How to Encourage Growth Among the Millennial & Gen Z Workforce ?
Let me start by saying that I have the utmost respect for educators and people in academia. But the system is broken. Especially in Singapore, we seem to still be training kids to grow up and work in factories.
Yes, I understand changes are being made and there are departments in the Ministry dedicated to effect these shifts in how the system is run. However, as with any big machines, change is slow. And it might be too slow considering the speed of business these days.
Our millennial and Gen Z generations (henceforth shortened to M&Zs) are experiencing a disconnect between what they learnt in school and what is expected of them in the real world.
I find that those breaking into the workforce often have to do their own learning and coping with the realities in their own ways.
Here are some areas we can look at as entrepreneurs and employers on how we can encourage growth among this new generation of workforce.
Before I jump into the first one, what do I mean by GROWTH — as the reader, you might think growth is for you and your business. Here’s the first hurdle we need to clear when working with Millennials & Gen-Z. Shift our perspective of growth to the individuals’ personal and professional development instead of our own numbers. It’s more of how can the company help them grow so that eventually, the benefit and impact will come back to the company.
Why is innovation important? Because we are living in the age of innovation. The industrial revolution is over — let me explain:
It used to be that who has the most factories win, but people are then able to gain support financially and open new factories. So it became who has money, wins. Eventually, people started patenting and protecting their intellectual properties, so even if you have lots of resources, they are of no use if you have no product idea and schematics. Even that has come to pass and today, it is those who can innovate and create that brand association who will win.
I get the above flow from Marty Neumeier in his video on Branding & Innovation.
Can we truly ignore the age of disruption we are living in? Huge market disruptors are at play all the time now. Look at the likes of Facebook, Uber, AirBnB etc. These companies innovate and disrupt.
For M&Zs, being in a culture of innovation is something they will treasure because they are living in one! In their day to day lives, innovation is in the palm of their hands, quite literally.
In other words, if you push them to go in the opposite direction, i.e. the conventional, non-effective, legacy ways, this is something that will turn them off.
Heard of the adage, “innovate, or die”?
Culture is what the M&Zs look at primarily. Here’s a group of people that are either in the early years of family life or just started going into their first jobs.
Culture is one of the three top areas of the employee value proposition. Cash and career being the other two.
M&Zs appreciate going to work when there’s meaning, diversity and inclusion. They want to have a sense of purpose. They will want to feel valued, like how the work they do contributes to the company’s vision.
As such, it would be a great idea to include them in certain company matters such as direction and goals. Talk to them about the vision, and it has to be relatable to them. Having a vision statement that is plucked out of some brand manual and is filled with business jargon is not going to help. If you have to, simplify the statement. Talk plainly.
The old (Industrial Age) way of doing this is to tell them exactly and specifically what to do when they come to work. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that.
That’ll be a great way to get them to NOT think outside the box.
Remember how we talked about us being in the age of innovation? Lack of autonomy is the perfect way to create a culture of zombies — people who turn up, do exactly as they are told, and go home.
Unless you are literally running a factory, you do NOT want to do this. Actually, even if you are running a factory, you must know that robotics are taking over, thus innovative thinking is more needed than ever.
Autonomy is giving your people a sense of control. This is highly valuable to M&Zs who like to feel that what they do creates VALUE in the organisation, not merely to meet a metric that has been set by the boss.
You might have noticed that they often light up when we tell them that working hours are ‘flexible’. Try to understand that it’s not because they want to get out of putting in the hours but they value the ability to control their own work. They want the trust to be able to work on something to a level they would be proud of. And if that takes a long time then they will actually be willing to work late nights for it.
If you award them that trust and acknowledge good work, it will strengthen their resolve to do more for the business.
However, should they work late nights on a piece of work and you turn around and demand that they come in early the very next day, it will dilute their motivation to care for the company.
Bad leadership is a vicious cycle. Bad leaders breed bad leaders. You might be aware of the concept of the servant leader, popularised by many leadership speakers today like Simon Sinek or Gary Vaynerchuk. But if you look at history — good leaders are those who serve those that are in their charge. Good leaders are firm yet care deeply about their followers.
That said, M&Zs follow leaders.
Leaders that can paint the desired future, one that the M&Zs can resonate with and believe in. Leaders that give trust willingly, before it is even earned. Leaders that protect them instead of making them the sacrificial lambs (especially when talking to higher ups or clients). Leaders that command respect by going above and beyond in guiding them and inspiring them to become leaders of their own.
If leadership is done right towards these M&Zs, they will rise to become great leaders of their own, and bring forward this culture to the people they lead.
Leadership is tied to the above 3 points I raised — good leadership is part of culture. Good leadership fosters innovation. Good leaders give autonomy to those under him or her.
Great leaders inspire. And M&Zs thrive on inspiration.
The M&Z generations are entering the workforce in droves. It’d be a good idea if we pay attention to what’s actually important to them, who grew up with a very different environment than those who came before them.
Thank you for reading through so far. I may refer to M&Zs in the 3rd person but the truth is, I am part of them. I went into the workforce with very similar thinking as the people who are in my company now. Everyone I work with in my team are born from 1980s to 1990s.
Just so happens I spent most of my working life in a HR Tech company and that is where I learnt values like culture, employer branding, purpose and so on.
So it is with experience, first hand as an employee, and first hand as an employer, that I wrote this piece. I hope it’ll give you some insights on how to work with… us.