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Learning from Generation Y

Learning from Generation Y

Big companies need to look to the needs of young people for clues on how to adapt their business model to remain fresh and relevant.

What can company leaders learn from young people today? In a world were experience is valued, it’s a question that’s not often considered. But by doing so, big companies may learn important lessons about ways of doing business that will engage and interest generations to come. So let’s look at what we currently know. We know that young people today have more sophisticated information needs – they want information in a format they understand. They also believe in making a difference – they want to understand and champion the ideas of the companies they invest in.

As a simple first step, companies could start by grabbing the attention of young staff at the start of their corporate journey. Ideas such as awarding a small number of shares on joining the company, rather than in place of or in addition to share options being linked to career advancement. Presented and explained in the right way, this could have a contagious affect on helping young people understand the general principles of investing. Welcome packages can also be adapted to explain the core values of the company in terms they are more likely understand and relate to.

The tone of voice used in communications is crucial. Companies that have been listed for a long time tend to trot out the same dry information that is meaningless to young people. These companies are so used to explaining their strategy in a formal way to those in the financial industry that they have lost the ability to talk to a wider set of investors. We know large swathes of people, particularly the young, have lost faith in financial services, so this type of communication is neither good for the company, nor for the overall appeal of investing.

As a way of achieving a unique tone of voice, companies should therefore reach deep into their DNA and rediscover the purpose of why the company was started in the first place. Whether it was to fulfill a basic need or improve lives, it’s important to get back to the positive ideas that should always be at the heart of what any company is trying to achieve. Reconnecting with the core values of the company in such a way will help balance communications in a less complex way and, equally important, a more believable way.

Investing in a believable equity story is important for the younger generation. They cannot see the point of investing in a company whose raison d’être is not obvious. So investing in a big conglomerate such as General Electrics is not appealing, but becoming a shareholder in General Electrics Healthcare, which is working on better technology to improve detection of disease, is a tangible concept they can understand and believe in.

Companies can embrace this by floating projects or small divisions that break down concepts and ideas to offer valid reasons for young people to invest. It’s a model that companies such as WPP and Richard Branson’s Virgin have been using for some time. It subscribes to the idea that large umbrella companies no longer work efficiently as employees get lost in the corporate machine. As a result, they have less purpose and focus on what they are trying to achieve. By breaking down big organisations into locally managed smaller divisions, employees are more tuned in to their role and can operate in a more agile fashion. This has a beneficial impact on the performance of the company and, ultimately, its investors.

What is interesting about the idea of adapting business models and communications to appeal to the younger generation is that it is a concept that is applicable to all generations. By stripping back the layers of corporate identity, companies can get back to their core values and adapt communications to appeal to everyone. Surely that’s good leadership at its purest.

See the full video of Laetitia Puyfaucher’s talk at TEDx Aix here.

Laetitia Puyfaucher is a pioneer of digital communication for organisations. She is the founder of Pelham Media and in 2013 was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and Business Women.

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