The Next-Gen Is Changing Up the Workplace
Welcome to 2040’s high-level Thought Leadership Series exploring key issues and trends facing organizations post-pandemic … and beyond. Millennials and Gen Z make up around half of today’s global workforce and they bring a different mindset to any business table, plus they are establishing new laws of organizational loyalty. Covid has made more and more people, across generations rethink what really matters.
The consequence of this self-assessment is potentially a career change. Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, predicts, “The great resignation is coming.” He adds, “Many workers are considering a job change as pandemic restrictions ease and companies call employees back to the office. In the past year, Klotz says there’s been an accumulation of stalled resignations, realizations about work-life balance and new passion projects — all incentives for workers to exit the 9-to-5 office grind.”
High-performance careers are requiring people who understand the fusion of art and science. So, how do we define the jobs of the future? With the explosion of digital-based careers, “engineer” has become the new aspirational job title for some. Will editors become content engineers? Are membership managers recast as engagement and data analytics engineers? Are sales professionals now called revenue engineers? Whatever high-status engineers may hold among next-gens, organizations also need individuals who are creative, conceptual, and are critical thinkers who are not afraid to step back, assess, think and problem solve.
Smart organizations and companies are also redefining what businesses they are in. “New York Times executives for years have emphasized that The Times isn’t just a newspaper, but a lifestyle services company,” according to Axios. Hmm. What business are you really in? Associations and many organizations have been dealing with the question of relevancy for years. And yet, many still have not been able to define their business in a way that is broad enough to accommodate changes in the professions they serve.
Another issue that 2040 has observed is that many organizations struggle with a lack of critical thinking at all levels. Too often we encounter cultures where people do what they’re told, don’t question policies, and don’t innovate. This results in silos, top-down perceptions of what is happening versus what is really happening at lower organizational levels and lack of common understanding of the overarching strategies. As a result, attempts at transforming or even pivoting given market shifts or capitalizing on market opportunities often leads to failure.
Consider today’s multigenerational workforce. Older workers possess legacy experience that is invaluable. They bring a mix of market experience, leadership expertise, and institutional knowledge, each of which contributes ingredients for the recipe of success. However, older leaders and workers within the five-generation workforce are typically threatened by a lack of intuitive understanding of technology, data, analytics and new ways of marketing. Older workers can also be more resistant to change — whether in how jobs get done or across an entire organization’s culture. Conversely, younger workers are more open to change, more easily able to adapt and more accepting of the mantra to remain flexible if there are more innovative and efficient ways to get work done.
The fact is that the transformation of an organization is achieved by workers of all ages who have the support of management to critically assess how the current organization works, critically think how it needs to work in the future, and then be empowered to transform ideas into execution.
Bridging the digital divide between next-gen digital natives and older, analog workers and leaders is an ongoing challenge. Mutual respect among all generations is table stakes. Mentoring and reverse mentoring are bridge builders. Above all, your stakeholders are tantamount to your success; whether you speak all their tech languages or not, they are designing the future for you.
A new world calls for a new skill set. As organizations continue to evolve, a new toolbox is essential for all employees. Recruiter Brenda Malloy, President at Herbert Mines Associates, says that workers need to have “an innate interest and desire to ‘serve,’ coupled with true empathy for the customer.” When it comes to leaders and workers of tomorrow, Malloy looks for candidates that possess talent in six key areas:
- Digital savviness
- An enterprise mindset
- Are collaborative/curious/agile/fluid
- A strategic/execution orientation
- Embrace of data analytics
Nurturing a Learning-Based Culture
At 2040 we help our clients achieve their goals by recognizing that results-oriented transformation depends on people, process and culture. Technology is not a panacea, it is simply a tool and an enabler. Supporting workers in adapting to change is possible in a strong learning culture that builds competencies, expands skills, grows and matures critical thinking skills and allows for innovation to aid problem-solving.
Continuous on-the-job learning promotes upward mobility. Increasingly, a college education alone doesn’t give prospective employees the product, service, or industry knowledge to excel in their roles over the long term. We work with our clients to rethink how learning and mentoring can aid the desired transformation. The sad truth is that many companies have eliminated, reduced or de-prioritized learning-based programs.
Often overlooked is learning focused on skills to reinforce empathy, collaboration and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workforce which can attract young prospective employees and offer skills to older workers who now must find ways to cross the divide and work with those who are younger and with different values and motivations. Next-gens want to learn, and fast-track advancement opportunities are key to their retention. According to LinkedIn, companies rated highly in establishing a learning culture are seeing 53 percent lower performance erosion over time. Learning programs give workers the ability to differentiate themselves through their product and service expertise and knowledge of the organization.
In working with our clients, we have found that many organizations do not engage their younger employees with strategy development, goal setting, and assessment. Part of the challenge comes from shifting priorities – typically coinciding with financial performance or changes in leadership – which tend to make employee engagement frustrating. However, understanding the common goal(s) and identifying specific job tasks and outcomes that support the goal(s) provides employees greater meaning and the motivation to think outside of their silos. Bottom line? Learning-based programs nurture talent, contribute to retaining top performers, and can aid in grooming the next generation of leaders and workers.
Recognition of the need for a diverse values-based culture powered by collaboration and critical thinking will lead organizations to successfully transform and pivot to meet market opportunity and demand.
Author and communications expert Eric Yaverbaum advises companies on building a values platform to address today’s highly-charged conditions. He states that authenticity is the foundation. “Saying one thing while you are doing another is how you set yourself up to get ‘canceled.’ It means you will get called out and will have to deal with reputational fallout.” He suggests listening: “If we really want to learn what is important to our stakeholders (customers, members, employees and communities), we need to listen to people who don’t think exactly like we do. Listen to diverse voices at different levels and consider the values of the those that the organization relies on. Give them the space to express their unique experiences with the organization and consider the changes they are asking for. It all boils down to empathy. Do you have the ability as a person, as a brand, to look at life through the lens of the person that is talking to you?”
We at 2040 work closely with our clients to help them leverage the power and strength of their employees and other stakeholders recognizing the importance of people, process and culture to any transformative plan or effort. We believe ongoing investment in implementing a learning-based culture is key to retaining and growing a workforce that is diverse, representative of multiple generations and adaptive and flexible to change. We’ve been in your shoes, and we understand how critical it is to plan for the future by staying one step ahead of all your stakeholders and delivering the products and services that put you ahead of your competition. Connect with us first to help you strategize how to build your workforce of the future and transform your business to remain relevant and thrive in a digital marketplace.
The 2040 Team
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2040 helps organizations navigate the sea changes of finding their new normal. We offer actionable expertise in the strategy and operations of digital growth and engagement, empowering an empathetic workplace culture, strengthening your value proposition and driving revenues. We’ve been in your shoes and we know what impedes transformation … and what unlocks it.
Onward and upward from the 2040 Team