I recently gave my first couple of guest lectures to the 2014-2015 EMMS (Executive Masters in Marketing and Sales) cohort. EMMS is a post-graduate degree taught between the very pleasant campuses of the global Top 20 business schools ESADE in Barcelona and SDA Bocconi in Milan.
The ‘Executive’ bit refers to the fact the students take the course in modules whilst they are in full-time management positions. Bearing that in mind, my act was entitled `57 Years... 57 Lessons...’ – a theme designed to send the graduating students on their way knowing what I’ve learned in running communications businesses and functions in the adult part of my 57 years on this Earth.
This, I was told, would contain valuable lessons for their current and future personal and commercial lives once freed from the part-time bonds of academe.
Recognise and act on generational behaviours
Slide 33 in the PowerPoint fest was entitled ‘You are unlikely to be your audience’ and warns ‘Generational change is profound. Learn to understand, recognise and act on Generation X, Y, and Z behaviours.’
Generational change is indeed profound. It affects much more than the common and usually grossly mistaken assumption in marketing and communications planning and execution that the audience for the product or service thinks like the provider.
The problem, it appears, extends far beyond the relationship between vendor and customer but is also rife within providing organisations. In particular, it is that there is currently mutual incomprehension between what employersthink Gen Y staff want from their positions and what younger employees actually desire in their careers.
Gen X and Gen Y inhabit very different planets
This gap is something that in an era of ever more rapid change my thrusting, international, Generation X-ish audience are going to have to deal with increasingly. Whether they climb the ranks of multi-national management or embark on the entrepreneurial journey and start hiring. And, of course, because of their particular demographics, if they end up running PR and communications businesses and departments, it is something they will have to face in spades.
The situation reminds me of the premise of John Gray’s seminal book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venuswhich, when published, was billed as ‘a practical guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your relationships.’
Might it be too that professional communicators may need to brush up on their personal business communications skills to deliver what they, their employers, clients and, most of all, employees want when Gen X and Gen Y inhabit very different planets?
Car crash of confusion
The problem was highlighted recently in research conducted by Penna, an international company, unsurprisingly, that offers interim management, coaching and HR services. A thousand senior managers and a thousand Gen Y employees (aged between 18 and 34) were surveyed and the results show an early car crash of confusion.
According to the findings, employers believe leading a team and experiencing lots of different jobs and sectors are the most important motivators for Gen Y. Wrong! Gen Y employees actually rate achieving a work-life balance and ‘being totally fulfilled and happy in my work’ as most important. Alongside earning good money, that is.
Gen Y is not homogenous
Interestingly, the report didn’t make the mistake of assuming Gen Y is homogenous. For instance, it split Gen Y employees into two groups – those aged 18-24 and those aged 25-34. That split reveals some rather contrary results, showing the 18-24 year-old group perhaps being much closer to Gen X values than their more laid-back older Gen Y siblings.
When it comes to leading a team, however, younger employees, the research found, are more driven (21 per cent) compared to those aged 25-34 (17 per cent). The clearly-out-of-touch employers believe managing a team is more important to older Gen Y staff (28 per cent).
Those aged 25-34 also rated the importance of work-life balance much higher (44 per cent compared to 31 per cent in the younger group). Employers underrated the significance of work-life balance for younger employees: 18 per cent believed it was important to 18-24-year-olds versus 27 per cent for 25-34-year-olds.
Values and loyalty
The research also revealed managers are underestimating the importance to employees of organisational values; 13 per cent of 18-24 year-olds said ‘values that reflect my own’ was an important factor when choosing a company to work for, but only seven per cent of managers believed this to be the case.
Loyalty also ranked highly with the employees, with 64 per cent of 18-24 year-olds agreeing they believe ‘it is important to be loyal to your employer’ compared to 56 per cent of 25-34 year-olds. However, when asked what age group they’d most associate with loyalty to a company, only three per cent of employers said 18-24 year-olds compared to 26 per cent for those aged 25-34.
Problem or opportunity?
Should these findings prove to be true, over time we may have to handle a shortage in management in future, assuming that younger generations already in the workplace are not automatically going to want to sit behind the desks of today’s leaders and managers. I think you can count on that being the case for many.
More likely, in my opinion, is that Gen Y’s new attitudes along with new technology will drive further change in the nature of management and the structure of companies. The alternative will be a decline in engagement levels, productivity, and increased staff attrition rates accompanied by the inevitable and perennial cries of skills shortage.
But we should always be wary of lies, damned lies and statistics. It’ll be most useful for those in charge of managing Gen Y to take the time to sit down with them and find out what they want – or at least what they think they want – and build that into their management and business development strategy.
As slide 63 of the presentation warned, ‘You can’t create something new without destroying something old. Learn to let go and move on before someone does it for you!’
So, Gen X, get engaged with Generation Y. They will be running things, so help them do it well on their terms and from their perspective.
After all, the world of business didn’t fall apart when we dispensed with the conventions of wearing ties, using fax machines or talking into big, fixed devices that just transmitted voice, did it? And, yes, Gen Y, unbelievably, we late Baby Boomers and some of your Gen X managers once did that stuff.
Jonathan Simnett has won dozens of awards, building businesses and helping public/private sector organisations and their investors in fast-growth tech-based B2B and B2C segments to: grow; manage change; reposition; enter markets; acquire; sell; IPO and report through the delivery of more effective management, marketing, positioning, content creation and communications strategies.
Leader of the team named Global Communications Department of the Year at the 2009 International Business Awards, New York, he was a founder of Brodeur Worldwide, a global public relations consultancy and part of the team that built a company of 650 people and $95 million turnover worldwide over 15 years, before selling to Omnicom.