In the first quarter of 2015, Millennials finally overtook Generation X as the largest cohort in the workplace — there are more than 53.5 million of them working today. Their massive size and economic power has had marketers and business leaders tracking the “Millennial mindset” for years.
And yet, nipping at their heels, here comes Generation Z, the oldest of who are just starting to come of age. The U.S. Census estimates that Generation Z will include close to 80 million members — a number that eclipses the conversation-dominating Millennials.
It’s time to stop thinking in terms of generations; such thinking makes it too easy to buy into assumptions. For example, Millennials aren’t necessarily tech geniuses any more than anyone over the age of 40 is categorically a Luddite.
Instead, a leader needs to learn to think like a futurist. From innovation and technology to diversity and cultural norms, the pace of change is too rapid to focus solely on generational differences.
The Role of Technology, Analytics & Big Data
Younger generations are adjusting to the new world of work as much as their older colleagues; it’s the technology, not any one generation, that’s pushing workplace boundaries.
Thinking like a futurist means being in a constant state of learning, absorbing emerging trends and concepts, then considering the impact they might have globally as well as longer term. It means being open and receptive to change, both within your organization and outside. It means considering future possibilities, not just what’s happening right now.
For example, futurists are interested to learn how analytics can drive a company’s success.
AMC experienced this when looking into what personality traits lead to the best concession workers. Their data revealed that technology and training weren’t predictors of job performance; what mattered was emotional intelligence, a worker’s ability to work with and engage customers through social interaction.
AMC used these insights to develop a hiring process that screened for these traits in applications. The result? They cut turnover in half, and increased the bottom line margin by 1.5 percent. They didn’t just hire workers who were the best prepared for success, they also found people who stayed with the company for a longer period of time.
While data-informed hiring processes should be embraced, I am compelled to include a note of caution: It’s important to avoid the mistaken belief that algorithms or statistics are free of bias. It isn’t always clear how bias can creep into analytics, but it’s important to see data as the tool it is. Recruiters (read: humans) still need to make decisions, not just interpreting analytics but ensuring that HR best practices are met and that hires are diverse and a great personality fit.
Futurists Consistently Connect Technology and Culture
A futurist will seek to understand not only how technology changes the hiring process, but also its impact on corporate culture.
Technology allows workers to untether themselves from a cubicle; they no longer need to be in an office to attend a meeting or interact with their team. Job seekers have access to a global workplace, where they can prioritize work and employers who reflect their values.
However, freedom of place also has its drawbacks: Feelings of isolation among remote staff, limitations of corporate culture, varying expectations, different work-life boundaries, and a whole new model for communication.
This makes transparency paramount for attracting top talent. An open-book recruitment process allows job seekers to match their work needs to the right organizational culture, which leads to better-qualified applicants who are invested in the outcome.
Artisans Are the Future
A futurist isn’t just a strategist, they’re an artisan: They take trends, interpret them, and craft a vision for their organization. Taking a futuristic approach to work means more than scrutinizing work theories. It means gathering evidence to ultimately take action — one that may require risk, but which can also create competitive advantages.
It’s easy to get caught up in the generational differences that are shaping our evolving workforce; but we need to move beyond labels and focus on the factors that directly influence the way we live and work today and in the future. By actively looking forward, organizations will make better decisions for the culture of the company and its workers. The tools are already here, we just need to approach them with more curiosity and less fear.
Image credit : Bigstock
A version on this post was first posted on Huffington Post on 11/19/15.