More diverse, purpose-driven, increasingly liberal, less trustful, and harder to win over. Whatever the narrative may be, the influence of a new generation on society is inevitable. How will it affect leadership and communications?

Much have been written about how millennials and Generation Z are conquering the world. Not necessarily in a formal way (yet), but in the sense that they are – step by step – having fundamental impact on brands, businesses, politics, and society itself.

In the U.S., some predict a “generation war,” where the increasingly liberal attitudes of millennials and, especially, Generation Z is significantly different from the views held by boomers and the Silent Generation. Additionally, Generation Z is proving to be harder to “win over” for both brands, media outlets, and corporations appealing to their career aspirations, wallets, or intellectual curiosity.

Much time has passed since the concept war for talent was coined by McKinsey’s Steven Hankin. It is still highly relevant. But today this is not only a corporate question of attracting and retaining the right talent as employees, it is the challenge for media, brands, and political parties of attracting and retaining the attention of an emerging generation of consumers, readers, workers, and voters that will shape the 21st century.

A trust challenge for corporations

Deloitte’s Global millennial Study found millennials’ optimism to be at a record low with regards to both their own prospects in life and the world around them. Included in this seemingly gloomy world view is a sense of mistrust against corporations and leaders, who are believed to neither be committed to making the world better nor impact society in a positive way in the present.

Generation Z are even less likely than millennials to be loyal towards specific brands and clearly expect corporations to take their social responsibility seriously. Additionally, a 2018 study by McKinsey found that Generation Z’s behaviors can be said to be anchored in one central element, namely the search for truth. They are more idealistic and mobilize around political and societal issues deemed important.

Today we also see the emergence of employee activism. A new generation expects society and the environment to be a focus of corporations; seeking profit is not enough. From Amazon employees demanding action on climate change to Google employees addressing how AI is used in products, the demands for a sustainable business approach is increasingly becoming a non-negotiable point.

Shaking the political equilibrium

A recent Pew study shows that the political views of Generation Z and millennials are similar on a range of different issues – including race, climate change, and the role of government. The key thing here is not that they hold similar views but rather that these demographic cohorts show different views than previous generations; in many ways, they can be regarded as a collective bloc on political and societal questions, being more liberal than those before them.

Something in the study that might deserve extra attention is the development in opinions amongst traditionally conservative voters, showing that Generation Z individuals leaning Republican diverge in their political views from older Republicans. This is exemplified by younger Republicans wanting more government involvement. It will be interesting to see how, in the long run, this might influence the classical divide between the two camps in U.S. politics.

Although we see more liberal attitudes, there is no natural law stating that we are on an inevitable march towards progressive politics. Generation Z are more liberal than previous generations at this point, yes, but we cannot be certain how education, jobs, relationships, and other factors will impact their view on society and politics in the future.

Targeting a new generation

It is challenging to know exactly how to engage with a more diverse, less trustful, and increasingly conscious generation. Based on what I see at H+K and from our work with others, my reflection is that there are four points to keep in mind:

  1. Be transparent and open. Building trust with a more distrustful generation needs honest communication. An organization seen as dishonest or trying to cover up its own mistakes will never earn their trust (or respect).
  2. Sustainability is expected. Millennials and Generation Z expect organizations to take responsibility for more than themselves; communicating the CSR initiatives of your organization is a vital part of outreach.
  3. Engaging content is needed. They consume media via new channels. They are influenced by people that are, or believed to be, close to them. They are constantly bombarded by new information. To break through the noise, content and messages need to be engaging, emotional, and tailored.
  4. Have a clearly defined purpose. Organizations, political parties, and the media are closely connected to questions of identity. For the emerging generation to decide if they prefer your organization, they need to understand what you stand for and why you exist; in short, what your purpose is.

The diversity of millennials and Generation Z means that there is no quick and easy blueprint for how to engage them. But I do know that any entity – public or private – wanting to win the support needed to make a mark in this day and age needs a plan for how to communicate with them. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.

This article was originally posted on Lars Erik’s LinkedIn page.