Gen X leaders now hold more than half (51%) of leadership roles globally. In the next 10–15 years, however, Gen X leader numbers will start to wane. With these middle-aged and older leaders looking toward retirement, it’s definitely time to start identifying and working with the leaders of tomorrow.
Contact centers attract a disproportionately high number of young people and, at VXI, millennials account for 78% of the employee population! We employ excellent team leaders as young as 18 years old, and we know a thing or two about identifying leadership potential in Gen Y and Gen Z. Three of our superstar leaders (i.e., Cate Perez, Ameer Shakoor, and Lorraine Lavarro) sat down with me recently to share their experiences with managing — and developing leadership potential in — younger generations.
An overview of generations’ approach to work
Before we start, a quick reminder on generational characteristics may be useful. Trait lists abound online (e.g.,
McKinsey, Psychology Today, Wikipedia), but following are some traits that resonated.
Silent Generation (b.1928 – 1945) — frugal, rule-followers, hard workers, like to play it safe.
Boomers (b. 1946 – 1964) — strong interpersonal skills, take work seriously, view technology as productivity tools rather than social/connectivity tools, resourceful, goal-centric, disciplined, team-oriented.
Gen X (b. 1965 – 1980) — focused on work-life balance, independent, self-sufficient, resourceful, cynical, informal, casual towards authority, materialistic, competitive, knack for mentorship.
Gen Y (aka millennials; b. 1981 – 1996) — impatient, confident, questioning, oriented to self, entitled, direct, eager to please, driven, strives for flexibility rather than a higher tax bracket, cause- and community-oriented, self-expressive, health conscious, entrepreneurial, attention-seeking.
Gen Z (b. 1997 – 2012) — realistic, ethical, short attention span, self-expressive, “dialoguer,” desiring of “truth,” frugal, good at multitasking, values quality relationships, favors experiences over stuff, craves mobility, wants work-life balance.
Gen Alpha (b. 2011 – present) — remains to be seen!
How do you best communicate with and motivate Gen Y and Gen Z?
At VXI, we try to tailor communication styles to personal characteristics, but following are some general generational tips for 20-somethings.
Deliver constructive criticism with sensitivity — Younger employees particularly value authenticity, credibility and sensitivity in their interactions. It appears to be particularly difficult for 20-somethings to receive constructive feedback. This group can feel easily disrespected, targeted or embarrassed; at VXI, we always try to ensure tips for improving performance are shared in one-on-one settings and reinforced via our proven online coaching tools.
Be generous with rewards and recognition — Gen Y and Z are the social media generations; they post everything happening in their lives. They crave rewards and recognition, whether or not they are entitled to it, and confidence comes from validation. We try to appeal to their need for attention by putting compliments in writing, running contests with prizes, hosting weekly appreciation events, rewarding teams with annual general assemblies and giving out trinkets, certificates and trophies that they can display and share. Gamification in training and on the production floor also works well; we hold contests where the prizes include spending an hour in our on-site game room playing on the PS4, Xbox and Nintendo.
Nurture a sense of company pride — At VXI, we’ve found that 20-somethings, more than other generational groups, need a sense of pride in who they work with and what they are doing, at multiple levels. They excel when they’re proud of VXI. To them, it matters that the company is winning external awards and gaining recognition (e.g., from ICT), and they are proud to share these accolades on social media.
Show you care — Younger people want to work for a company that cares — about their employees and their communities. At VXI, we integrate charities and volunteering as part of our company culture. We lead with the mantra that customers, the communities in which we operate and the customer service representatives that connect the business to these two groups are absolutely critical to success — because it’s true!
How do you identify potential Gen Y and Gen Z leaders?
Team leaders are critical in a contact center organization, and it can be challenging to recruit them.
At VXI, team leaders usually are promoted from the existing employee population rather than hired externally. To maintain some objectivity in these promotions, we created a scorecard. The scorecard gauges such things as attendance, ability to meet KPIs and targets, communication skills, aptitude for developing and helping others, inherent leadership and coaching skills, knack at building a culture, ability to embrace change and harmonious working relationships. Where a strong performer has areas of weakness, we collaborate to address them.
Another trick we’ve discovered is to evaluate new-hire class composition. We’ve used this technique for years, and we can usually spot the influencers in the class within two or three hours! People naturally gravitate to those who are comfortable with learning new things, who have great social skills (high emotional intelligence) and who are at-ease with change. With their permission, we put these natural leaders on a fast-track to team leadership, as they are often susceptible to boredom, mischief and early departure otherwise.
At VXI, we also offer optional training after-hours (e.g., on KPIs, computer skills). These courses often attract people who are interested in leading. Let the go-getters self-identify!
What advice do you have for managing and coaching Gen Y and Gen Z leaders?
At VXI, we’ve found that younger leaders stay engaged when we lead by example and offer ample exposure to and interaction with company leaders. Managers who communicate their vision; demonstrate decisiveness and compassion; stay abreast of current topics/technologies; and remain open to new ideas have higher success rates with younger leaders. Millennials are not impressed by fancy job titles; managers who listen and engage in honest dialogue coax the best work out of them.
As leaders, Gen Y and Z are very hands-on, informal, friendly, open, energetic and interactive — during and after hours. They give a lot of themselves to the job. These are wonderful qualities when balanced with coaching on how to deliver bad news with greater empathy, make eye contact, create managerial boundaries and have open-ended conversations.
Encouraging service excellence and tracking performance progress online consistently with these leaders can definitely help to harness their full potential. VXI provides all leaders, regardless of age, with training on how to lead diverse, multigenerational teams. The program covers communication styles, age-group motivations and ideal management approaches to promote greater empathy and cooperation across races, ages, religions, orientations, etc.
What are some tips for training Gen Y and Gen Z leaders?
Gen Y and Z value information, as they were born and raised in the online, information age.
Gen Y is one of the most highly educated demographics ever; they have a thirst for knowledge but require instant gratification and fast answers. Internal surveys indicate that Gen Y seems to place a higher value on traditional, instructor-led training, where they can get answers to questions quickly and participate in role-playing and simulation exercises.
Gen Z and more experienced agents, on the other hand, prefer self-study, online-focused activities and certificate-based initiatives. Recreating real-life scenarios, gamification, targeted training to improve lagging KPIs and instant and automated feedback to trainees, all online, are key to empowering this generation (hence the creation of
VXI’s online training simulation tool).
While they may have distinct work preferences and styles, at VXI, we believe that Gen Y and Z are rife with leadership potential. Taking the time to learn how to specifically harness their youthful energies and modern ideas at your place of work through surveys, focus groups and targeted observation is worth the investment. These groups may lack life experience but they work hard and want to do the right thing. They have a lot to teach us slightly older folks, too. Perhaps setting up a reverse-mentoring program that enables older leaders to learn from Gen Y and Z would further foster goodwill and provide benefits – for everyone!?!
At VXI, we have loads of ideas and tips on how to harness Gen Y and Gen Z leadership potential.
Contact us if you need assistance in delivering optimal contact center results with a younger employee population.