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Guest Posts

To Engage The Next Generation, You Have To Beat Netflix

The owner of a booming Crossfit gym in Minneapolis pinpointed the key to success in the modern world as he was signing me up for membership. He said, “We’re not teaching a workout class so you can be healthier, that’s just the outcome. We create dynamic experiences that stack up against anything.”

The owner of a booming Crossfit gym in Minneapolis pinpointed the key to success in the modern world as he was signing me up for membership. He said, “We’re not teaching a workout class so you can be healthier, that’s just the outcome. We create dynamic experiences that stack up against anything.”

He knew that he was not just competing with other gyms or clubs for my health dollars; he knew that he was competing for my after-work time against other gyms and, more so, against Netflix and happy hour and errands, and time with family or friends. He knew that if he couldn’t deliver more value in that time, he would lose.

This is a microcosm of what is occurring everywhere, but getting little attention anywhere.


As the data show, employee engagement, as an example, is an incredibly difficult task for traditional employers. That is in part due to the view that work is considered by Millennials as an experience in competition with all others.

Look at how the most desirable employers in the country – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – have dealt with it. It is not by raising salaries or more vacation. These companies are places where work is considered an experience and the experience is designed to be incredible. These top employers have created holistic experiences that enable employees to work, play, socialize, be healthy and have a rewarding day on many levels. They have higher rates of productivity, lower turnover and the pick of top talent from around the world.

This holds true with anything organization though.


The traditional models for engagement in all types of organizations are under siege because many have not recognized that the sands of competition have shifted and their experience is competing with all others. The following are a few tips to take stock of where you are and what can be done to increase engagement:


Empathy is everywhere these days. From the Marine Corps field manual to designing water filtration systems in the developing world, people are using tools and methods to truly understand who it is they are engaging. Without asking a lot of questions of what it is people actually want, you’re either throwing darts or sticking your head in the sand. Neither will really get you to the point of creating a dynamic and engaging experience.

Understand your fundamental value proposition

And then, take what you’ve come to know as your value proposition and compare it to a very broad set of “competitors”. Are you really all that valuable compared to the rest?

Define the components of your experience

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are you asking for in return for the person’s time, energy or resources?
  • What are you planning to deliver to each person who walks in the door?
  • What is the value proposition of your experience?

Create an experience with multiple components

Remember, you’re competing for the next generation’s time or resources against all competitors. For example, if you are a church, you are not just competing with other churches. You are competing with the challenge of getting the kids dressed and out of the house on time. You are competing with the early NFL game or College Game Day. You are competing with brunch at a friend’s house. You are competing with the weather. Is your value proposition strong enough to beat all of those competitors?

Stay in touch

It is very important to keep checking back in on experiences to ensure they remain engaging but more importantly to ensure that your audience–Millennials or otherwise–feel like they have a stake in the development of the experience.

Using tools of deeper understanding of your audience, your value proposition and the competitive landscape can wipe out the most persistent engagement challenge for any group, organization or experience.

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.

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