Gen Z and today’s CEO: What’s on the Horizon from these Newest kids on the Block?

Leaning back in his C-suite chair and with a confident grin – so said my client to himself -- “thank goodness for that: I’ve finally figured out those millennials.”

The sweat on the brow of the last years had – at last — dissipated.  The body and mind had relaxed.  He’d been thinking he had it all sorted.

Then he had a grand awakening.  Leafing through a research paper he saw the summarised figures:-

  • Baby Boomers (born 1945 – 1964) – c. one quarter of the world’s population
  • Xs (b 1965 – 1980) – c. 1.4 billion population
  • Millennials (b 1980 – 2000) – c. 1.7 billion population
  • Gen Zs (born 2000 onwards) – 2 billion to 2.5 billion

Stunned, he and many of our other clients here at Eric Salmon & Partners have just started to address this generation coming into the workforce, and right they are to pay heed given what the pointers tell us:  indeed, a dramatic workplace evolution is likely to be prompted by this largest and newest generation, Zs.

Gen Z Lens

What’s most important to grasp is there is a notable shift in how Gen Zs view the world:-

  • First generation born in an ‘always connected’ world
  • Raised by mostly Gen X parents who emphasised family and tried best to give a positive childhood experience but with a more frugal existence than many Boomers were able to provide

Call them ‘mini Atlases’ with the world on their shoulders, Zs have faced some really hard-hitting conditions:  polarised politics, social media pressures, technologies which bring opportunities but threats as well … and a tough world economy with a rapidly changing labour market.

This means they have interests and an approach to work that differs from any group before them:-

  • Your average Z talks about dovetailing work with their passions, rather than ‘career’
  • Recent research has shown 75% of Zs in teen years want to convert hobbies into full time jobs
  • Well over half suggest something entrepreneurial would be the ideal
  • “Making a difference in the world” matters. A lot

The ‘So What?’

A key ‘so what’ implication for CEOs and Executive business leaders who are looking at the next generation of talent is that if you aren’t a small, more nascent, cool entrepreneurial venture with values which reflect Z’s society-centric fervour then perhaps you’d best start acting like one…or at least taking on some of that shine:-

  1. Being Real: Research conducted by Gen Z Think Tank Irregular Labs showed that two thirds of Zs feel being true to one’s values and beliefs makes a person cool.  For the average Baby Boomer or X Gen (and, arguably millennial), confidence and abilities were mission-critical, whereas authenticity is atop Z’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Congruence and consistency with Gen Z values and behaviours is key to engage Gen Zs, and that needs to be across both public and private spheres:   for this generation, the worlds of work and leisure are not viewed with a bifurcated lens in the way they were for previous generations.

  1. Feeding the Fire: Trend Analyst Howard Saunders remarked that “True digital natives, raised on smartphones and with social media have ‘on demand’ expectations for everything.”  Research also indicates that they have a marked impulsive nature.

Trying to structure a business to absorb these new mores can lead to heartache for a CEO when other, older, members of staff still add value through more traditional structures.   However, trying to understand these new values – with a view to tapping into the ‘on demand’ and impulsive nature of Zs — can lead to a big plus.  A plug-and-play flexible business model levering freelance, consultancy, interim/temp can engender a stimulating, creative atmosphere while also being cost-efficient in the right circumstances. At the same time, the organisation can feed the fire Zs have for more explosive, short, sharp and diverse stimuli.

  1. Managing the Operational Needs: There are also the pragmatic, operational points to consider.  In the UK, for example, nearly 100% of Zs are online / on mobile for at least an hour a day; and nearly half are connected 10 or more hours a day, receiving close to 3,000 text messages per month.  The average Gen Z has a rather umbilical attachment to the smart phone; more than even the millennial predecessor.

What can today’s CEO do?  Well, as they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  As Gen Z Analyst and Commentator Tiffany Zhang at Zebra IQ remarks, Zs “constantly talk”, so as CEO, one should get social, too.  Get Gen Zs on side via their language.  Use their media and use it often.

  1. Telling and Selling: As remarked upon earlier, Zs want to feel the authenticity in messages.  For the CEO who’s focused on attracting Zs, this means the need to tell and sell the story, because Zs love storytelling.

And, in the same way that this ‘Gram’-centric generation respond to edgy campaigns with visual tactics in their social media channels so, too, will they respond to a CEO who is using visual displays to get the word out.  Promotion of an uplifting and positive message is important; something which taps into Zs interest in feeling part of the collective, connected, ‘making a difference.’

  1. Allowing for A Social Consciousness:  Gen Zs are self-starting and hard-working (more so than millennials, so says the research!) and want to stand out, expressing their individuality.  Zs accept social and cultural diversity as a norm.  Zs have a verve far beyond what preceding generations have when it comes to social and ecological consciousness.

CEOs who respond with powerful storytelling which ‘tells and sells’ authentically — while empowering Zs to take on environmental and social projects in parallel with their day-to-day work activities — will be best in creating ‘followship,’ a most valuable characteristic for any commercial or social enterprise.

Tackling Gen Z as an audience won’t be a walk in the park for many Baby Boomer or X Gen CEOs and business leaders but Zs are entering the workforce, come what may.  So one might as well be ready — in mind and heart — to entice these new kids on the block.


By Nina Glass, Consultant at Eric Salmon & Partners’ London office