Over the next decade, we’re going to see more disruptive change than we’ve seen over the last 30 years – since the fax machine was replaced by email and we all somehow thought it would make us more efficient and free up our time. That change will be a generational one. There’s no denying we’re a mature industry built on the backs of employees that have worked within the industry for decades. Unfortunately, Father Time remains undefeated, and we’re seeing retirements hit record rates and continue to accelerate. Most companies will be facing the reality that the bulk of their senior staff in sales, marketing, operations, and executive management will all be retiring within the next few years. And so we wonder about what comes next.
We’re going to be forced to change because our workforce will change. In most circumstances people modify the job to fit their style rather than modifying their style to fit the job. So we have to look at our future employees now and wonder how they’ll do these jobs differently. I think if we expect them to behave the same, we’re in for a rough journey.
Recruiting in this industry is always a challenge — it’s not always well known and doesn’t have the pizazz that younger people might be looking for (who gets excited about selling grey boxes for a living?). But for those who find it, the industry can provide a great, stable, prosperous life. It’s the kind of industry 'under 30’s' should flock to, but instead they get attracted to the bright shiny objects in consumer tech, and engineers and business grads dream about building the next big business. Often we recruit through our employee network, but for many roles we try to find someone reliable and smart, and hope to help them figure out the job along the way. For many that involves shadowing an experienced veteran who will patiently try to teach the youngster how they do their job, expecting them to do it just the same way. But that’s not how people behave — the good ones will question and change and find their own style.
There’s a lot that has been said about the Millennials, but your average millennial is 35 with a mortgage, kids and thinning hair line. The year 2000 is the marker for the next generation – the mysterious Silent Generation or Gen Z (they sound like they’re coming from a science fiction novel). Our next set of operations and sales people will be Gen Z and, to be honest, we don’t really know a lot about them yet. Generational behavior anecdotes aside, what we do know is they grew up with iPads and cell phones, with every question answered at the press of a button. They can even ask Alexa a question and it’ll tell them the answer, saving them having to click. They’re a new breed of human, one raised in endless data where the question I don’t know, and I don’t know how to find the answer doesn’t really happen anymore.
Think about their childhood compared to yours. You didn’t know things, and if you wanted to figure something out you either learned yourself the hard way or you spent forever looking for a source. How do I reset the check oil indicator on my car? Where’s my hotel at for my upcoming vacation and what can I go see when I’m there? What happened to that guy I was in 8th grade with? We used to look in a newspaper to find out what was showing at the cinemas, while they use their phones to watch trailers and pick what seats they want to sit in. In short, we grew up with a mindset that we’d go find out what we needed to know, whereas our children grew up being able to retrieve that information almost instantly.
So think about your senior people today and their daily process in discovering answers. Looking up product details and how they apply to the customer's need, figuring out who the right person is at a company, understanding how to deal with a stock-out issue, learning how to set the right price for a project job. The bulk of their activity isn’t documented, isn’t systemic and isn’t easily repeatable. That need to shift – everything today that relies on someone ‘figuring it out’ or ‘just knowing what to do’ needs to become systematic and automated. The generational shift isn’t just about new faces, it’s about having to become a different company. It means true change—unimaginable change maybe—and it’s what will define the next decade.
Change means new processes, and process means new investments. Enthusiasm varies when it comes to having to invest in new processes – most people get a feeling of dread in their stomach. However, everyone is in the same spot, so your adoption of change will be measured against your peers. Which, to your customers, means it’ll become more and more clear who’s different (and better) in the marketplace. And that’s where their spend dollars will go. Your customers will be recruiting Gen Z too, and they’ll flock to their people, the companies who operate in the way they’d prefer.
Here’s the bottom line: change is either an opportunity you relish or an event you dread. It’s natural to be fearful. Change is when things can go wrong. Or, it's when things can go right. But at least with no change you avoid both scenarios. And yet we now find ourselves forced to embrace this change. I believe if you have to do a thing, get on with it and do it greatly. Embrace the disruption. Take the chance to transform into something better.
However you feel, this change is coming. Which comes first — your retirement, or all this chaos?
Building the next generation will require help — enroll your employees today in NAED's Leadership Development Program. Click here to learn more.