If you’re a Baby Boomer, Generation Xer or a millennial, you’ve likely learned the “ways” of the business world organically. Many of my skills came from watching, imitating, listening, eavesdropping, shadowing and doing what I learned from the peers and leaders who surrounded me. As I saw the classes of 2021 near their graduation, I was struck by the thought of how different my experience of developing my professional skills will inevitably be from what Generation Z will likely experience now.
I believe learning happens “in the moment” in the business world. How to properly choose a subject line for an email, what to do when your boss’s boss calls, how to ask for vacation time — these are all small lessons that can make a big difference.
Case in point: Many years ago, I learned a hard lesson on proper phone etiquette. Three of us worked in a small office for the U.S. division of an international conglomerate. The CEO of the company called asking for my boss (who stepped out to use the restroom). I promptly told the CEO he was in the bathroom. The moment I hung up, the operations manager stepped over to my desk and kindly but sternly instructed me to avoid telling anyone that my boss was “in the bathroom” and replace it with “he’s stepped away from his desk.” This was a small but big lesson learned.
So, while we older generations had the chance to immerse ourselves in the physical business environment, we now have to figure out how to work effectively in a remote business environment. This leads me to questions such as:
• What does developing younger professionals look like in a remote capacity?
• How do we teach the best practices of simple business-as-usual tasks?
• How do young professionals learn to build relationships with colleagues that lead to career advancement?
• How do you build a culture of diversity and understanding within a workplace when individuals, including ourselves, become comfortable working from home alone?
Figuring out answers to these questions is more important now than ever. In 2019, Gen Z comprised 32% of the global population. This is the digital generation who has only known an all-digital world. And as I see it, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and millennials can likely learn a lot from them.
Not only is Generation Z the most technologically advanced, but they are also more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation, according to Pew Research Center. All of this and more is why they are assets to our businesses and futures.
As leaders, we should be paving the way for the younger generations to fill our shoes. Any opportunity where we can share an experience to help develop young staff should be taken. If questions are asked about business-as-usual tasks, we need to answer them. We must also be aware of the unspoken questions. To this end, I suggest setting aside time to meet with individual staff to share both professional and educational experiences. This will help us understand areas where we can add insight, including connecting them with other subject matter experts within our organization or network. The flip side will help us implement new ideas and understand what direction our businesses might head in the future.
As professional leaders, we have a responsibility to help shape what lies ahead. While some of us may not be as digitally savvy as Gen Z, we have the interpersonal experiences that they do not. Take a second and think about knowledge sharing. What does leading the way for Generation Z look like? And as leaders, are we doing enough?