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The Future is Bright

By Josh Miller

“If you take associations and put them in the middle of everything going on in society, I’d say that the association industry is way ahead of the curve. We are ready to embrace young people, and I think that Gen Z will find that associations are welcoming and inspiring places for them to work and give their talents.” – John Graham, CEO of the American Society of Association Executives

This year was my first as Director of Gen Z Studies at XYZ University, and I can say that I have learned so much about associations, business, my generation, and the world around us while traveling around the country and educating clients on my generation. Over the course of 2018, I came across these three major themes that make me confident about the arrival of Gen Z and the future of associations.

1. All leaders want to adapt and modernize. They just have other things to consider, too.

From my interactions with top business leaders, they all have one thing in common. They know that they need to be future-focused and agile, but they also have current agendas to worry about. The best leaders are the ones who are able to simultaneously manage current day-to-day operations and keep an eye on the future.

For example, one client in the consumer apparel space balances his Gen X and Boomer target markets while also being extremely proactive and ahead of the game in preparing for the future. He understands his brand needs to cater to older consumers, but he also recognizes the importance of knowing what – and who – is coming next. As a result, he brought me in to educate his company on their next generation of consumers so that they are prepared for when Gen Z becomes a key segment of their customer base.

Current success is a barrier to future excellence if one stands still.

2. Gen Z is going to be a breath of fresh air for the corporate and association worlds.

I recently had an article published in the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) HR Magazine, where I wrote about ten characteristics of Gen Z and how we are going to affect our workplaces. The feedback that I got on the article was fascinating:

“And you thought Millennials shook things up – just wait. Here comes Gen Z.  I can’t wait!“

“This is all so refreshing to hear!”

“I thought Millennials were exciting…I can’t wait for Gen Z!”

One of my biggest takeaways from this past year, traveling around the country and researching my own generation while being exposed to the corporate and association worlds, is that members of Gen Z are going to mesh extremely well with the current state of work. And because of the more traditional mindset of my generation, I don’t envision the business world is going to suffer from ‘Millennial fatigue’ all over again with Gen Z. However, one could make the argument that the emergence of Millennials continues to push the reevaluation and reformation of traditional norms that our society has previously held, resulting in a more positive workplace climate.

Millennials did their part in helping to modernize the economy. Gen Z should help stabilize it.

3. Diverse perspectives make for the best conversations.

Above all, every client that I had the pleasure to speak to this year was amazing. Having the willingness to hire a 16-year-old with a few things to say shows that there are some really proactive associations and companies who place an emphasis on engaging multiple perspectives and having the conversations needed to ensure future success.

The best teachers are among us if we take the time to listen and learn.


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