Impulse – for all those who feel older than the GenZ

Of course, you can try to deal with GenZ in the same way as with all generations before them. Integrate them into the old system and hope that they will simply do their duty. That is possible, the question is whether it makes sense?

Many people say that GenZ are fat, stupid, lazy and greedy. They sit there with their smartphones, white sneakers and caps on their heads. They hang out on social networks 24/7, are stuck without Wi-Fi and electricity, just want to be pampered and praised for no real achievement, just for coming, for being there, for being seen. Your own performance is close to zero with the self-image of a world champion.

And then they constantly accuse you of not having done enough for the climate, for the economy, for the future, for society, without even beginning to realize that they know what they’re talking about. And then these crazy ideas about how to do it:  Working without hierarchies, with part-time and free time, with a life-work balance, instead of first earning your bread and butter and working your way up. 

There is already a huge mountain of prejudices attributed to GenZ. 

How should this continue? What happens if we just let them do it? Don’t they just need more pressure and clear guidelines? Don’t they need to be slowly brought down from their high horse? Where will this lead if they (are supposed to) take on more responsibility and leadership? How do you get them to keep the company successful? How can you lead them?

How did they actually get (that way)?

It’s worth taking a look back 15 years, no, more like 50 years. The world in which “we old people” were socialized looked different. We had left the wood-burning stoves behind us, sport paved the way for the first color televisions at home. I remember how cool my parents’ friends’ video recorders were. A landline was normal, but expensive. expensive, a car often was too (normal and expensive). Petrol was cheap, we didn’t know how cheap yet, and the OECD gave us car-free weekends. Going on vacation began with intensive study of the road maps, because who could afford to fly on vacation? And always take enough film for the camera! Or a book for bad days.  

And the GenZ? They are digital natives – not just with their laptops, but above all with their smartphones. They have everything we never even dreamed of in the past. It was the new normal 15 years ago. Online, surfing, streaming, uploading videos to social media, instant feedback, tutorials for multiplayer online VR games. These are now all taken for granted.

GenZ no longer understands what limited us. Today, everything seems global and big. Even the problems. The climate, society, the economy, the world – everything is in crisis. We have more knowledge than we can process, more new perspectives and ideas than we and the planet’s resources can cope with. Where artificial intelligence will take us is written in the stars. Security looks different.

We have long known that most of these crises could have been avoided if we had understood earlier where an unthinking “onwards and upwards” leads us. We react with fear and stagnation instead of cohesion, courage and trust. Trust in ourselves, in others and in the systems that are (actually) supposed to make our lives easier. 

“The young” bring with them what we need to deal with developments and they are finally demanding what new workers and agilists have been looking for for decades. They live flexibility and resilience, especially in relation to technical hypes, they give feedback, albeit sometimes too loudly and in a form that we don’t want to accept. 

They try to leave out what nobody needs, even if we have always done it differently. They were systemically and systematically demotivated at school and still have the desire to do what interests them – if they can find the space to do so. They are much less dull-witted than the cliché gives them credit for.

They gain prestige and respect by doing something, not by sitting on a high horse. They define power, responsibility and status structures in an uncomfortably different way.

But what can you still rely on when the world goes off the rails? When VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) becomes BANI (Fragile, Anxious, Nonlinear, Uncertain) and the chaos becomes ever more apparent?

Connecting the new with the old

We need understanding and communication. 

We need the joint initiative, the ideas, experiences and impulses of everyone, young and old.

We need the openness to understand each other and the clarity to say what we are about.

We have lost much of this. We have invested too much time and energy in structural demotivation. Today, there are more brakemen than drivers in companies, more frustration than desire. After decades of looking at the figures, we need to start doing things differently, looking at people and not losing sight of the numbers. More contemporary, more robust in the face of complexity, more adaptable, more multidimensional, more systemic.

To do this, we need the people we have just chased through the optimal training for uncertain times. The young, the new, the GenZ. 

>>> “Your culture will adapt to serve us. Resistance is futile.” The Borg, Star Trek <<<

But whose culture should adapt here is the first question. 

