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Business Leaders: Don’t Be Afraid of Gen Z

Posted by Felix Assivo on
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Business
Business Leaders: Don’t Be Afraid of Gen Z

This week’s article was originally published by AnneMarie Hayek (Evans) for Forbes Business Council on November 9, 2021.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled The Power and Promise of Generation Z Part 2 that aired on Tuesday, November 30th, 2021

The past few years have been some of the most turbulent in living memory. My consulting work with dozens of companies has shown me that, beyond economic and political uncertainty, many business leaders are also afraid of Gen Z. What’s behind this fear?

It turns out there are several factors. When business leaders look at Zs, they see a generation that isn’t afraid to publicly take powerful people to task, or boycott organizations for misappropriating words and cultures. They fear the change Zs around the world demand. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, they worry they’ll become Gen Z targets too.

Many of the business leaders I talk to are uncertain about how to interact with this volatile generation. This may be true for you, too. But to thrive in the world Zs are creating, you cannot be afraid of them. You must learn to engage with them on their terms, or you will be left behind.

The Myth Of “Cancel Culture”

It’s easy to read stories about Zs calling out powerful people and assume Zs are hellbent on creating “cancel culture.” However, that misses the point of what Zs are trying to do. Zs are focused on accountability, not canceling. Their goal is to get us to critically examine our culture and systems to find ways to improve them and make them more inclusive.

Through their devices and platforms like TikTok, Zs have had a front-row seat to the biggest issues facing our world since childhood. They witness the raw, gritty, diverse lived experiences of other Zs all over the world firsthand, every single day.

Because of this, they aren’t afraid to engage in difficult conversations among diverse perspectives. In my experience, Zs don’t self-select into echo chambers the way older generations tend to do online. They seek to engage broadly and are not shy about holding everyone (including each other) accountable.

Many organizations find this uncomfortable. If they want to succeed, though, companies must get used to it, because, unlike prior generations, Zs want to engage on a deep level. Zs view calling a company or an individual out as an invitation for a real, crucial discussion. They won’t settle for the trite, superficial sound bites prior generations often accepted. They know it can be uncomfortable, but they believe engaging in critical discourse is the only way to make things better for everyone.

The Upside To Engaging Zs

Gen Zs often feel dismissed because of their youth. But trivializing them is a mistake. Collectively, Gen Z is huge: They’ve surpassed Millennials in numbers. They’ve amplified their immense size with digital unity and an incredible ability to mobilize. And, despite having a median age of 17, Zs’ spending power is $143 billion.

Zs aren’t afraid to use their power to hold companies accountable. In 2019, for example, they called out Victoria’s Secret for failing to represent body and gender diversity. When then-CEO Leslie Wexner refused to make changes, the backlash affected Victoria’s Secret sales.

When companies get it right, though, the benefits are tremendous. Take Aerie, American Eagle’s underwear line: They are body-positive, featuring user-generated content of real customers with a range of bodies wearing their underwear. They are demonstrating the kind of inclusivity Zs value, and Zs have rewarded Aerie with 26 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth.

How To Engage With Zs

Understanding the importance of engaging with Zs is one thing. Knowing how to do that is something else entirely. Luckily, though, the process isn’t as difficult as it may seem.

First, give Zs meaningful representation in your company. Remember, they want a real seat at the table. Take the social platform company Triller, for example. It hired the successful 18-year-old social media creator Josh Richards as their Chief Strategy Officer. The team knew there was nobody better than a Z to help them compete with their main rival, TikTok. Their savvy move helped bring them exponential growth.

Second, engage your Z audience as co-creators. They’ve been creating on TikTok, YouTube, Minecraft and more since they were young, so they value unfettered creativity. It may feel strange at first, but giving up some control and letting them co-create your content will demonstrate how much you respect and value them and their input.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask Zs questions. Want to know how to use TikTok in a way that resonates with Zs? Ask them. Wondering how you can demonstrate your commitment to inclusivity without coming across as fake? Zs will tell you.

Working with an advisory board composed of Zs is an especially smart move, because it allows you to get their input on every decision you make. Engaging with Zs like this is a great way to avoid “tokenism” (the symbolic appearance of inclusion) and other similar missteps.

Embrace What Zs Have To Offer

There’s no question that Zs have a far different outlook than prior generations. However, once you realize Zs aren’t “cancel culture” zealots whose only goal in life is to tear our systems down, you can start engaging with them on a meaningful level.

Give them a seat at the table. Start involving them as co-creators with your brand and your products. And start asking them questions. Be willing to go below the surface and engage in deep, meaningful discourse with them. I promise you: Zs are not your enemy. There is no reason to fear them, and every reason to engage with and embrace them.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

AnneMarie Hayek is a cultural consultant, generational expert, and social agitator who deeply understands society’s evolutions. She founded and leads two companies, Global Mosaic and ZSpeak, with a passion for navigating the cultural movements shaping our world. AnneMarie and her team of experts have advised the world’s largest companies, organizations, governments, and presidential candidates for more than twenty-five years. She has a graduate degree from the University of Chicago and previously served as SVP and VP of Global Strategy at BBDO and Leo Burnett.

Photo by Benjamin Ranger on Unsplash

For Zs, Choosing to Work Somewhere Isn’t Just About Making a Career Choice. It’s About Casting a Vote.

