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Prepare your business for generation Z

by Brenda Lee Tang, head of ACCA Caribbean Thursday, February 4 2016

Generation Z may seem like a world apart from the rest of us but they are tomorrow’s employees, customers and influencers.

As businesses start to consider a time of revived consumer activity following the recent economic downturn and to plan for the longer term, they are thinking about what the world will look like and what people’s needs will be. In 10 years’ time, the cynical Generation X will be well into middle age and the optimistic Generation Y will be roughly in their 30s. Generation Z will be in their 20s and fully active as social influencers, employees, entrepreneurs and consumers.

Born after 9/11, numbering over two billion globally and with an average life expectancy of 98, the ‘always-on’ Gen Z has a freedom of expression, enjoys unparalleled access to information and is completely unconstrained by the rules and order that have shaped the Baby Boomer, X and Y Generations that have gone before them.

Every generation will try to fix the flaws of the previous incumbents.

They share mindsets caused by a common set of parenting behaviours – a set of filters that live with us as we go through the journey of life.

These ingrain a common but contrary mindset in the generation that follows. In the seminal 1997 book The Fourth Turning, Harvard professors William Strauss and Neil Howe laid out their theory of a cycle of four generational archetypes – ‘prophet’, ‘nomad’, ‘hero’ and ‘artist’ – which form a long-established pattern of societal behaviour. They discovered that each generation goes through four shifts in mindset during their life and that these patterns have repeated themselves so consistently as to be predictable going back 400 years.

By taking this model forward, we are able to better predict the core characteristics of Gen Z and begin to consider how to adapt to the needs of this emerging customer and employee of the future. The key challenge is to see this generation beyond your own filters and ask yourself, ‘What does each expect of my business, product or service experience depending on where they are in their life?’ Those who take the wider-angle view of the next generation are more likely to future-proof ideas and strategies and anticipate challenges before they become problematic.

Gen Z are being raised during an era of rapid and decisive change.

The post-9/11 period has seen traditional Western superpowers challenged by the new Eastern giants, the meltdown on Wall Street and the crisis on the high street that followed, the fragmentation of power across the Middle East, interreligious tension and social inequality rising at unprecedented levels. The disruption of this social turbulence has been amplified by the exponential growth of the digital realm. For Gen Z, the world is becoming ever more fragmented, yet ever more connected.

There are key macro trends emerging at a global and societal level which are, and will be, critical in forming the mindsets, behaviours and expectations of Gen Z. Here are three of them:

Data, Data, Everywhere The internet is a world of big numbers, but consider this: 90% of all the information ever produced has been created in the past two years. We are in the age of big data where, more than ever, all human activity is documented and stored.

Being able to analyse this data holds big rewards. The McKinsey Global Institute recently estimated that the US healthcare system could save US$300bn a year through optimised crunching of the data produced by everything from clinical trials to health insurance transactions to ‘smart’ running shoes. However, how we navigate this mass of information is a problem for people and organisations alike. Facing this data deluge, Gen Z will be crying out for tools for filtering the data, so only the truly valuable reaches them.

Digital Natives Gen Z is the first generation to have the ability to be truly connected 24/7. Access to technology via smartphones, tablets and unlimited wifi has seen the rapid rise of the social media age and the dominance that it plays in these young people’s lives.

By 2020 Gen Z will be receiving direct performance information from a whole host of devices (watches, toothbrushes, cars); almost everything they use will be automated, controllable and trackable at the touch of a button. This complete openness in terms of privacy may feel unnerving to some, but Gen Z are digital natives and have few concerns over the impact of this.

Us Versus Them Gen Z is growing up in a world that is increasingly factionalised, globally and locally, with different tribes turning inwards and setting themselves in opposition to the ‘other’. This can be seen in the global rise in nationalism and regionalism.

It can also be felt in the increased distance between the top and bottom of society as inequality has grown to beat even the disparities of the Victorian age. From 1993 to 2012, the incomes of the top 1% of US earners grew 86%, while those of the bottom 99% » grew 7.3%. Counterintuitively this may mean that, while they are more connected than ever globally, Gen Z will want approaches specifically aimed at ‘people like me’.

Brenda Lee Tang is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. As head ACCA Caribbean, Ms. Lee Tang leads ACCA’s business and key relationships in the Caribbean and is responsible for

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