What does it take to lead centennials?

They may be closely related to millennial-employees, but are a breed apart in many ways

Do you know why the future often creeps up on us? And why we may actually be unprepared for it despite having our eyes peeled for it? Because, we may rely unduly on the certainties of the past to predict the future.

While trying to understand centennials — or post-millennials, as they are called — we may be unwittingly committing that error.

“Sometimes, the latest generation is the key to understanding the next generation. That is the closest you can get. However, typecasting centennials along with millennials can throw us more challenges than we ask for,” says Kamal Karanth, co-founder, Xpheno, a specialist staffing organisation. There are striking similarities between the two generations, but they aren’t the same, and it is necessary to know the difference to be able to keep centennial-employees engaged.

So, where do we begin? The future is best understood where it is unfolding. The discovery is made in a blurred region marked by shades of the immediate present and the approaching future. The centennial generation is generally understood to have its starting point in the mid-1990s, and the jury is still out on what its outer limit is. So, observing employees born from the mid- to late-nineties may offer some insights into what can be expected of this generation.

Demographic dividend

“We don’t have too many data points yet to draw up a picture of the quintessential post-millennial employee,” says Karanth. There is however a hazy picture, and leaders should start looking at it to understand what it takes to lead, with a host of centennials under their watch. “India is currently going through a demographic dividend, and those aged 25 and less are a sizeable section of the population, and so the corporate world has to be invested in understanding what makes the centennial-employee tick,” says Naresh Purushotham, co-founder, Crestcom India.

Flat structures

“Centennials would really want to work in flat structures. Millennials respected hierarchy. Centennials may not share their respect for hierarchy,” says Karanth.

“Centennial-employees were born into a highly liberalised economy, and therefore don’t carry the baggage of hierarchy,” says Naresh.

The hold of hierarchy on this generation is bound to weaken. When the centennial generation would have dug its feet in, the gig economy would have become well-entrenched. There would be fewer rigid structures. There would be as many workers — if not more — working on project-based contracts as would be those on the pay-roll. Even among regular employees, the tenures will be shorter.

“A manager would do well to function as if every employee of theirs were going to leave, and figure out what they would do in such that scenario. With centennials, such picturing is a necessity. When a manager functions on the basis of this idea, the dynamics of employee engagement changes. It becomes an everyday matter. Work is recognised as and when it happens. Centennials will look for instant gratification — it makes sense, as they may not have plans to hang around for titles. So, the employee engagement is not the result of a promised incentive, promotion or an overseas assignment in the future, but everyday recognition” says Karanth.

Question of learning

On the question of learning-and-development programmes at the workplace, Naresh says that centennials are more visual than millennials, and their expectations from L&D programmes are different.

“For many of them, their first view of the Internet was through their mobile phones. You can’t put them in a classroom. You have to give them a choice of how they want to learn and who they want to learn from. And they want to learn things that will benefit them today,” says Naresh. Centennials will be more independent-minded than millennials, because of the nature of the economy they will be working in.

“You can expect them to take more sabbaticals from work to purse other interests,” says Sharon S. Rajkumar, general manager and happiness evangelist at Happiest Minds Technologies.

“Their career is happening in the middle of their personal life, and not the other way round. You have to give them a gig, and not a career,” says Karanth.

Greater flexibility

Flexibility is the name of the game. It may sometimes mean that line-managers, especially Gen Xers and those going further back in time, unlearn cherished and even justified notions of working. Fortunately, offering flexible timings may not be a challenge anymore for Gen Xer or Baby-Boomer managers, as millennials have already primed them for it.

Customised solutions

“Work-from-home and flexible-work policies will get more employee-friendly. Besides, such policies should have regional tweaks, as the future workforces will be more distributed than ever before. So, wherever possible, work hours will have to be framed based on traffic and local factors in a given place,” says Sharon. Change can’t be resisted, especially when it is sought by a legion of people. Gen Xer managers understand what is coming, and most of them are willing to adapt to the change. Karanth explains, “Sometime ago, a prospective centennial candidate came to us, and the first question was if there would be a five-day work week. Ten years ago, I would not have recruited someone who put that question to me. In these times, that is an expected question.”

A new space

However, along the line, there may be certain hard pills to swallow. “One of the things with centennials is that they are comfortable with the idea of making mistakes while being experimentative — a manager has to give them that space,” says Karanth. Line managers have to be bear in mind that it is a do-it-yourself generation that has figured out most things via online tutorials. “Their entire life experience is different — way different for even that of millennials. They have had greater access to knowledge, early on. That brings with it the confidence to take up more challenges naturally, and the need for greater freedom to try out new things,” says Naresh. Karanth points out that leadership is essentially “half-parenting and half-supervising”, and that one might need the parenting mindset a lot more while dealing with centennials.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 9:39:41 AM |

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