With Generation Z due to enter the workforce in significant numbers, we ask industry leaders how businesses must adapt to accommodate the needs of four co-existing generations. Interviews by Liz Mellon and David Woods
THERE ARE 350 million Gen Z’ers in India alone, and they are expected to enter the workforce in significant numbers for the first time in 2015. In fact, it is projected that by 2020 – just six short years from today – Gen Z will make up 36% of the global workforce, and they are already giving businesses a glimpse into their tech-savvy future. This is the generation that will grow up with cloud computing as the norm; the generation that will instinctively turn to cloud marketplaces to find the business apps they need to succeed; and the generation that will rely on their iWatches and other wearable technologies every day. How well prepared are companies to cope with four, or even five, generations in the same workplace?
This interview with Rajesh of Vedanta Resources, is the first of our four ‘integrating the IT generation into business’ interviews.
Rajesh Padmanabhan, HR head, Vedanta Resources
The influx of Generation Z is a nice challenge to have. Our major areas of challenge and opportunity are going to be around decision-making or problem-solving, technology and management. Let’s take each of these in turn. If I focus on just three groups – the Baby Boomers, Gen X, and I will put Gen Y and Z together for the time being – we see significant differences. Many Baby Boomers in India still print out hard copies of digital data and spend time thinking and analyzing with pen in hand. Gen X, by contrast, sees data as structured, coming in bulk, but manageable and tractable. For the first time in Gen Y, and even more so with Gen Z, we see youngsters who cope with Big Data – masses of unstructured data, freely available, but not organized into neat messages or packages. Given that each generation will value its own decision-making methodology above those of the others, we will need to do more and more talking, and enable more real communication, and faster, in order to agree. I also see the focus of decision-making moving down the hierarchy, to where the massive amounts of data are more readily engaged with and understood, rather than staying at the top, at least for day-to-day decisions. Empowerment won’t be so much a top-down gift as a bottom-up grab!
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I guess technology is the obvious challenge, as Gen Z is so tech-savvy. Gen Z’ers have grown up in a world in which the internet wasn’t invented or created – to them, it has always been there. So they use multiple devices at the same time and don’t strongly differentiate between their virtual worlds and the real world; they integrate them, apparently seamlessly. We will definitely have to face the need for upward mentoring on technology from this generation. How receptive will Gen X be to this approach? How will technology interact with strategy? If strategy is top-down and the technology push comes from the bottom- up, how will the two intersect in a way that makes sense and adds value? I’m not sure we’ve thought about this enough yet.
The third challenge, where I believe action is needed right now, is management. In India, a dearth of management talent has been exacerbated by our speed of growth. We have moved rapidly from an era in which, to be a project manager, you had to have grey hair and 15 or so years of experience. Now, our young Gen Y employees will soon be managing the fresh intake of Gen Z, with closer to eight years’ experience, mostly of a pretty technical nature. They have more lateral experience across the company than Gen X’ers, who were mostly developed in verticals, but they are being pushed into management more rapidly and without much training. We simply haven’t had the bandwidth, given our rates of growth. We will need to remedy this in a hurry, with some training. I don’t think that Gen Z will tolerate poor management coming from a generation that seems so close to it in many respects.
By 2016, the average age of the Indian population will be under 24 – so we’d better be ready for this huge transformation in the way business will need to be run.