Posted by Felix Assivo on
0
Business
For Zs, Choosing to Work Somewhere Isn’t Just About Making a Career Choice. It’s About Casting a Vote.

This week’s article is an article by AnneMarie Hayek, a cultural consultant and generational expert.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled The Power and Promise of Generation Z that aired on Tuesday, October 5th , 2021.

Recently, some members of my team at ZSpeak (all between the ages of 19 and 24, placing them squarely at the upper age range of Generation Z) hit me with a bombshell. It all came about when I asked them how they make career decisions.

As someone who’s spent years studying generational evolution, I wanted to hear from them how their decision-making process compared to that of millennials. Plus, the organizations I consult for are often desperate to find better ways to recruit this new generation—because, far too often, they’re missing the mark in hiring effectively.

What I learned from my Zs was eye-opening, and the further research we’ve done supports what they shared. Turns out, when Zs make employment decisions, they view it as casting a vote for the kind of world they want to build.

This is a far cry from millennials and reinforces an important lesson for employers: Zs are not simply younger versions of their predecessors. If you engage with Zs the way you would a millennial job candidate, they’ll quickly move on. However, if you understand who Zs are and how to give them what they want—something I’ll walk you through in this article—you’ll be far more successful in attracting and retaining talented Zs.

Zs Are Not Millennials

To understand why Zs look at their career choices as a vote toward building the future they want, you first have to understand one fundamental truth: Zs grew up completely differently from millennials, which means they have wildly different career priorities.

Millennials are the “Instagram” generation. People shared often-superficial, filtered posts intended to show how perfect their lives were. As a result, millennials gravitated towards the appearance of fun and perfection. Employers recognized this and focused on offering perks in their workplaces: cool outings, game rooms, baristas, and more.

Zs, on the other hand, grew up with 24/7 digital access to all that’s real and raw in the world. They’re the “TikTok” generation: they see the world as-is, without filters and superficiality. Because of that, they gravitate towards things of substance.

To Zs, perks feel contrived and fake. They don’t care about the rooftop views or the double caramel macchiato Frappuccino’s; they care about good pay, health care, and mental health support. When they are considering prospective employers, they’ll “cast their vote” by working for the ones who support healthy, employee-centered workplaces.

The Creator Generation is Here

While important to Zs, a company’s compensation and benefits package is just one consideration. Unlike millennials, who grew up consuming content through their social feeds, Zs grew up creating content via platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and even Minecraft.

As a result, Zs don’t want to simply “work;” they want to be given a voice and the ability to express themselves creatively. They’re ushering in a radical explosion in the Creator economy: there are now 32 million digital creators. Zs are savvy about monetizing their creativity—they know that anyone with more than 500 followers can make money as a creator online.

Zs sees the traditional 9–5 job as just one of many career options. If they don’t like their corporate options, they’ll create their own. To attract them, then, companies must prove to Zs they value their unique perspective and talents. If they don’t, Zs will look elsewhere.

From the Individual to the Collective

Millennials entered the workforce at the height of startup culture, which romanticized the 24/7 hustle and was defined by a marketplace in which each individual had to fend for themselves, with little loyalty on either side.

Zs have grown up in a world of constant instability. Through their devices, they’re continually exposed to the climate crisis, gender and racial inequality, and deep political divides. They’ve also experienced turbulent economic periods and a global pandemic. As a result, they crave security and are far more interested in collective wellbeing than an individualistic orientation.

This devotion to the collective means Zs are willing to stand up for what they believe is right—together. They will advocate for better work, pay, and benefits, just as they will for climate regulations, gun control, and racial justice. Collectively, Zs know they hold incredible power. They view who they work for as a vote about how people are treated, who is represented, and who holds the power—and once they cast that vote, they will stay with those companies.

Do’s and Don’ts of Recruiting Zs

Given all this, when it comes to recruiting Zs to your workforce, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, clearly outline the requirements of the position upfront. Be transparent about salary, benefits, and responsibilities. This is far more effective than relying on vague buzzwords (“digital ninja,” “boss babe,” “marketing Rockstar,” “guru,” and so on).

Next, spend more of your budget on comprehensive benefits (rather than perks), paid time off (PTO), and fair wages. Zs are looking for security and reliability, not trendy office snack bars.

Finally, don’t gloss over your company’s culture, values, and impact. Zs believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues. They want to see that you recruit under-represented communities: women, people of color, immigrants, bilingual and bicultural individuals, as well as members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.

Remember, above all else, Zs think of their employment decisions as casting a vote, and they are determined to work for places that positively impact the world.

For more on how Generation Z is impacting the workforce and the world, go to annemariehayek.com or find We Generation on Amazon.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

AnneMarie Hayek is a cultural consultant, generational expert, and social agitator who deeply understands society’s evolutions. She founded and leads two companies, Global Mosaic and ZSpeak, with a passion for navigating the cultural movements shaping our world. AnneMarie and her team of experts have advised the world’s largest companies, organizations, governments, and presidential candidates for more than twenty-five years. She has a graduate degree from the University of Chicago and previously served as SVP and VP of Global Strategy at BBDO and Leo Burnett.

Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash

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