That darling little child at left? Is mine. She’s actually not that little anymore since she’s officially a teenager on Sunday; and I’m pretty sure she’d balk at being called a child. She is, however, firmly the face of the “iGeneration,” properly known as Generation Z. When people have asked me to describe my daughter over the years, my answer really hasn’t changed much since she was 4 years old: “She’s going to rule the world someday,” I tell them, “I’m not sure if she’ll be a benevolent dictator; but she’s smart as a whip & uber-social. The foundation is there.” While this is true and it wouldn’t shock me at all if she did end up running circles around the titans of industry in one form or another; it’s also true of her larger generation.
And this just in? We’re NOT ready for her, or them, them in the workplace. Not even close.
The things that ‘define’ their generation technologically are not new. They’re not the first generation to be “The First Immersed” in something – it’s happened with electricity, the phone, vaccinations, affordable education, post-suffrage, desegregation, and a whole host of other important events. So, it’s not simply being the first generation to be ‘immersed’ into the Internet Age.
One could also argue that they’re not even behaviorally unique. I’ve read several books and studies on the behavioral patterns and indicators of the various generations – 16 in the last few months, to be exact. One worth recommending that I think does an excellent job of explaining repeating generational archetypes is Generations – which I agree with. In their book, the authors William Strauss and Neil Howe basically explain why there are basically two “speeds” to the “Rhythm of Life” which in turn create four generational behavioral types that cyclically repeat over and over again. As such, you can look to the archetype to predict behavioral patterns in emerging or future generations. Of course, they’re saying you’ve got to go back 90 years – but, I’m not sure you need to go that far to find similarities… I’m pretty sure you can look to parenting.
My belief is that most people parent to the perceived deficiencies that existed in their parents. As a Gen X’er, my parents were parented by people they perceived put the “collective good” first – to the detriment of their individualism. They strove to be ‘individuals,’ ‘creative,’ and all lovely things hippy – and parented us to be ‘free thinkers,’ ‘question authority,’ etc… net result? We’re awfully hard to manage but we’re good with gadgets & more flexible than our parents.
The elder of my Generation & the youngest of the Baby Boomers were the parents of Gen Y. For whatever reason – my guess is they were worn out on “individualism” and felt slightly neglected by their folks – they became HYPER connected in their kids’ lives. “Helicopter Parents” was the term lovingly bestowed on them & the net result is a Generation that struggles with leadership but does extremely well working in teams. See? All those team sports paid off after all.
So, if the two generations you have parenting Gen Z are Gen X’ers like myself & Gen Y? You’ve got an interesting mish-mash of “perceived parental deficiencies” that results in an emerging generation in the workforce that really has the potential to change the game… if we can change the dogma of “business life” as it stands today.
What That Means in Gen Z… And The Workforce
- Since neither Gen X or Gen Y were fans of the helicopter parenting & the subsequent results? We’ve been parenting “Gen Z” to handle responsibility, to have “ownership” in the choices they make & how they spend their time. We’ve been parenting them to stand up for themselves & what they believe in; fostering the ideal of individualism backed up with the “why” and frequent ‘dialoging’ so they don’t feel abandoned or smothered. Net Result? They Can: take charge, communicate well, and are goal-oriented.
- Gen Z has, by and large, been using technology since their toddler days to advance their learning. We’ve made such a focus on “learning is fun” and utilizing electronics to do it that they’re likely to continue to over the course of a lifetime; and subsequently, will likely always be early-adopters of new technologies. Net Result? They can: self-educate, they’re not afraid of integrating technology into anything, and see both as an interwoven part of intellectual & institutional growth.
- Gen Z takes the concept of social to a whole new level. While we grapple with the concept of instituting social into the business world & creating talent communities; our children have been all over it. My daughter, for example, has over 400 friends on FB that she actually interacts with regularly; her school has set up “internal social networks” and has been directing her to online BBs for years. She still talks to kids she went to Kindergarten with – that now live in different parts of the country. And that kid sends close to 4k texts a month. My fingers hurt just thinking about it. Net Result? They can: Bring people together in ways we currently dream about with those from their past, in their present; and ensuring they can leverage both for their future.
Rules That Need Changing:
Companies will have to accept that their best “brand ambassadors” area really their internal ones & Gen Z was born & raised to be them. Encouraging them to tweet, post, share, & leverage their networks for ‘Corporate Good’ will be to the overall benefit of the company; but will be something they won’t be able to stop regardless. And if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well mold ’em? This won’t be the easiest feat as they’re going to enter the workforce thinking they’ve arrived – they’ve been ‘innovating’ and creating, in their estimation, since childhood. But, I think we have to try; because, if we don’t, what we might find is a generation of little dictators that we hope will be benevolent, after all.