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by Mitch Mitchell |

Meet Your Future Employees: Generation Z

Digital leaders are working hard to transform their companies to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding customer base. Equally important, however, is building a digital workplace that meets the shifting needs of its employees.

Originally published in CMO.com.

by Stephanie Overby

Digital leaders are working hard to transform their companies to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding customer base. Equally important, however, is building a digital workplace that meets the shifting needs of its employees.

That’s why CMOs, CIOs, CHROs, and CDOs are currently turning their attention to their youngest hires: Generation Z. In the U.S., the 61 million members of Gen Z will comprise some 20% of the workforce by 2020. So digital executives charged with future-proofing the enterprise are considering the impact this latest generation will have on the future of work.

“To lead successful transformations, digital leaders must understand the similarities and differences of different generations in the workplace: their expectations for how work gets done, their readiness for change and adopting new technologies, and their employment value proposition preferences,” said Lauren Smith, vice president for Gartner’s HR practice, in an interview with CMO.com.

First Thing’s First

This first generation of digital natives will arrive with a different outlook on business norms, an appetite for innovation, and a desire for continuous learning that can energize digital transformations.

“Gen Z provides digital leaders yet another great opportunity to bring new work styles, creativity, and fresh perspectives to the work in this arena,” said Antonia Hock, global head of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. “This generation is fascinated with virtual, online, and offline convergent experiences, and that’s a great opportunity for digital leaders to think big.”

However, digital leaders will have to provide the kinds of work experiences and technologies this young talent expects in order to recruit, retain, and deploy them effectively. “Planning ahead to consider cultural nuances and work preferences will allow leaders to tap into the unique experiences that Gen Z will bring,” Hock told CMO.com.

There’s no question that digital leaders will be charged with that task.

“We’ve had a definite rise in questions around employee engagement: How do we build to it, what are the technologies that need to support it, and how do we satisfy those expectations from people coming into the workforce?” said Chris Marsh, research director of workforce productivity and compliance for 451 Research. “The reality, though, is that digital leaders will ultimately be the ones that embrace it, and build, and plan towards it.”

The good news is that digital leaders are uniquely suited to meeting Gen Z halfway and incorporating their specific expectations and singular experiences into digital strategy.

“Digital leaders are exactly the right people to embrace what I call a ‘gentelligence’ mindset—an intergenerational curiosity. They have already shown an interest and willingness to embrace change in the traditional ways of leading,” said Megan Gerhardt, professor of management and leadership at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University.

Gen Z’s entrance into the workforce represents a “great opportunity for intergenerational learning and collaboration,” she told CMO.com. “Gen Z brings with them an inherent talent for digital that can push us to consider new ways to use technology, but even more than that, they share the Millennial desire to make a meaningful impact early in their career.”

The Importance Of Face Time

Gen Z members have a strong desire for a higher frequency of meaningful conversations—not just in an annual review cycle, but as part of a more open relationship with their managers
— Chris "Mitch" Mitchell

For all the talk of technology’s importance to Gen Z, there’s another interesting paradox at play. They value personal attention and—gasp—face-to-face communication.

“I think a lot of leaders try to dazzle us with technology. They add all these different programs when in reality we’re only going to use technology if it makes our day-to-day life easier. It’s too hard to dazzle us,” Stillman said. “I would encourage people to not assume that texting and email is the most effective way to communicate with us [because] we do like face to face to some extent.”

Gen Z is notable for its expectation of openness and empathy in the workplace—specifically from their managers.

Mitch Mitchell

Mitch Mitchell

“If leaders don’t provide this, the Gen Z workforce will find other opportunities,” said Chris “Mitch” Mitchell, principal at human capital advisory firm FMG Leading. They also demand ongoing—and real-time—feedback. “Gen Z members have a strong desire for a higher frequency of meaningful conversations—not just in an annual review cycle, but as part of a more open relationship with their managers,” he said.

They’ll want to provide their own input to management, as well. “One key consideration is that Generation Z has grown up in the era of Yelp, such that they expect to be able to offer constant, and even public, feedback in nearly all situations, including work,” Mitchell said.

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