They bring with them much of what we need today more than ever. Energy, the courage to address problems, the will to change them, the clarity to no longer conform unconditionally, but also the awareness that there is more to life than work, that life is also important, that meaning is more motivating than wasting time, that the world is becoming smaller, more interconnected and more diverse and that this also has a lot of positive aspects.

But the very people who could help us out of the crisis have lost faith that we are serious. No wonder, because the more they deviate from the traditional paths, the less we take them seriously, the more we practice camouflage and deception. The more we try to cover up the mistakes of the past, the more trust we lose. 

We have to admit to ourselves that we need each other. We need the experience of the “old” and the impetus of the “young”, we need money and innovation, calm and dynamism, wisdom and impartiality. We need diversity and we need openness and clarity. We have to admit that no one generation alone has the knowledge and the position to steer the rudder in a different direction. 

This must be reflected in the organizations. Right at the forefront: learning together, understanding systems better, eliminating wasted time and unnecessary bureaucracy, reflected honesty instead of unreflected intransparency, reducing structural and systemic demotivation. 

At the same time: recognizing and eliminating individual leadership weaknesses, recognizing and overcoming mutual prejudices, treating each other seriously and maturely.

To do this, we need GenZ – but not only that, we also need baby boomers, GenX, GenY, Gen Alpha and anyone else who can help us. It’s a mammoth task, but together we can do it, especially because we basically want the same thing and share many values!

If we succeed, then hopefully we can create a world that is worth living in sustainably. If we fail, yes, we will fail – with all the consequences. 

So where do we start? What do you think?

For me, it’s always the entrepreneurs, the people who give other people space to get involved, to work, to create things together that you could never do alone. For me, that is the key to putting our economy, our society and our environment on a better path. How this works in concrete terms depends on many things, but in any case on an initial conversation about it!

I give specific tips on how to be convincing as an individual manager:

  • Openness
    • Be honest, open and trustworthy. Counteract mistrust and give the impression that you are open to combining the skills of very different people in order to solve problems.
  • Take them seriously
    • Take GenZ and their skills seriously, use them, listen to them and take unusual ideas seriously. 
  • Dialogs
    • Be open to real dialog. Use the (unique) skills and perception of the GenZ, e.g. through reverse mentoring, through deliberately mixed teams, through jointly mastered tasks. 
  • Eliminate demotivation
    • Eliminate demotivation! Nobody needs routines, processes, tasks and structures that don’t add value and waste time and resources!
  • The big picture
    • Keep an eye on the big picture and the systemic connections. Create communities to solve VUCA(DD) and BANI problems.
  • Fun instead of stumbling blocks
    • Use tools that are fun for everyone. The aim should not be to add new stumbling blocks. 
  • Tell stories
    • Create shared story(s) and at the same time space for pride and perspective. Both are important to build a (new) shared identity, which makes it especially valuable to work together in groups with a wide age range. 
  • Needs
    • When addressing young and old individually, it is important to respond specifically to their respective needs. This is a lot of work because you have to get to know (yourself). But it is worth it, especially for those who think and act for the long term.   

In organizational design:

  • Chaos
    • Look at the chaos and identify the (conscious) demotivation that is present everywhere. They show which basic rules, which structures, which processes, which routines and which details would probably be better if they were different. 
  • Concept
    • I distinguish between organizational concept, constitution and construction, which successively form the framework before the company sinks into the chaos of day-to-day business. Use this concept to differentiate which adjustments are worth making.
  • Principles
    • Find principles that provide orientation without being restrictive. People must be able to make their own decisions about their work.
  • Structures
    • Create decision-making, responsibility, power and status structures that are based on competence and recognition and not on formal, undifferentiated allocation of power.
  • Intention
    • Integrate the good experiences deeply into the organization’s self-image. Make them lively, adaptable and engaging. 

Many problems can be quickly and specifically recognized and solved. To do this, we let companies look in the mirror and create the basis for an honest dialog about objective findings.

Generation Z is the most difficult, but also the most important and valuable generation on the labor market. 

More than ever, we need strong, forward-looking organizations to shape the future.

What do you do in your organization? Use the comments to share your experiences with GenZ or new approaches to dealing with the crisis!