Leading the New Generations

Over the past decade there has been increasing interest in how to lead and communicate with the newer generations, in particular Generation Y and Z. Perplexing challenges for leaders as they grasp the traits of the newer generations, as well as the social media phenomenon, has seen a need to review leadership styles and channels of communication within many organisations. A recent academic study conducted by Kate Robinson revealed some key insights into what organisations may want to consider in being able to lead and communicate effectively.

During the next three to 10 years, Generation Z will be joining the ranks of the professional workforce. Much research has been reported on Generation Y and their traits as well as the challenges presented to leaders and just as we get our head around leading and communicating with them, our next Generation is here. Generation Z is truly technologically savvy. Having Google, Wikipedia and other search engines at their finger tips to provide them with answers to all their questions, they are confident and intelligent. It is believed they will have a higher rate of career and job change than Generation Y and this can be costly for organisations.

Leadership and communication styles within organisations have shifted over the past 10 to 15 years to meet the needs of the newer generations and to address the issues raised in engagement surveys. It has moved from a directive style to a more collaborative and consultative one. The expectations of workers, as well as concerning trends in attrition rates, have increasingly seen organisations review their operating models and reconsider what traits they are looking for in their future leaders. Previously, just being good at what you do provided promotion opportunities; leadership now requires capability to lead, communicate, develop and build teams. The newer generations are looking to be motivated and inspired. They are looking for that feedback and opportunity to grow and develop. They are looking for strong relationships with their leaders and more flexibility in their working style.

The study that was completed in 2012 provided an interesting insight into the expectations of the newer generations. From the findings it was revealed that Generation Y and Z needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model were rated at “Esteem” – they look for self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others and respect by others. This in stark contrast to the older generations, particularly Generation X and Baby Boomers whose needs are rated at “Safety”- this is the security of body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health and property. This has potentially provided a basis for the conflict and challenge in leading and communicating with the newer generations as there is a gap in the needs of the Generations.

These findings provide valuable insights for businesses and the broader community. Knowing the drivers and preferences of the new generation places us in a good position to rethink the culture, leadership style and workplace practices needed satisfy and engage the next wave of Australian workers.

The recommended areas to rethink in preparing for the Generation Z workforce are:

  1. Leadership style and expectations – valuing the independence and individualism of this generation. They desire regular feedback and assurance– waiting for a yearly performance review will just be too long.
  2. Corporate communication style and channels – development of communication strategies that consider how the newer generations receive messages. Using more constructive, conversational style in real time, attention grabbing messages utilising multiple channels considering new social media platforms.
  3. Flexible working arrangements – working styles designed for shorter attention spans, more multi-tasking, improved remote working options, more relaxed / creative working environments.
  4. Social media policies and platforms – developing social media policies so these new technologically savvy generations have guidelines on how to communicate appropriately using current platforms such as twitter, Facebook, and Skype.
  5. Prepare other generations to “catch up” and become tech savvy – The new generation can process information at lightning speed thanks to their mastery of technology. Leaders of today need to catch up with emerging technology to effectively lead Generation Z.

Whatever the size of your workforce, awareness of the impact and influence of Generation Z workers on your business will help you prepare for the future. Shifting workplace culture takes time. Adjustments made now will help you develop leaders of the future who are turned into the needs and style of this new generation and build corporate communication strategies to engage Generation Z who are highly skilled social media communicators. The impact of this new generation will bring great challenge and plenty of opportunity for Australian businesses.