Your Employees Are Your New ConsumersWith all of the discussions around social media and how it improves the opportunity to engage customers and build more meaningful relationships, we tend to lose sight of another important group — employees. As technology impacts behavior and connects customers and businesses in new ways, the same is true for employees.

With every new social and mobile network, every new smart device, and the materialization of trend after trend, people become increasingly informed, connected, empowered, and also demanding. As a result, businesses are making significant investments in new marketing technology to pursue and engage connected customers where their attention and time is focused. But these same connected customers are also your connected employees. And, they’re expectations are evolving as well. These digital natives equally require engagement.

Before you can engage externally, you must first engage within.

The Generation Gap

Within your organization, a “C” change is developing, one that will transform the company from the inside out. This “C” change refers to connectedness as your connected employees will demand new processes and reward systems to satisfy their needs and motivate their professional development. Today, the balance between the generations within is tilted toward Boomers and Generation X. But, in just a few short years, the balance will shift to the Millennial (Generation Y) and how they communicate, collaborate, learn, and grow is much more digital than older demographics can appreciate. For the Millennial, digital is in their DNA.

To visualize the generation gap, ComplianceandSafety.com, a provider of training materials on workplace safety, released the infographic below that tells a powerful story of the disruption that looms on the horizon.

As stated at the top of the image, “over the next five years businesses will witness an unprecedented generational shift in the workplace.” This will have an almost unfathomable impact on not just how the company operates, but also its operating philosophy and overall culture. If businesses don’t take a proactive approach to defining this over the next several years, it will be defined organically. And, it might not evolve according to a favorable vision and purpose.

Currently 70 million people in the U.S. belong to the Millennial Generation. They represent 35 percent of the workforce today, and by 2014, they will comprise of almost half of all employed professionals. In a separate study conducted by Millennial Branding, it is expected that by 2025, Generation Y will represent 75 percent of the workforce.

 

 

To say that businesses are in for a culture shock would be a gross understatement.

As the infographic notes, Millennials represent a surging eruption that will have a lasting effect on organizations almost over night. One of the factors leading up to this moment was quietly but valiantly influenced by the tumultuous economy that pulled U.S. consumers through a persistent recession. Boomers, unfortunately, were forced to delay retirement plans to regain losses to their financial nests and also invest in any potential catastrophic events that could re-appear. Now, as Boomers begin to retire en masse, Millennials will realize career advancement like no other generation before them.

 

Your Employees Are Your New Consumers

 

As the infographic notes, Millennials will be given high levels of responsibility earlier in their careers than previous generations.

These employees are your new consumers. They are the face and voice of the company. They are your new ambassadors, and what’s important to them requires study now. Ultimately the generation gap requires bridging led by those on either side of the gap. For the boomers and Generation X’ers who represent today’s decision makers and those Millennials who are on the rise, research and open dialogue will set the stage for the future of not just the workforce but the tone and culture of tomorrow’s business.

With the shift in generations comes a shift in value and values. Leadership is at risk of a great disconnect. Leaders will find their power lost if they cannot relate to this new generation, and equally if Millennials can’t relate to today’s leaders. Before a baton can be passed along it needs to mean something. It needs to symbolize the closing of the generation gap between employees and ultimately customers.

Conversations about the vision and purpose of an organization and how it relates to a rising generation of employees and customers cannot begin soon enough. It represents an effort that’s far bigger than HR. This is a brewing groundswell that’s already impacting business from the bottom-up. Your mission now is to lead transformation from the top-down to meet in the magic middle.

The question to answer is, what does your brand or mission mean to tomorrow’s customer or employee? How will they align with it and stand behind it?

Brian Solis is the author of the new book, The End of Business as Usual. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.