In 2019, Generation Z will account for 32% of the global population. Characterised by their innate affinity with disruptive technology, competitive nature and evolving expectations of what work should look like, the first wave of Gen Z’ers is now storming the workplace with a bright new outlook, and it’s suggesting something of a revolution.
This is particularly true in the project management arena, where a mix of healthy career opportunities, competitive salaries and recognition of technology’s role in shaping commercial success all reflect Generation Z’s natural career ambitions, according to the latest APM data on salaries and market trends.
Meanwhile, the shape of the C-Suite is also shifting. In the past 20 years, the number of CEOs aged in their 60s has doubled as businesses seek wisdom, experience and maturity to guide them through an uncertain landscape. Responsible for the strategic decisions that inform project portfolio delivery, these executives are the gatekeepers equipped to promise a prosperous future to a generation that will make up a fifth of the workforce by 2021.
The result is an unprecedented opportunity. As youthful innovation meets authority and experience, the time is ripe to harness the power of collaboration between the two demographics. Balancing the strategic importance of a continuous improvement roadmap with the commercial importance of just-in-time innovation is a serious challenge. A new professional partnership between the C-Suite and Generation Z may present the solution – and technology will play a significant role in facilitating that partnership.
Generation Z: A New Breed of Workplace Talent
To realise this opportunity, we must understand each generation’s motivations. Executives surveyed by PwC overwhelmingly recognise that the digital revolution constitutes business’s most pressing challenge – yet adoption rates of AI initiatives, for example, are running at only 2%. What’s more, 79% of the C-Suite cite the need to identify, nurture and retain the right skills for the digital age as one of their most urgent concerns.
Meanwhile, the youngest generation is redefining work, operating to a cultural norm that is intuitively rooted in behavioural and AI technology. Physical boundaries are insignificant. Always-on is not so much a working culture as an inherent lifestyle. This, then, is a generation that offers exactly the knowledge that the C-Suite is seeking. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, this is also a generation tempered with caution. As Forbes points out, Generation Z has witnessed the impact of recession, making a secure role and robust pay cheque priorities for these young people. The project management sector is equipped to offer both. A lifetime of jostling in the crowded social media space has also instilled Generation Z with a fierce sense of individuality. They have spent their entire lives building their own brand – and competing for the space to share it. They value individual success and upward progression and they’re not afraid to compete to get there.
Communication Culture in the Digital Age
Mutually beneficial opportunities emerge from these cultural characteristics. If, as the evidence suggests, executives recognise the importance of digital innovation but are behind on embracing the reality…well, Generation Z is equipped to get the business there. Conversely, if Generation Z not only seeks but actively competes for rapid career progression, the executive team holds the cards. Creating an environment that facilitates that competition (for example, through gamification strategies and digitally fit technology), not only plays to the Generation Z mindset but also fosters a healthy drive to constantly improve. And, as our recent white paper demonstrates, continuous improvement is a vital strategy to balance rapid innovation with protective governance.
This all depends on communication and collaboration - so where do we start? After all, the reality is that the C-Suite and Generation Z tend to be far removed in their everyday work. But, particularly as project management builds its profile as a strategic necessity, there are communication touchpoints that can be maximised as a vehicle for knowledge transfer and talent development. The PMO report at the executive or sponsorship meeting is a great example: its primary value, of course, is as an upward data sharing mechanism that facilitates decision making. But this process also has a more esoteric value: it’s an opportunity for Generation Z to flex their creative muscle and for the C-Suite to recognise, reward and motivate – exactly what’s needed to deliver that digitally savvy talent development that’s so high on the executive agenda.
This only works, though, if the two generations converge on a communication method that makes sense to both. Traditional reporting formats, which can be cumbersome to prepare and deliver - will undoubtedly fail to light Generation Z’s fire. For the C-Suite, emerging linguistics – hashtags, emojis, acronyms and jargon – hold no meaningful place in the boardroom. Reporting on how technology is changing the job of the CEO, McKinsey highlights the challenge of cutting through noise in the information age. For the busy CEO, too much information is worse than too little since, in the words of one CEO interviewed by McKinsey, “if you don’t prioritise, you’ll sit in your office all day, reading reports, and end up being completely confused”. In this scenario, information loses its meaning for the executive. The opportunity to communicate crucial data on how projects are driving continuous improvement is lost – as is the chance for Generation Z to demonstrate their potential value to the business.
Fusing Innovation and Experience: The Role of Technology
Part of the solution is to deploy technology that can bridge this potential communication gap. Executives know that they must be ahead of new innovations to stay competitive. Generation Z can signpost these - but must do so efficiently and pragmatically for their ideas to win attention. Executives require concise and compelling information to inform the right decisions. Generation Z demands boundary-less technology that’s lean and intuitive, yet exciting. Above all, both require the information exchange to be as efficient as possible – the C-Suite because of time constraints and Generation Z because…well, anything less is simply not in their frame of reference.
Generation Z has the capacity to bring digital innovation to the business strategy, meeting the single biggest challenge that keeps today’s executives awake at night – and, in the process, marking themselves out as new talent worth investing in. If their ideas, progress and achievements are lost in translation, though, crucial opportunities will also be lost, both for the business and for the rising young professional. By adopting the right tools to facilitate a meaningful reporting line, we can initiate a common language between the C-Suite and Generation Z which can then be built upon through all manner of talent management and leadership strategies. We start to break down some of the barriers to success by ensuring that all ideas, innovations and feedback are on the table, clearly understood and open for intelligent debate. And that will play a significant part in harnessing the potential of a unique generational convergence – one that we’re unlikely to see again and that we should embrace, right now.
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by Rupert Taylor February 2020