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Leveraging New Skill Sets Next Gens Bring to the Table

For the last decade and a half, business leaders have struggled to comprehend, motivate and manage the millennial generation. Recently, I read an online article where business owners discussed the “new” generation of workers and it was both amusing and alarming to see that millennials were the focus of their conversation. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, are not new to the work force at all; the newest generation of American workers is Generation Z, born between 1997 and 2010.

Understanding who Gen Z is and how they differ from those who came before them is critical to any business leader recruiting for their organization. As it turns out, Gen Z may be the most naturally suited for agency life. Business leaders who recognize this and leverage the skills, perspectives, diverse backgrounds and thought they bring to the table will be setting up their agencies for success for years to come.

A Closer Look at Gen Z

Members of the new generation who entered the work force during the last few years are highly collaborative and social, according to Roberta Katz of Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, quoted in Stanford News. This collaborative nature may present another reason to abandon the term “employee” in favor of “team member.” Members of this generation, the first in human history to be complete digital natives, are experts at social media, but prefer face-to-face communication over any other form, according to Katz’s research.

Generation Z is not only the most diverse generation in history, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, but it is also the best educated with nearly 60% pursuing higher education – more than any other generation in history. As they bring this diverse thought and background, as well as education, into the work force they also bring attitudes that value nonhierarchical leadership, pragmatism and independence. Katz’s research reveals a generation that, like the retiring Baby Boomer generation, questions authority and fixed rules. They are accustomed to self-direction and researching what they need to know on their own.

Embodying a desire for individual expression and valuing authenticity, this diverse generation sees the world very differently than their predecessors, according to McKinsey & Company.

Ideal Prospects for an Industry Undergoing a Global Transformation

As I research Gen Z and talk with my children’s friends, all of whom are members, I come away with this insight: There may never have been a generation more naturally suited for entrepreneurialism than this one.

In my opinion, a knack for entrepreneurialism defines potential success in the insurance industry. The wiring of this new cohort entering the work force makes them the best prospects our business has seen in decades. Our industry – one that traditionally younger workers found uninteresting – is well-positioned to reel them in as we continue to undergo the fastest rates of change we’ve experienced at any time in history. Just consider that:

  • Global weather is disrupting underwriting, carrier profitability, agent marketing plans, product design and business models more rapidly than ever before.
  • Innovations for which no one really understands the impact like digital tokenization and block chain currencies appear to hold the promise of rapidly disrupting the insurance agency and insurance underwriting businesses.
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning pose the promise, or threat, to eliminate millions of jobs, and unlike previous economic dislocations, those jobs are most likely higher skilled rather than lower skilled positions.

These changes are frightening or at least confounding to older industry participants. But who better to take them on than a generation raised in constant change and for whom digital disruption is considered the norm?

One way of attracting these young people to our businesses might be to simply highlight the very things we most fear. Another is to appeal to their nonhierarchical natures by giving them a seat at the table from the beginning of their careers to help solve the problems that seem bewildering to older, more experienced generations.

Leverage Gen Z Talent for Agency Growth

For a generation of self-directed people, who value their independence, are experienced in problem solving as well as educating themselves, it seems that offering them opportunities to build their own businesses, chart their own paths and do so in ways that appeal to their desire for authenticity is a natural opportunity for the independent agency system.

To attract this new cohort, agency owners and managers should be thinking: How can we open up our systems, processes, policies and procedures to people who want to explore doing things differently to take advantage of this generation’s native skill sets? How can we redefine the business to reward teamwork, as well as individual performance? How can we take advantage of this group of young people’s natural diversity to create opportunities for both them and for our companies?

It seems to me that some of the strategies to consider and some of the skills of this generation to leverage include:

  • Empowering these new work force entrants to market and sell outside of your traditional geography. These young people are not only unafraid to communicate, relate and work at a distance, they are used to doing it. Let them show you how to broaden your geographical reach.
  • Tapping into their collaborative nature, diverse character, pragmatic approach to problem solving and innate desires for authenticity to help you grapple with the increasing ESGR requirements of government and society and open up new target markets.
  • Using their natural collaboration skills, desire for face-to-face communication, as well as digital talent, to create new ways to foster teamwork internally in your business and perhaps even to grow revenues in different ways with team selling and marketing.
  • Offering them direct pathways to financial and business independence through new partnership models in your agency to appeal to their natural self-reliance and desire for independence.
  • Stressing the never-ending education and personal development requirements of our industry as advantages for a generation of motivated learners instead of a negative.
  • Giving them early responsibility to help guide and develop your agency’s response to the challenges and opportunities created by AI and machine learning while taking advantage of their digital capabilities.
  • Challenging them, and encouraging them, to use their social media skills, desire for community and connection and natural collaboration to market your business in new ways.

As I think about the opportunities and talents this “new” generation presents, I find it tremendously exciting. I think they hold the promise of helping leaders and principals in a still traditional business evolve with the rapidity that the future will require for survival and progress.

Recruiting, leading, managing and motivating this generation will require different attitudes, mind sets and skills than it did for Gen X or Millennials, but they stand ready to collaborate with you and help your business grow for your benefit, as well as theirs.


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