Gen Y For Social Business

Introduction

Slightly adapting Gandhi’s famous words, I would assert, Gen Y will fuel the change we are in the world; particularly in the world of business.  I’m not alone in my feeling – 82% of Gen Y worldwide believe “[Our] generation has the power to change the world” (EURO RSCG).

Such optimism, I understand, is characteristic of many generations before us, and their contributions to the world of business should not be underestimated. However, now it is Gen Y’s time to shine and we are introducing new expectations and skills to the workplace.

Our general drive to learn, rejection of the status quo, and desire to connect, if enthusiastically embraced by businesses, will fuel the cultural and systematic changes fundamental for businesses to become more social businesses.

Before I go any further, I feel it is prudent to make clear this discussion is not about one generation “getting social” or “being more social” than another.  I believe that relates to a mindset more than anything else; besides, the Telegraph has already been so bold. Rather, I will posit Gen Y will be the driving force of social business adoption. The sheer size of Gen Y entering the workforce globally underscores the inevitability of my hypothesis, given some of the research-backed values of Gen Y.

In Singapore there are over 400 thousand Gen Y employees in the workforce.  In America, there are over 40 million in the workplace, with another 30 million to come. In China, 200 million people are between the ages of 18 and 30.  In Turkey, 70% of the population is under 35.

Gen Y in Asia and around the world must be the most greatly anticipated leaders of social business tomorrow. It is only a question of time. I would suggest that those businesses who leverage our desire for feedback, innovation, and connection will have a head start and competitive advantage over those who wait for the inevitable.

Obviously, to make this case I have to generalize a little, but research is on my side, pointing to the facts that Gen Y has some shared values.

Shared Value: Feedback

First, feedback – timely and constructive feedback — is noted to be highly important to us, members of Gen Y.  Why shouldn’t it be? We have a very high degree of what MTV nicknamed “’like-a-holism,’ a kind of addiction to feedback”, and we’ve grown up with chat platforms and other instantly gratifying forms of communication and entertainment. In an MTV study “Millennials, Decoded”, 60% of Gen Y demanded immediate feedback for text messages, and when it came to Facebook chat and the like, the statistic moved closer to 100%.

Specifically in the business context, over half of Gen Y want their managers to be a coach or mentor and 65% of Gen Y workers consider it moderately or extremely important that they be provided “detailed guidance in daily work” (compared to 39% of Baby Boomers). Furthering this distinction, Forrester offered a contrast to Gen Y’s desire for constant feedback in the workplace to Baby Boomers desire for a performance review once a year, if that.

A couple of reasons cited for this desire for feedback have been to serve as a confidence booster and as a loneliness remedy. The point remains – it’s important to close the loop with Gen Y because we want to adapt from feedback accordingly.  We want to learn and continue learning to excel on the fast track of businesses success.

How is your business organised to take advantage of Gen Y’s desire to get and offer feedback, thus keeping them engaged in their work?

Shared Value: Innovation

Gen Y is comfortable and willing to challenge the status quo. Just check out INC’s “30 under 30” to see some of the clever things we have come up with and pursued on our own. Can you imagine what we could do with more resources, if our best ideas were pursued? We want innovation to be part of our working culture! 84% of Gen Y professes to be very ambitious, and vow to go the extra mile for a company’s success. Further, when asked to rate our greatest strength, Gen Y in China, the US and India, rated creativity ahead of any technical proficiency or intellect as their greatest strength (EURO RSCG)!

To make the distinction between the generational attitudes about innovation, Forrester noted Baby Boomers believe a certain group of employees are tasked with being innovators whilst Gen Y believe anyone can be an innovator and its part of their responsibility to themselves to innovate.

How is your business enabling Gen Y employees to pursue new ways of working, and participate in new business ideas? In other words, are you encouraging us to work outside our job description sometimes?

Shared Value: Connectedness

Gen Y has an expectation to connect and communicate when we want, with whomever, anywhere and anytime; more likely than not online. A Euro RSCG study found that “social networking sites are the main way over half of Gen Y stay connected with friends.”

A quick diversion here about connectedness; it’s a good time to take a shot at the stereotype of Gen Y’s carelessness in sharing online. In the aforementioned MTV study, Gen Y were found to be increasingly prudent and conscious about what we are presenting about ourselves in social media.  According to “Millennials, Decoded“: “The sheer speed and dexterity of this self-curation [of Gen Y] is remarkable to behold. Ninety percent told us it’s important how others view them and their reputation on Facebook, so they constantly and fluidly shift between chosen identities in order to present their best selves and lives… [and] a full one-third of respondents said that they not just sometimes but always modify their photos before posting online”.

As one of my colleagues said,  “Businesses that manage connections will survive. Businesses that facilitate connections will thrive,” which informs the idea that for Gen Y, work colleagues become personal friends. Corroborating this, nearly half of Gen Y surveyed in a Harvard Business Review study shared that having a network of friends at work is very important.

The point is – it’s important to facilitate connections for Gen Y employees because it helps them overcome information silos and knowledge hording, as well as motivates and excites them as part of the organisation.

How is your business facilitating connections between people within the company, in real time?

Conclusion

As these characteristics are perhaps not mutually exclusive, I would like to speak to the implications of businesses harnessing Gen Y’s desire for feedback, innovativeness, and connectedness together.

Smart employers are recalibrating their systems, process, and culture to get the most out of Gen Y.  Ernst & Young instituted an online “Feedback Zone,” and other organisations (i.e., Facebook) are simply using technologies like Rypple to facilitate the exchange of real-time feedback. GE has created an internal social networking site, MarkNet, to allow its thousands of marketing professionals around the world to work together, regardless of their location, job level, or discipline. Google has 20% time, which enables engineers to explore their own ideas 20% of their working time, and Best Buy has platforms like Idea Xchange to tap sales associates insight and ideas!

This is not to say the aforementioned businesses have made these changes for Gen Y exclusively, rather they have recognized the value of them for their leading Gen Y, but also for their broader constituents.

So maybe Gen Y gets a bad rap about how many times we are switching jobs (predicted to be an average of 15 in our lifetime)… but is it that we are switching jobs or that our companies aren’t retaining us? It’s a subtle difference but I feel it makes the necessary distinction from the problem being one of employees to one of businesses. I would argue it’s the latter. “Little direct feedback from managers”, for example, was cited as one of the top reasons Gen Y employees are leaving their job. Thus, businesses should begin to look at how they are addressing Gen Y’s desire for feedback, innovation, and connectedness to increase our job satisfaction, efficiency, and perhaps even gain a competitive business advantage. Ultimately, such businesses will most benefit from our contribution to realise the advantages of becoming a social business.

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