In the Age of the Individual: Designing for Values and Behaviours; The Millennial/Gen Z Era

Hello PPMA friends

Dr Stuart Wigham is an Organisation Design and Change Consultant and has written a fascinating article for us on the millennial/GenZ generation. In it he looks at what drives them and how to become an employer of choice for our future workforce.

“A few weeks ago, I gave a short talk to a HR Directors dinner on the Organisation Design issues of the millennial/GenZ generation. I began with this short story;

This morning I checked my emails and noticed one from my hairdresser. Nothing unusual in this one might say, email remains one of the keyways a company stays in touch with its customers. I opened it expecting the usual marketing offers such as 10% off your next cut etc. However, to my surprise when I opened the email it was actually a notice informing me of a pricing policy change. The hairdresser was adopting a gender-neutral pricing policy. What surprised me more was my internal reaction to this news. In my head I did a virtual shrug of the shoulders and carried on my day. It was only later that I reflected on how far and fast things have changed in the world, such a move would have been pretty mind blowing a few years ago, now it barely registered with me, it is the new normal.

What has changed? I believe its generational as much as it is technological. Here is some statistics that I found online combining data from The Economist and Deloitte:

Data

  • Age profile of millennials and gen Z make up more than half of the world’s workforce
  • Social attitudes – climate change and environmental issues – these are the top concern over and above things like crime and housing
  • Social narratives related to what is no longer acceptable, pollution, environmental impact, use of resources is on the increase – 29th July 2019 ‘overshot day’
  • Increase in vegetarian and veganism (600% increase in the USA)

In terms of who holds power both in terms of the provider and in terms of the customer it is now with the gift of the Millennial and Gen Z’s. They value climate and environment as the top issue of concern and are connected at unprecedented levels to the world and data about our planet. Prior Generations might have had insight and even some motivation to be activists in particular niche parts of our world, but now people come together in virtual spaces as communities globally in an instant. No one waits for anything, in the past you might be part of a social movement and go to monthly meeting in your local town with a handful of other likeminded individuals and talk about changing the world, this is a glacial pace compared to today’s generation.

Ok, so what is the lived experience of this generation, how does this impact on the underlying values they hold and therefore habits and behaviours?

According to The Times It is predicted that the average age when someone will be able to purchase there first home in London will raise to the age of 40 years old in the next decade. In addition, we now have the ‘Gig Economy’ which crosses the income spectrum, prior generations may have experiences some work instability, maybe they had a weekend job, shift work outside of colleague or University classes to help support themselves, but for the most part across the majority of the economy once you finished studying you got a permanent job hopefully with an employer that had a decent pension scheme and knuckled now for the rest of your life. If you were lucky you might get early retirement in your 50’s and certainly by the time you reached your early 60’s having paid your mortgage off in your late 40’s/early 50’s.

So what?

Its pretty straightforward when you think about it. If I have no real hope of having what my parents had at my age then I’ll benchmark my reality against different things, the things that are important to me will change. At the same Directors dinner I was talking with a woman slightly younger than I and she made a really good point about the rise of the instgram generation who take photographs of everything. She went on to say that if you cannot afford the luxuries of prior generations such as houses etc then what’s left that is low cost? It’s experiences. Photographing your Sunday brunch of vegan avocado on sourdough toast topped with fresh chillis and fresh tomatoes may at first glance seem meaningless, but to this generation it is anything but. Viewed through the eyes of prior generations with a good retirement to look forward too, nice holidays, cars, house(s) seems frivolous. Don’t kid yourself, viewed through the eyes of a generation that can’t even dream of what you have is to dangerously underestimate the power that this group now hold within society, and they are now exercising that power through the norms of capitalism, where they choose to spend time and money is different to before.

Age of ecosystems and individualisam

What are my expectations? If I am searching for experiences in order to create my reality, then what I want from organisations is very different to what has gone before.

Firstly, I am an individual. This means mass production thinking need not apply unless it’s creating the mobile device that I am using to create my reality. From here on, it’s about mass customisation and individualism, treat me as an individual or else I will view you and your company as at best irrelevant and at worst with the same level of contempt that you are showing me.

Secondly, I am part of a group. Contradictory? You bet. Community formation is no longer geographically constrained. If my community was my neighbourhood before, it certainly isn’t now. My community is likely to be that group of likeminded individuals I have located in virtual spaces through social media, online gaming and groups within a social media…. globally. Yes, that is correct, notions of Country boundaries might still be important at the political/national level, but in day to day meaning creation these types of constructs are not only irrelevant, they might even be considered offensive to my notion of community and how I construct my reality. Consider how quickly Extinction Rebellion arrived across 30 different Countries and the impact that have had in many of our major cities. This simply would not have been possible before the combination of factors that I am highlighting in this article.

