Spotlight on Leading Generation Z
Written by Jo Hawley, Deputy Director Aerospace, Space and Automotive, Department for International Trade and Windsor Leadership Alumna
Jo has recently returned from a three year posting as HM Consul General (Guangzhou, China) for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, having worked for the British government for over 20 years. She was previously Director of International Trade and Investment at the British Consulate General in Hong Kong, Private Secretary to a Minister of State and has worked at the Cabinet Office and Department for Education.
Spotlight on Leading Generation Z
In offices across the land, there’s a revolution brewing. Generation Z has arrived in force, armed with opinions and demands like never before. As leaders, we need to flex our style to engage this new generation of colleague, before we are considered ‘dinosaurs’ who didn’t see this dramatic cultural meteorite heading our way.
It’s a brave new world
“No,” says my new fast track grad. “That’s not going to work for me” as they log off dead on time, despite the team sailing through an urgent deadline. Cue grumbles of “kids today” from my more mature colleagues and it’s not hard to spot that this new dynamic needs to be addressed. But this is not at all about lazy youngsters, but a dramatic cultural shift whereby the next generation of workers have a very different mindset to what has gone before.
Who are Gen Z?
Defined as those born between 1997 – 2012, Generation Z have very different priorities to their millennial elders (never mind those of us who can remember Raleigh Choppers and the early days of Channel 4). The first generation to have grown up in a hybrid offline-online world, they are intrinsically tech-savvy. They are highly educated and debt-laden to prove it. They care about the environment, value inclusion…and insist that their employers do too. They bring their whole self to work and demand the organisation supports their wellbeing. For some, quality of life is more important than progression at work, though promotion brings better pay from which to improve their lifestyle - a big motivator.
Having grown up in the online environment which amplified their voices, they are confident in their views and don’t always have respect for hierarchy. Some Gen X and Millennial leaders find this terrifying: they don’t hesitate to call you out when they think you are wrong and say so when they think you’re pushing them too hard.
As leaders, how can we engage and nurture this generation?
As leaders, we need to take note of this shift in expectations from us. Leaders who fail to respond will lose a whole generation of talent. Embracing the change as an inevitable evolution of society will bring benefits to you and your organisation.
Some ideas to consider:
- Values alignment: Leaders need to show Gen Z colleagues that they understand their motivations and preoccupations. They need to demonstrate how the organisational values and practices align to these. This means involving junior staff in developing team mission statements and new ways of working.
- Empowerment: It is important that they feel empowered and valued at work and involved in decision-making. Gone are the days when a senior manager told you to jump and you asked how high. Don’t just consult, engage and put decision-making in their hands where you can.
- Personal development: They want roles that help them to develop a wide range of skills rather than a narrowly defined job. Gen Z covets feedback so build in plenty of performance and development reviews and expect to get frank feedback too.
- Intergenerational understanding: Encourage debate and discussion between colleagues to ensure that the different generations represented in your workforce understand and appreciate each other. This can head off misunderstandings and resentments. Some 2-way mentoring in this space can really help.
- Authentic leadership: For Gen Z it’s important that leaders give of themselves in the workplace, show their human side and admit when they are wrong.
- Flexibility: In an increasingly complex society, flexibility is a key way to show your understanding and respect for the new cohort. Allowing your Gen Z (and other) colleagues to work from home or work more flexible hours helps them manage any personal challenges and can improve overall quality of life.
So in conclusion…
Situational leadership is your touchstone: adapt your style to engage Gen Z. It’s important to engage and nurture this next generation whilst ensuring that they deliver what the organisation needs them to do. Get the balance right and it is possible to get very motivated people turning out high quality work and driving your organisation forwards in this brave new world.
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