Emojis Say a Thousand Words 😀 – Communicating with Generation-Z

Professional Coaching. Business Insight. Team Development.

Ever since they hit the workforce about 3 years ago the conversation of adapting to Gen-Z has been a busy one! A reality that every company should embrace is that by 2025 Gen-Z will make up more than a quarter of the workforce 😳 and as the cultural divide between generations widens, Gen-Z will also be the key to unlocking the untapped potential that is Gen-Alpha (the one behind Gen-Z 💪).

Gen-Z are those born between the years of 1995 and 2009. They have Gen-X parents, and there are more of them than any generation that has gone before 😀. Check out this infographic from McCrindle Research for some fun facts 👍.

The arrival of Gen-Z is here and organizations who fail to embrace them, engage them and retain them won’t be around for long 😭 So how do we engage them? Having worked with and led Gen-Z and Gen-Y over the last 15 years, I have some suggestions that might at least get you thinking.

Learn the language 🎓

The key to engaging Gen-Z is learning and embracing their language. Now I don’t mean you need to incorporate the cray cray and the YOLO into your personal vocabulary or your organization’s communication style (though I’m not opposed to it 😜) but you do need to understand that you are dealing with a generation who communicate fast, simply and with lots of pictures. Don’t be mistaken, they are neither lazy nor foolish to do so. The world now moves at pace and they have a language which not only keeps up but is so adaptive that it can incorporate trend and change at a moment’s notice 😲.

So, if you haven’t already, introduce and embrace the emoji in your organizations common language, put guidelines in place for their use (i.e. not in external communications) and give permission for them to be used freely 😍. Gen-Z are used to having a suite of emojis to express themselves in addition to the common alphabet. If all of a sudden they are required to use words where they would normally use a symbolic yellow faced emotion, communication will be challenging 💩 (maybe not ⬅ one!). Once you’ve done this, if they say something with pictures you don’t understand, just ask them, they will explain – that’s how you learn a new language, right?

For the older members of your workforce, especially those who hold a certain love of what it means to be ‘professional’ 👔, embracing this new language will take time 🕐, courage 💪, and above all humility 😀. Failing to embrace it means that a few short years from now you will lose their voice in the conversation or you will have a divided workforce 😵. Why not partner a Gen-Z 👶 with their Gen-X 👴👵 colleague for some intergenerational cross-pollination?

Feedback on repeat 📢

Gen-Z put their thoughts and opinions out into a world of instant and continuous feedback and we have simple buttons to 👍 👎 💖 😂 😲 😡 in response. Gone are the days of the end of year performance review. Feedback now needs to be given in the moment, concisely and with clear direction. For Gen-Z, a weekly half hour conversation may carry less value than fifteen two-minute conversations, so it’s time to get good at encouraging, directing, managing and coaching in shorter timeframes on a daily basis. Sounds like a lot of work…maybe…which means the role of the line manager will need to shift.

In times gone by, we often picked our leaders based on technical expertise and leading people simply came with the role, a job only some relished. This made sense when the people drew regularly on the technical expert for assistance. But Gen-Z have never known a world in which they couldn’t find an answer for themselves 💻. Technical experts are still essential to a well-formed team but rarely is that the best reason to put them in a position of leadership. The line-manager who will have the greatest success with Gen-Z  (and Gen-Y for that matter) is the one who knows how to deliver fast effective feedback to steer performance daily 👊. If it were me I would be looking for someone who ticks these boxes in abundance: compassionate ✅, humble ✅, honest ✅, knows how to listen ✅, builds trust quickly ✅ , and doesn’t flee from conflict ✅.

Quick to listen, slow to speak (and definitely slow to get 😡!)

Gen-Z have always been heard 👂 in school, at home, on the socials and now in the workplace, so make sure they have a voice. Patrick Lencioni in his book 5 Disfunctions of a Team suggests that the foundational disfunction of a team is a lack of trust because trust creates the arena for healthy and diverse conversation. In my experience, you will always see a dramatic increase in the passion and engagement 💹 of your Gen-Z teammates if they have been heard and had the opportunity to invest into a decision that affects them. They highly value the opportunity to collaborate even if their ideas and thoughts are not incorporated into the end result, but this will never happen if there is no trust, and trust takes time 🙏.

Sometimes, given the pressures of deadlines, boards and shareholders, the easiest option is simply to tell people what we’re doing and expect them to get on with it. The problem with this approach is we lose the interest and the buy in of all our staff, especially those who are youngest, and we may end up delivering worse results at greater costs because of it 💰. If you’re the manager, it’s going to take practice to set aside time and your ego to hear the thoughts of your team mates but it’s a habit worth having and the results will speak for themselves 😀.

If you like what you read please share or leave a comment, and if you want help with this please get in touch.

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