Thirdly, I access life through platforms. Take for example Google and Amazon. What is it about this companies that is so appealing over a traditional company? It’s the way they leverage value and distribute it across an ecosystem. And here I am not talking about platforms in the context of a particular technology only, I am referring conceptually to the notion of creating ‘the’ place that brings people together around a range of physical and virtual products and services. Sure, many of these companies get a bad name in the press and ironically on social media regarding there tax practices. However, all they are doing is leveraging the very platform that is making them successful. In many respects it matters not where they declare to be there home. Actually, asking where these companies are located is like asking directions to the end of the street and then finding that in reality to need directions to Mars. What matters is the range of products and services they are able to bring together to create a hub of activity where many organisations make money serving the same customers. The aim of progressive organisations is to be the keystone within an ecosystem, to create a system of co-dependency where they are always connected to the product or services being accessed even if they don’t directly make money from them. What they understand is that relevance creates its own value and with-it revenues will flow. They’re goal is to keep the ecosystem diverse and healthy enough to be constantly relevant to the end user and thus keep them coming back for more.

Ecosystems, individualisam and the public sector

The public sector is ironically through a sense of permanency and through the sheer diversity of products and services in a fantastic place to leverage the new reality of platforms and appeal as an employer of choice to the generation of millennials and GenZ’s. It is therefore ironic that the public sector as a result of a sense of permanency and diversity are not taking full advantage of what they have to offer.

If an individual values experiences over things like an employer for life, then what is attractive to them is very different. ‘But we have an unmatched pension scheme’ I hear you say? They do not care, they can’t even afford to buy a house or pay off their student loan, dangling a carrot that will bear fruit in 40 years’ time is ridiculous when you put it in context. ‘But we have flexible working’ I hear you say? Great…does that mean I can pick and choose when and how I work? ‘Er…no, we will tell you this, it’ll be set in strict and fixed parameters, you can work from home one day a week’…er…but when am doing my Deliveroo job I work when I want, its not great pay, but its what I consider flexible working…. ‘Well, we’ve refurbished the offices in recent years, it’s a great place to come to work, look you work in an ‘agile’ working environment and don’t forget, you can work from home a day a week!’ I have to physically come to an office…I can’t just work wherever and however I want for most of the time?

So, what is it about the public sector that by design is attractive?

Firstly, it’s all about purpose. The public sector by nature are purpose driven enterprises, they exist for the social good of our world. This is highly appealing to the Millennial/GenZ’s, they value social causes for good. If you are in the business of not making a profit and trying to help society then you have a competitive advantage over any other company out there with a fluffy Corporate Social Responsibility statement and triple or quadruple bottom line. Your purpose trumps theirs every single time, you are truly in the business of making a difference to society and this is highly appealing.

Secondly, diversity of the work. For most of the private sector they can never have the sheer diversity of work occurring at any one time that the public sector does. Even the largest multi-national companies on the planet cannot match the range of work that just a single local authority does.

The thing that hinders public sector organisations from leveraging purpose and the diversity of work is the functionalised nature of departments/divisions/directorates (pick your boundary name). Now as a seasoned Organisation Design professional I am not for one moment suggesting that you flatten your organisation and attempt to turn it into the latest autonomous fad going (if I hear the words ‘Agile’ one more time without an intelligent context….). What I am suggesting is that functionalise deployment of people within and across the whole of the public sector is holding you back from being attractive. If each unit of the organisation is effectively a budget holder on its own and seeks to manage its people resources within that narrow context it fails to leverage the very thing that could be attractive.

What is needed is a lateral, multi-context view of the organisation and how it leverages its people within an ecosystem of public sector organisations. I can debate for hours the organising method for this, but the point is, you are stronger and far more appealing through giving people access and opportunity, systemically across organisations than any other for-profit company out there. Reposition the diversity of work on offer and you will be pretty much unrivalled. The thing that is holding you back is functionalised thinking in the age of ecosystems and individualism.

 Finally

If you want to appeal to the over 40’s then stop looking at your organisation from the point of view of someone with 30 years’ service approaching pension age. Your target market is driven by experiences, ethical behaviour and the ability to make a difference.

This is the challenge to be the employer of choice to the Millenial/GenZ generations:

I am an individual, treat me as such, give me the opportunity to have experiences and do it on my terms.”

Dr Stuart Wigham FCIPD, PhD, Organisation Design and Change Consultant

 

By | 2019-11-25T15:37:43+00:00 November 25th, 2019|Categories: Guest Blogger|0 Comments

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