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Talent Development

It's 2013: Change Or Die

It’s the third week of January. How are those resolutions working for you? If your New Year’s Resolutions fell by the wayside a few minutes after midnight on January 1, you are not alone.

It’s the third week of January. How are those resolutions working for you?

If your New Year’s Resolutions fell by the wayside a few minutes after midnight on January 1, you are not alone.

Research indicates a third of resolutions never make it to the end of January. I think that’s because most of us approach resolutions as wishes and desires and not as goals.

This is true in our personal lives as well as our nation’s institutions.

Even amidst economic upheaval, rapidly changing technology, and unprecedented demographic shifts, many organizations are clinging to traditions and processes of the past. The leaders of these organizations may say they want change, but they don’t actually stick to a strategy to make change happen.

The fact is change isn’t easy. It also isn’t optional.

By 2015, Generation Y (ages 18-31 this year) will be the majority of the workforce. This generation’s move into power is already spurring shifts. In fact, The Economist predicts there will be a “great global redistribution of economic and social power” in the coming months.

This isn’t the equivalent of cutting jelly doughnuts out of your daily diet. This is really big, really serious stuff.

According to The Economist, 2013 will be a transitional year for many of our nation’s institutions because “power will flow away from traditional institutions that have failed to deliver progress” and “flow towards businesses whose leaders understand and act on the big trends shaping our future.”

In other words, the phrase ‘Change or Die’ is more accurate than ever before.

If survival isn’t enough to inspire your organization to change, then perhaps these three strategies will help your leadership set goals, embrace change, and achieve success in 2013.

Influence Change

Changing an established culture is the toughest task your organization will face. You must win the hearts and minds of the people you work with, and that takes a significant amount of persuasion. Recognizing you won’t be able to convert everyone at once, start with people who have disproportionate influence in the organization.

Remember: The influencers aren’t always the leaders. Get the influencers committed to change or, failing that, get them out. And once they are committed to change, shine a spotlight on their accomplishments so others get the message.

Make Change Happen

In the 1990s, the New York Police Commissioner made his top brass – including himself – ride the subways day and night, to understand why frightened New Yorkers had come to call it the “Electric Sewer.” Today, we see similar concepts play out on CBS’ Undercover Boss reality show.

The point is, you can advocate for change until you’re blue in the face, but lecturing doesn’t always work. Look for ways to get the decision-makers to experience the harsh realities that make change necessary.

Invest in Change

Look at where your organization spends its resources and you will find its heart. Is your organization investing in the right things? The right things are those that require the least amount of effort for the most gain.

You are in a race for relevance here, folks. Your organization must be focused, nimble and capable for nothing less than greatness. Anything that drains resources and yields minimal results should be put on the chopping block.

I think the ancient philosopher, Lao Tzu said it best: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

Do you simply wish for change to happen, or is your organization being intentional about making it happen?

I hope for the sake of your organization, it’s the latter.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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