Get Ready for Gen Z – by Greg Witz, President of Witz Education

Born from the late 90’s to now, Generation Z is the current generation and its oldest members are starting to enter the workforce. More importantly, they are researching and interacting with our companies long before they will ever buy our products, making being proactive in understanding these “digital natives” crucial for our companies’ future success.

Introducing Gen-Z

Gen-Z’s were raised by young Boomers and Gen-X’s in a protective, “helicopter parent” environment much like their Gen-Y counterparts. However, while Gen-Y’s are optimistic and some say have unattainable expectations, Gen-Z’s are realistic. They grew up in the post-9/11 world and grew up understanding the threat of domestic terrorism. They have seen the effect of the recession on their family and their Gen-Y siblings returning home with multiple degrees and debt. Despite all this, only 6% are worried about the future according to Forbes. 43% say school violence/shootings will have the biggest impact on their generation. They may have experienced an early loss of innocence; it has made them resilient, pragmatic, and eager to influence the world around them.  Think Katniss from the Hunger Games: forced into tough situations and she finds a way to rise above it to change the world. Having the highest IQ of any generation, they are curious and driven, using technology to be self-sufficient.

Known as “digital natives” and we joke that the “Z” stands for zombies as they are rarely away from their devices. They grew up with Internet, smart phones, and instant information, making them more tech-savvy than any generation before them. According to research conducted by Ipsos and Wikia, 73% of Gen-Z’s are on their devices within an hour of waking up and over half state they are more active now than they were in the three months prior. They also spend a significant amount of time plugged in, with 43% spending 10+ hours a day.  That being said, 63% “unplug” while at work or school, showing they understand the need to focus on the tasks at hand. This is partly due to the huge pressure they are under to succeed and, due partly to their attachment to technology, are used to instant gratification and reward.

Being so connected, it is not surprising that 76% of Gen-Z’s agree that technology will help them achieve their goals. They turn to technology to share their opinions, learn new things, and for entertainment. Interestingly, only 31% share knowledge to feel good about themselves or show how smart they are. They view the online world as their Encyclopedia Britannica and want to ensure that the information they get from it is accurate. While they appreciate their parents’ support, they use social media to get advice from their peers, learn new things, and get peer reviews. According to USA Today, they are likely to break traditional opinion molds, mixing and matching points of view in ways that might have isolated them prior to social media. They have difficulty in direct, assertive communication in person, rarely disagreeing with their manager in the office but sharing it online.

Selling to Gen-Z

Gen-Z’s turn to Google and peer-reviews when making buying decisions. They want their brands to be as connected as they are and interacting with them in real-time is crucial. Simply having an account is not enough: you have to be actively involved and engaged with your young followers.  Gen-Z’s have short attention spans and while being on Facebook is needed, Gen-Z’s are on Instagram where media can be quickly digested according to Forbes. While the traditional “this product will solve all your problems!” marketing message won’t work with Gen-Z’s, they are drawn to products that remind them about the bright side of life and encourage them to share their experiences. In a similar vein, marketers should make them feel secure and empower them to change the world.

In fact, Gen-Z’s want to start their relationship with a product and/or brand early on and influence the development. Giving them an opportunity to voice their opinions and contribute will greatly increase the probability of them buying your product down the road. Provide creative, interactive ways for them to express themselves and share their ideas across their social media channels.

Gen-Z in the Workplace

In the same way they want to influence their products, Gen-Z’s want to impact the world around them. They are independent thinkers and are used to making things happen, such as finding opportunities to gain experience or find global mentors in their desired fields. This mindset suggests they are likely to be highly entrepreneurial. They can be highly motivated, energetic, and productive team members but are high maintenance and, having grown up with awards for everything they do and instant rewards, can become demotivated quickly. They look for jobs that have creative elements or unique benefits that tie into their passions. Their biggest challenge will be developing the interpersonal skills needed to run a successful business.

As leaders, we need to be prepared to coach and mentor them to develop the “old-school” behaviors: customer service, time management, assertive communication, and the ability to accept and learn from criticism and integrity. They work best in small work groups with a defined structure, direction, and project goals, lead by a strong peer leader. Promote in-person meetings, training, and creative sessions to further develop their interpersonal skills.

Get Prepared

As mentioned at the start of the article, now is the time to be proactive in preparing our companies for Gen-Z’s. Start putting your leaders through interpersonal skill and communication training. They also need to learn how to coach and effectively lead this generation, as Gen-Z’s will not respond to the traditional “boss” figure and motivators. Reach out to them through social media and engage them on how to make your product, service, and even your culture better.

About the Author

Greg Witz is the President of Witz Education in Toronto, Canada. He delivers courses and keynote addresses on leadership, sales, and customer service, along with a look at how generational difference impact these topics, to associations and organizations through out North America, including CSAE, BMO, and the Schulich School of Business.

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