I’ve spent a lot of time on the road with clients lately. Among the topics we discussed, managing the changes associated with the current generational transition was the hottest.
The conversations focused mainly on the differences in consumer behaviours between younger and older buyers, and in work and career orientation between millennials and those in senior management.
I think the topic is not only fascinating from a human behaviour perspective, it’s also an important discussion for every management team in the country that’s looking outward at customers and inward at employees.
If we think back to what life was like 20 years ago from a consumer perspective, many fundamentals have changed. Think about a new album release. Consumers would know about a coming release long in advance, because fewer records were made (far fewer), and because they would be written up in magazines months ahead of time. And consumers would wait. Months. And then wait in line to buy it.
There was a lot of waiting 20 years ago. Waiting minutes for a busy signal to go away. Waiting hours for a full print job at the office. Waiting days for a library book to be returned. Waiting many months for movies to be released on home video. Inefficiency ruled the day.
There is a generation coming through school now, and entering the work force – it’s already a powerful consumer segment – that hasn’t really waited for anything. Ever.
And our business world isn’t quite ready for them.
Think about it. This generation, which sails under many flags – Gen Y, millennials, echo boomers, digitals – is growing up in an economy vastly different from that of Generation X (my cohort), the baby boomers, and the old guard before them.
Millennials discover music they like and download it immediately. They process three or more simultaneous, continuous streams of information and communication – conducting history research while BBMing friends and updating Facebook. The idea of a store isn’t necessarily relevant. Nor is the idea of investing, or putting in time. So they don’t wait to communicate, even one-to-many, they don’t wait to accumulate and process mass amounts of information, and they don’t wait to purchase and consume.
They are hyper-efficient. And that’s the problem. A lot of our business models either put up with, or to some extent depend on, inefficiency. Whatever you call this generation, running a successful business demands understanding its views.
Born: Technically 1977 to 1998, but most refer to the group that was born post-1990, now 0 to 21 years old.
Optimistic and confident. Believe everyone should have their own path. Communicative but not necessarily classically social. View lifestyle as a right, not a privilege. Digitally trained. Don’t so much reject rules like Gen Xers, but see rules as irrelevant. Same with some institutions.
Born: 1965 to 1976.
Grew up in largely prosperous times. View higher education as a right, not a privilege, and in some cases as a long frat party. Expect a very high standard of living. Bright and accepting of diversity. Not disciplined savers. Live in the shadow of the great boomers. Change junkies.
Born: 1946 to 1964. Rejected the ideals of the old guard. Sparked the turbulent sixties. But ended up in many instances following a similar path as their fathers and mothers, wearing suits or carrying lunch pails to similar jobs. Worked incredibly hard and grew the economy like no other generation. Conflict averse.
THE OLD GUARD
Largely retired now. Still control some corporate boards. Saw the war era. Believed in hard work, saving money, living a frugal day-to-day life, and celebrating a few times a year in a big way. Started North America’s prosperous run. Ultra conservative.
So what? When I stare at these definitions, three ramifications become evident in terms of the immediate impact on consumerism, institutions and the economy, before taking management into account. There is some gut wrenching change on the way.
March 8: The implications on consumerism, institutions, the economy, and management. Look for Part Two on the Your Business website.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark’s focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.