Toni’s refusal of, “You just started here,” surprised him.
Three months ago Taj made his first Gen Z hire. Born in 1996, Alaina received her first phone at age 9. Taj appreciated Alaina’s entrepreneurial spirit in the interview. But as time progresses, he is getting more uncertain about how easily stressed she gets. He is also surprised that as much as she cares about his causes, Alaina has an unwillingness to do anything without an in-depth discussion of how it might harm the planet. He recently mentioned possibly purchasing a new fleet of cars and her response was, “What about our carbon footprint?”
“The behaviors and expectations of each new generation seemingly
[and now virtually] transform every aspect of business”
The behaviors and expectations of each new generation seemingly [and now virtually] transform every aspect of business. Companies that resist the influencers transform slowly and pay dearly. Companies who embrace, adapt and leverage the strengths of what the new generation brings to the table, or cloud, increase their competitive advantage and their profitability.
What must leaders know to leverage a younger generation’s strengths?
1. Integrate Your Workforce
The next generation has much to offer and gain from integrating with their predecessors. The Training Associates organization identified 10 critical soft skills Gen Z will need in order to be successful at work:
- Ability to influence
- Emotional intelligence
- Curiosity & positivity
- Active listening
- Communication skills
- Creative problem-solving
- Observation skills
Leveraging these skillsets by creating cross-generational teams helps you launch over barriers. While a Gen X’er teaches a Gen Z’er how to make well-reasoned, strategic decisions (not a Gen Z’er’s forte), a Gen Z’er shares how Instagram can build a more engaging brand with new communities on the internet (not typically a Baby Boomer’s forte). Gen Z’ers are confident with navigating the web, but may confuse tech savvy with information literacy. When Baby Boomers, X’ers and millennials respect a Gen Z’er’s ability to search for data, they can teach them how to verify statistics, vet stories, ask critical questions and improve search strategies to yield more valuable results.
2. Swap out Your Dashboard for Espresso
Millennials want and expect feedback. They like knowing where they stand. But unlike Baby Boomers who prefer quarterly reports for shareholders and X’ers who prefer in-depth personalized performance reviews, millennials wanted to know where they stood in comparison to other millennials, minute to minute. “Text Me Please” was their motto. Gen Z is going slightly old school again. They want face-to-face feedback, but over an espresso.
3. Teach Leadership
Millennials and Generation Z both crave opportunities for advancement and demand that companies invest in their ability to grow. Embrace this passion and dedication and you will increase their loyalty and performance levels. Unlike the Dilbert generation, today’s college graduates are more motivated to excel and embrace hard work. But they want to be surrounded by other hardworking team members, thriving on new knowledge, technologies, trends and friends. Help them help themselves by investing in their leadership skills. Conflict resolution, critical thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, communication skills are all areas wherein this generation lacks expertise and experience. Unless the millennials and Gen Z’ers are ready to be promoted, organizations will face a daunting leadership gap.
4. Share the Why… Then Show Them How
Define and share the “why” at the core of what you and your organization do. If you want to capture the energy, passion, creativity and profitable production of these younger generations, engagement in the “why” is essential. The value of smart, hard work for its own sake is meaningless. Purpose, beyond the paycheck, is what ignites them. That said, the “how” requires a bit of guidance. Baby Boomers and autonomous X’ers must demonstrate how great, creative ideas are only sustainable when companies can effectively take those ideas to market and make a profit. When Baby Boomers and X’ers share workflow processes, supply chain management, and the why and how behind the cool gadget, millennials and Gen Z’ers will thank you.
5. Assimilate to a New Normal
“9 to 5” is the title of a 1980 movie that debuted when millennials were first born. It is not their normal working hours. Managers must seek ways to respect and adapt. Gen Z’ers readily say they will work hard for you—when they want to. Sadly, 28 percent are already feeling burned out at work. Helping Generation Z find a healthy split between work and life will be critical to your success.
For leaders to drive growth and respond to the incredibly fast-paced changing world, they must embrace, not resist, new ideas. Leaders will need to lean into more open and connected communities and spotlight their multi-generational workforce and the responsible, cause-oriented culture everyone has created.