As we create a more fluid and agile workforce, transformation is no longer driven from the top alone. If we want to ensure the growth of a transformative and purpose-driven business, we need to harness the energy of the next generation and empower them to design initiatives to drive change throughout the company. It will require an understanding of what motivates this generation and how that aligns with business objectives, and then creating the space that enables them to become the future leaders of our business.
Luckily, Gen Zs crave change, and they want it quick – 65% of Gen Zs want to personally create something world-changing.
I am reminded of an intern I had the pleasure of working with here at HP, who was highly passionate about sustainability. During her time with us, she was able to single-handedly create an employee campaign with quizzes surrounding information and the significance of sustainability, all the while sourcing prizes with sustainable materials. The result of her tenacity amounted to the “Footprints of the Future” campaign that was displayed at our worksite. Her passion and energy for sustainability meant it was incorporated into every aspect of her thinking about this initiative, from the purpose to the prizes.
Gen Zs are also true digital natives – they have been exposed to the internet all their lives and continue to rely heavily on it to communicate, work, and play. The pandemic has compelled organisations to tweak their operations model to hybrid work, as more employees begin to demand remote working options.
This is an opportunity for leaders to fully embrace hybrid working and digital collaboration – and Gen Zs have shown companies what they can achieve by learning to shift towards a digital-first mindset.
In Southeast Asia, a survey by EY shows that a new mix of onsite and remote work would increase the company’s productivity (73%) and creativity (75%). Gen Zs entered the workforce during the rise of hybrid work – and have shown that flexible work arrangements are building a better, more personalized workplace for everyone.
As a multi-generational workforce, we have to think about how we can play to the strengths of different generations. For Gen Z, we have a pool of talent passionate about sustainable change who owns a digitally-first mindset. We also have deep expertise and experience running through the business. As a leader, I think about how we play to these different strengths and the first step, I believe, is building a stronger understanding.
Change starts from careful planning – and is proven through visible action
As business leaders, it is easy to fall back on what one thinks is right, holding onto perspectives that are all too familiar. In my years of working with different generations, I realised that by taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, the younger generation can help us broaden our thinking in terms of how we define success.
In the face of mounting public pressure and social issues, companies today are striving to create a better, more innovative, more just, and fair environment – and leaders can do that by championing diversity. This doesn’t just mean hiring diversity, but also ensuring that diversity has a voice that can make an impact as well as providing diverse experiences to employees and building an empowered and well-rounded workforce.
One should not stop at measuring through quantitative means alone, but should also measure changes in behavior and shifts in culture.
By nurturing next-generation leaders through discussions and reflections from case studies and curated learning trails, we are strengthening succession readiness for critical roles in the future.
For example, leaders can learn a lot from Gen Zs by setting aside time for regular mentoring sessions with them. One way to start instigating change from the inside out is through reverse mentoring. I find that their fresh perspectives foster new ideas that might not have been thought of before. Leaders can impart their years of wisdom to their younger employees. In exchange, Gen Zs can share unique ideas – some of them can be an inspiration for solutions to the business’s current challenges. Change can’t take place with just one generation – Gen Zs need to convince and secure support from other generations. I believe that management needs to initiate honest, open conversations with younger employees – thereby engaging in two-way communications instead of a top-bottom one.
The next step for us business leaders to build a more conducive corporate culture for Gen Zs is to mobilize and communicate change. Through one-on-one reverse mentoring sessions with them, leaders are then able to gather inputs and perspectives – the next action is to provide Gen Zs with the platform to share their thoughts so they may bring these fresh conversations and new ideas publicly.
Ultimately, programmes targeted toward building the Gen Z talent pipeline – such as HP’s Spark Programme, our 15-month internal programme that exposes fresh university graduates through rotations spanning different departments – are just one element in building diverse leaders. To build diverse talent pipelines, corporate culture must ensure robust succession planning, that managers and leaders are dedicated to shoring up diversity in the way they lead and coach, as well as develop strong, outcome-driven policies to achieve its diversity goals. By listening to diverse voices, we can learn to embrace and adopt different perspectives.
Upholding a culture that is global, purpose-driven, digital-first and outcome-oriented
From my years of working with Gen Zs, I find that they want to see change, impact, and results fast. They are very passionate about what they believe in and take the necessary strides to make a difference. Their top-of-mind issues are currently: inequality, climate change, and poverty, to name a few. For example, the intern I mentioned wanted to see change – and therefore, she took initiative and instigated change. Gen Zs are driven by the desire to make positive changes in the world – and this trait of theirs is a valuable addition for legacy organisations striving to be more fast-paced and action-driven.
Gen Z's representation adds fresh perspectives and brings innovations to our established line of products, services, and work culture.
I’ve often heard of stereotypes that Gen Zs tend to be overly idealistic and selective when entering the workforce. However, Gen Zs want to be heard, and they are not afraid to voice their opinions. As business leaders, we can learn to find a middle ground for all generations to thrive together in the workplace. Managing a multi-generational team starts by encouraging mutual respect for one another – listening to feedback, embracing a learner mindset, and challenging pervasive stereotypes.