Mark Hamill, Non Executive Chairman France & UK Ackermann International
A new generation of corporate captains is now coming of age and their innovativeness, ingenuity and creative approach to problem-solving are reshaping industry ideas about what a company’s leadership team is meant to look like. Born around 1996-98, they are now entering the workforce in larger numbers, and some of their most famous members are re-shaping how executives are supposed to act, how businesses behave as members of their communities, and the ways that companies engage their customers.
What characteristics define this new pool of potential leadership talent? HR industry leaders are tagging them as diverse, connected, educated and aspirational. This is a generation of entry-level managers and possibly future executives who grew up online; they have always lived in a “global” world; and they have a high penetration of talent with university- or college-level education.
Of course, there will always be exceptions to the rule, but I would like to take the time in this text to outline why I think the traits above make the GenZ leadership talent pool both unique and interesting for grooming for future managerial and executive leadership roles.
This distinction comes primarily from talent assessments done in North America (particularly the US). GenZ leaders hail from the first generation of Americans where there will no longer be, likely by 2035, a white majority. Ethnicities such as African-Americans, Hispanics and other non-Whites will now collectively form a larger share of the total population. Businesses and their leadership teams are well aware of this fact and have, for a while, been re-tooling their HR, marketing and communications, and management structures to reflect these groups’ needs. Additionally, this ethnic diversity will also impact how GenZ leaders engage with heads of global companies who also increasingly have more diverse backgrounds and experience leading international teams.
This group of leaders are often referred to as the first generation of “digital natives”. This means they have never experienced life where they were not online or attached to some gadget, i.e. a smartphone, a tablet or, likely, some sort of wearable. They have always had a Wi-Fi connection and generally cannot imagine life without social media. They are a group used to instant, “in the moment” communications and their behavior often challenges traditional organizational views of what is “public” or “private”. GenZ leaders are aware of the risks of online life, but they also fully understand the voice that the online world gives them: an instant global audience ready to respond to the right messaging.
Alongside that, this is a generation that uses their time spent online with purpose and to achieve greater efficiency. Why set up a drawn-out meeting when issues can be sorted or resolved via Skype or Face Time? Likewise, they appreciate quality apps or programs that support collaboration, i.e. Slack, Trello, Workboard or Dropbox. They crave efficiency, quick response time and constant team engagement. 66% of GenZ workers will not use an app or website if it is too slow.
GenZ has a set of beliefs that is still emerging, but they combine, in a seemingly good way, two important traits of their predecessors. They have the strong work ethic and entrepreneurial drive of Gen-Xers, alongside the desire for a better future that has grown in urgency since the arrival of the Millennials. Perhaps, we could call them pragmatic dreamers.
This group is a generation of constant learners. For them, education does not end when they receive their degree. Rather they see their jobs and careers as a venue for learning. They also seek ways to acquire skills from connected (online) partners and they value efforts by their peers (or managers who are their seniors) to foster inclusivity. Whereas, their predecessors – the Gen-Xers and the Millennials – saw professional environments, more often than not, as arenas for competition, GenZ has adopted a “let’s collaborate” or “we are all in this together” approach. Their passion for learning also informs GenZ’s need for constant feedback on the work they do and the quality thereof. Generally, though their response to feedback is based on trust. So, if you can cultivate a strong relationship with GenZ managers, they will quickly respond to sincere, authentic feedback and then act on it.
So, there you have it. Your next-generation leadership team will likely be full of hard workers, committed to jobs that demonstrate purpose and commitment to business goals that go beyond earning a profit. Create an intellectually challenging, collaborative and responsive work environment and you can attract the best GenZ talent for the longer haul.
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