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Two Things I’ve Learned About Gen Z from the Gurus

by Scott Burns
on October 17, 2018

I believe that people and teams are most effective when we accept and embrace our differences.

One of the key differences that affects work everywhere is what generation we belong to. On this important topic, I find the insight of generations expert, David Stillman, truly useful.

David has been studying generational differences in the workplace for years. His most recent book, Gen Z @ Work, co-authored with his son Jonah, is extraordinary. David and Jonah executed a national survey to offer a true roadmap of what to expect from Gen Z that is a must read for anyone who cares about making the future of work awesome.

At Structural, we’ve been working with the Gen Z gurus David and Jonah Stillman to ensure that the internal people networks our platform allows companies to create are Gen Z ready.  David and Jonah headline talent and culture events, and serve as executive advisors to enterprise organizations including the NFL and Linkedin .

Let me give you a teaser of why this matters and some of what you need to know about Gen Z…

If you’re a Gen Xer like me, you may have only recently gotten comfortable with the Millennials who are now the largest group in our workforce. If you’re a Millennial, you may still be thinking of you and your colleagues as the “new people.”

I have a surprise for you, those shifting patterns of the most recent people joining your organization are real. Gen Z, born in 1995 or later, is already making an impression, and you’re going to notice some differences.

Adapting to Millennials has made my career more successful and fulfilling. My Millennial colleagues have taught me that ideas matter more than hierarchy, that a good job and a good life don’t have to compete with each other (I think of it as work / life integration now instead of a zero sum “balance”) and they have held me accountable as a leader to demonstrate that I can listen and learn while supporting an environment where they could do the same. When my last company, GovDelivery, was sold, well over 50% of our incredible 250 person workforce were Millennials.

While Millennials influenced my work life, Gen Z entered my life in a different way. In 2007, my older son was born and in 2010, two more of these interesting folks entered my life when we had a twin boy and girl. Add in countless nieces, nephews, and friends of my kids and I feel surrounded by Gen Z when I’m not working.

Now, Gen Z is entering the workforce (not my kids just yet who are still only 8 and 11) and they are bringing their amazing personalities, capabilities and expectations with them. For me, this transition feels fluid because my own kids have already trained me in, but working with children is a lot different than adapting an workplace.

Here are two things I’ve learned about Gen Z at work from the Gurus:

Lesson 1: Track it all. Gen Z is ready to be measured. Very ready.

Some people cynically refer to Millennials as the “Participation Trophy” generation. No one will think this way about Gen Z. These kids keep score and they expect everything to be measured.

Jonah Stillman says it well in the book:

Our national study found that 65 percent of Gen Z is already comfortable being monitored in some fashion or another at work. As a result, when Gen Z comes to work, this level of custom monitoring will have them assuming that everything they do is being tracked at all times. After all, that is already the case in school.

At work, this means that monthly check-ins and annual reviews just won’t cut it. Be ready for Gen Z to expect metrics and feedback by the task, project, and day.

Lesson 2: Work will be hyper-custom, because life is.

Gen Z lives with an expectation that everything from news to learning to entertainment will be personalized to them. They will expect the same from work.

The Gen Z Gurus spell out the “Zingers” in their book:

These observations really line up with what I see every day working with people and teams, and I think Gen Z will only accelerate the changes already taking place to more adaptive team structures and job descriptions (many companies call this being more “agile”). Static job descriptions will be a thing of the past as Gen Z gains momentum in the workplace.

If you’re hoping to offload the responsibility to adapt to Gen Z to some specialist in HR or to others, you’re missing a big opportunity.

I know from personal experience, that performance improves when leaders transition from “getting the new people to act the way we want” to a mindset that embraces differences and unlocks potential. Is your organization ready for the next generation of talent?

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