Your younger employees have the potential to change your business for the better, but they need support.
We’ve moved past the days seen in movies like The Devil Wears Prada, in which a tyrannical boss gives direction to younger employees who either follow or are fired. Instead, bosses have realized that some of the best innovations come from the bottom up, while younger generations seek a more inclusive, democratic workplace.
The dictatorial approach to business doesn’t work anymore, and we’re putting it out to pasture for good reason. A company culture that encourages bi-directional communication between junior and senior employees empowers younger employees, promotes knowledge sharing and builds successful leaders for the future. To keep up with the changing face of business, company executives should lean on the younger generations and prepare them to be the future leaders of their companies — and it starts from the day they walk in the door. Here are a few ways to do that:
There needs to be a balance between a dictatorship and a democracy in the workplace’s hierarchical structure. Leaders and managers are in their positions for a reason, and sometimes there’s nothing more to do than follow orders. But on the other hand, young people entering the workforce generally aren’t afraid to assert themselves in the workplace — often in a way that makes older employees uncomfortable.
However, instead of feeling threatened by these young upstarts, older employees in leadership positions should welcome younger employees. These are, after all, the future leaders of the company.
The vice presidents in their 50s or 60s have a wealth of wisdom and experience that their new 23-year-old account manager can’t possibly have, and it’s the leader’s responsibility to share that knowledge. Doing so creates a welcoming environment in which collaboration and innovation are the company’s main exports — not secrecy and competition. And it’s in that culture that the new employees can find empowerment.
Once they’ve been given the basic tools of the trade, it’s time to empower the next generation. Pushing them out onto the skinny branches has several benefits, both in the long and short term.
First, letting employees learn through doing (and failing) can give them valuable experience for the future. There’s no better way to train people on how to make decisions than by allowing them to make decisions themselves, after all. Good employees take risks and make mistakes, and the best leaders won’t hesitate to underwrite those mistakes and allow their junior employees the latitude to make them.
It’s also expensive to hire new employees, and having a sense of ownership over their workplace can help encourage your people to stay. They also see that taking the initiative leads to better career outcomes, like promotions and raises. So, cutting hiring costs and increasing retention is another one of the long-term benefits of empowering the next generation.
Good companies can help the older generation realize these truths without making them feel threatened by younger generations. Not only does knowledge sharing help train the next wave of leaders, but it also prevents knowledge loss, which can be a significant detriment to any business. So, instead of permitting knowledge and experience to be hoarded by the old-timers, we need to encourage those leaders to mentor and teach the next generation. It’s not just an excellent long-term strategy — it’s a short-term strategy to encourage innovation.
Young people are excited, enthusiastic and filled with energy for their work. If you’re able to focus that energy with top-notch training and empowerment, you’ve got a surefire formula for innovation. This, indeed, is perhaps the most compelling short-term benefit to empowering the next generation of leaders in your company.
Every industry is touched by technology, and today’s young people are the first generation to have grown up totally immersed in the internet. So, as your industry adopts new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) or big data, Generation Z is well-poised to help you use that tech to its full potential without being tied to tradition or “the way things have been always been done.”
Innovation is the lifeblood of the modern company
The senior members of your organization have a responsibility to foster the creativity and passion that’s inherent in youth. Your younger employees, even though they may lack experience or knowledge, have the energy and new thinking your company needs to survive in this fast-paced world.
The key to success — and the key to encouraging creativity — is to get the experience of the older generations and the vigor of the younger generations to combine and complement each other.
Young, motivated employees bring out-of-the-box thinking that isn’t just nice to have — it’s absolutely vital to survive in today’s fast-paced, global economy. Not only does empowering young employees help build tomorrow’s leaders, but it sets the conditions for rapid innovation now. Your competitors are doing it. In fact, you can’t afford to not innovate. So, why not grab the advantage that’s right in front of you?
By Ed Macha