Preparing leaders for Gen Z

Written by Cynthia Stuckey on 17 October 2016 in Opinion
Opinion

There’s a new generation in town, the Zs Cynthia Stuckey offers advice on how to connect with this new talent.

With a lack of investment in developing multi-generational leadership skills, there is a disconnect between what leaders think will attract and retain Gen Zs. Photo credit: PA
 
The Generation Zs, born between 1994 and 2000 (also known as the post-millennials and iGens) are entering the workforce in full force over the next five years, bringing with them a whole new set of behaviours and expectations to add to the array already found in the current three-tiered generational workforce (X, Y and Baby Boomers).  
 
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While much has been made of millennials in the media, analysts at Goldman Sachs1 recently argued that Gen Zs could be “just as, if not more, influential” as millennials (also known as Generation Y).
 
The reason, according to the analysts, is that Gen Zs represent a bigger, more important change than millennials. They will be the most diverse generation to date, after grown up amid anti-discrimination legislation and increased globalisation, and a more financially cautious one having seen the effects of an unstable economy and global unrest.
 
They have witnessed parents losing jobs, family homes being sold, war and social unrest which has created a generation with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a determination to make their own way in the world.  
 
Leaders are anxious  
 
Forum found in its recent Gen Z study ‘The Next Generation of Workers’ that of the 1,000 managers and Gen Zs surveyed, 55 per cent of leaders are worried about managing these strong-minded, post-millennial go-getters.
 
Of particular concern was the speed at which Gen Zs expect things to happen, such as quick promotion and a need for instant gratification, and their fears are correct. As a generation born during the spread of instant information via home internet use and the mobile phone, over a quarter of Gen Zs admitted to having a short attention span and wanting things done instantly with 20 per cent put off by a manager who is slow to respond.  
 
Managers flagged other challenges such as Gen Zs’ lack of face-to-face communications, a resistance to being told what to do, which 27 per cent of post-millennials agreed with, and ‘thinking they know it all.’
 
Despite these anxieties, 78 per cent of leaders are ill-equipped to manage this generation and juggle their wants against the conflicting needs of the other generations already residing in the workplace. 
 
The study also found that 36 per cent have had no training and 42 per cent have been prepared to ‘some extent’ for the possible challenges of managing this new workforce, including potential conflict and tension between generations, which 20 per cent of leaders expect to occur.  
 
Few have had little more than basic training with some having had ‘a bit’ of coaching, mentoring or been told to “engage with social media to find out how young people think in the workplace”. 
Leaders are out of touch with Gen Zs
 
With a lack of investment in developing multi-generational leadership skills, it was no surprise to find that there is a disconnect between what leaders think will attract and retain Gen Zs and what does appeal to them. 
 
Salary is top of Gen Z’s priority list when choosing a job, which you would expect give today’s cost of living and high house prices. Following closely behind with 40 per cent of responses, was the requirement to offer flexible working and good work-life balance, with Gen Zs showing a dislike for 9 to 5.30 office based routines.
 
Other principle priorities include a company that offers regular training and development, good job security, and a substantial holiday allowance.  
 
Yet only around a quarter of leaders, almost half the number of post-millennials, identified flexible working and good work-life balance as significant to attracting the next set of talent. Managers went for more ‘stereotypical’ answers such as ‘access to the latest technology, having a modern office environment with strong diversity policies and demonstrating good gender equality’ but all these things are what Gen Zs are least worried about, most likely because they expect them to be a given in today’s multi-cultural societies.  
 
Where both sides did connect was on the value of training and development. Gen Zs have a thirst for learning. They respond well to face-to-face mentoring and jobs that provide variety to grow their skills, which leaders did acknowledge.
 
Recruitment company Robert Half similarly found that 21 per cent of Gen Zs value mentoring ability. However, 38 percent of leaders we spoke to believe that their companies will struggle to meet the development needs of Gen Zs and must offer better learning programmes and managers spend more time coaching. 
 
Attracting Gen Zs 
Employers should look deep into their organisational culture, style of management and workplace policies if they want to become the employer of choice for Gen Zs. Is their work ethic flexible or rigid? Do leaders expect individuals to put work ahead of personal life?
 
Is there a strong coaching and continuous learning culture? How do we manage our teams?
 
Leaders should embrace the independent, self-directed entrepreneurial strength of Gen Zs to drive innovation, creativity and continuous improvement. They have the ability to find and source information for what they need and quickly, so give them tasks where they can use their own initiative and bring new ideas into the fold as this is what will motivate them.
 
For example, take advantage of their high acceptance around diversity. This open and accepting generation can become part of the solution for your organisation in creating leading diversity and CSR programmes.  
 
Do not see Gen Zs’ need for things to be done instantly as a challenge but more a driver for results. Communicate clearly and respond quickly and Gen Zs will be highly receptive and quick to act. ‘Check in’ with them regularly in person rather than relying on email or phone, invite them to present in meetings and encourage them to take the lead in front of clients or customers.
 
This will help them to improve their face-to-face communication skills – a weakness many Gen Zs admit to and which many will want to develop as part of their desire to progress quickly. 
Dedicate time to coaching and mentoring them individually and as a team and use this opportunity to listen, congratulate and encourage. Gen Zs are irritated by leaders who show no appreciation and praise.
They see managers that lie, gossip, take credit for others or who lack transparency, as untrustworthy and trust affects engagement.   
 
Generational IQ 
There is also the need to consider the engagement drivers of Gen Zs against the other three generations in the workplace. 
 
Generational IQ, similar to emotional IQ requires leaders to understand that each generation has its own distinct characteristics, values, engagement drivers and attitudes towards work, based on their life experiences.
 
To oversee and manage an integrated and diverse team, a leader will need to create a culture that actively demonstrates respect and inclusion of each generation and this can only be accomplished with a strong working knowledge or IQ of each generation.
 
Leaders must learn about the generations’ own history, milestone events, culture, language, norms of communicating, what motivates and matters to them, how they view authority while also uncovering their own biases for the various generations.
 
Gaining this knowledge will enable leaders to flex their management style accordingly. For example, adapting the way they communicate, integrate the team, recognise and promote team members, monitor and provide support and mentor and develop talent, will all need to be slightly adjusted based on the mix of generations in the team. 
 
Personality and engagement tests such as Hogan Personality Inventory or Myers-Briggs are useful for understanding the mix of characters within a team and what drives them. Similarly, conduct an engagement study and cultural analysis with current employees to uncover what it feels like to work at the organisation.
 
Use this insight to refine company culture and workplace policies so the environment supports its leaders in being able to respond to the demands of their team. 
 
Building the Generational IQ of leaders is vital to the success of any organisation looking to maximise the performance potential of its workforce and become the employer of choice for the next wave of talent.
 
With so few managers prepared for the arrival of Gen Zs, organisations should start to invest now in the multi-generational management skills of their leaders so they can successfully and seamlessly integrate new generations in a way that demonstrates diversity and inclusion. 
 
About the author 
 
Cynthia Stuckey is Managing Director of Forum
 
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