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Millennial Execs Offer New Approach to Gaining Competitive Advantage

August 1, 2016 by Michael Rander 43

Millennials are ready to take over the workforce very soon. According to Deloitte, they will represent 75% of the workforce by 2025. And as they continue to take up a significant amount of leadership positions and begin to enter top executive ranks, there is a strategic battle brewing with previous generations.

Oxford Economics, co-sponsored by SAP, is currently conducting a survey of 4,100 executives and employees across the world to explore leadership in the digital economy. While the final results of the study “Leaders 2020” are not yet published, the current data is revealing a significant generational difference of opinion on how companies are preparing for the future.

Millennial View of Digital Readiness and Strategies

When it comes to digital readiness, competitive advantages, and digital HR strategies, the younger generation has a distinctly more negative outlook on the current state of preparedness and the steps needed to future proof companies for the digital economy.

In fact, millennials are only half as likely as their older peers to acknowledge management proficiency across a range of areas. These include facilitating collaboration inside the organization, inspiring and motivating employees, managing employee retention, and using technology to achieve competitive advantage.

In short, the data points to millennials thinking that baby boomer and Gen X executives are overestimating their digital readiness for competing in a market driven by innovation and won by making the most of available technology. The flip side of this data, however, underscores the overall confidence of the older generation in their approach to the future. Is this then a matter of a younger generation that is too technology addicted, or is the older generation just not seeing the real value of what’s available to them and how it changes how we compete for the future?

Fueled by Optimism, Empowered by Technology

Having grown up during the tech bubble and subsequent crash of the global market, millennials may be the most risk-adverse generation since the Great Depression. At the same time, they are considered both highly financially responsible and clearly more optimistic about their own ability to be successful, which is not the case for the previous generations according to UBS. Their optimism is, in part, fueled by the belief that they can make a difference and optimize the use of technology to drive new efficiencies, innovations, and societal change for the better.

Technology is a tool to achieve these goals. And for the younger generation, it is clearly also a way of life. It affects the way they work, manage, collaborate, hire, and retain employees as well as think about succession planning. As we see the rise of the digital worker in the workforce driven partly by the takeover of a growing millennial workforce, change will occur for most companies sooner, rather than later. Competitive advantages for the next generation is not just about the bottom line, but also the work environment, management skills, HR policies, diversity and inclusion, personal motivation and, even technology use.

While we may feel that we are prepared right now, we are all on a continuous journey that is ever-evolving. Millennials and Generation Z will inevitably change the management and consumption of technology at the executive level. For example, they are positioned to establish a habit of continuous adaptation to efficiently empower the digital worker, which will become highly prioritized. It’s not about having the latest technological toys; it’s the development of real management and work culture that can continuously enable, adopt, and use new technology to make business-critical decisions. Long gone are the days of scrambling to overcome the difficulties from being overconfident in the current state of organizational, competitive, and digital readiness.

There is a generational gap in current strategies, culture, and technological adoption. But, the winners are the ones who can bridge that gap such as BNY Mellon CEO Gerald Hassell is accomplishing this very task through areverse mentoring program, where he receives advice and a fresh perspectives from a 31-year-old employee.

While intergenerational differences are not new, the pace of change happening in the digital economy is proof that we need to start the discussion now and engage across all age gaps.

For more strategies onto foster growth, see The Manager’s Guide To Developing A Growth Mindset.

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP.

This story originally appeared on The Digitalist Magazine as part of the 10 Weeks of Live Business series.

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