Gen Z and Extending Relationships Beyond the Screen

Gen Z may come hard-wired with a digital advantage, but stand-out candidates from this cohort also bring relationship-building, deal-making, and collaboration skills to the table.

In a conversation with Melanie Stern as part of ISM’s Supply Chain – Unfiltered podcast series, we discussed generational differences, the productivity technology boom, must-have skillsets, the role of EQ, and learning from older generations.

Rapid change doesn’t phase Gen Z

Growing supply chain complexity and the race to integrate technology including AI can feel overwhelming for many of us, but Gen Z seems able to take it all in their stride. Why? Because the younger generation has grown up as digital natives.

Growing up in that situation gives Gen Z’ers an advantage when it comes to the ability to navigate new tools and technologies. It comes naturally to them – they are far ahead of even younger Millennials, who were not exposed to some of these tools that are much more in play since the pandemic; an accelerant to all things technology.

Let’s not forget that many members of this generation started their profession in a highly unique remote environment during the pandemic, calling on their native skills and thriving with tools including collaboration, teamwork, and project management platforms, along with business intelligence tools. 

Older generations can learn from Gen Z. We may not be digital natives, but with the right mindset we can embrace new tools that will drive productivity and boost collaboration. It doesn’t matter if you’re GenX or Boomer – it’s time to move beyond Excel and Powerpoint and explore the power of tools like Tableau or Power BI for business intelligence, or even Google Slides to put together a compelling deck. 

Communication preferences

What’s unique today is that we have four generations in the workforce: Gen Zs, Millennials, GenX (my cool generation), and still some Boomers. As a recruiter, we’ve found the latter two cohorts are much more open to having phone discussions and communicating by email. But the medium for some of the younger talent, depending on their function and technical maturity of their employers – is very different from even five years ago. Typically, they prefer a platform such as LinkedIn to gain their attention and have an initial conversation. Rather than emails or phone calls, Gen Z prefers text messaging, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

Young people may not want to be on “older” social media such as Facebook and Instagram on the personal side but are finding they still need to embrace them from a professional point of view. This all reflects the trends happening in workplaces where email itself is becoming secondary with Slack taking over. As a rule, people see and respond to text messaging a lot faster than emails.

Building relationships beyond screens

More companies are telling us they want people with strong quantitative and technical knowledge, but this doesn’t mean every candidate has to be a coder, developer, or programmer. Thinking beyond Microsoft Excel, candidates should be able to use no-coding tools such as PowerBI (also owned by Microsoft), and project management tools such as Trello and Asana.

EQ and human-to-human interaction is only going to become more important as disruptive technologies, including generative AI, continue to proliferate. For Gen Z, this means learning how to get in front of suppliers and other stakeholders to build rapport and trust.

Procurement and supply chain professionals are supposed to be relationship-builders; deal-makers who can collaborate effectively with both internal and external stakeholders. We must have the ability to articulate procurement’s value proposition, along with the ability to story-tell when selling internally to stakeholders and externally to suppliers.

Establishing your personal brand, niche, and footprint online is extremely important – after all, it’s the world’s biggest economy with 4.5 billion people. But you must know how to build relationships and grow your network beyond the screen. Deloitte Digital found that members of Gen Z know this, and place as much value on cultivating working relationships as their older colleagues in the workplace, but they may struggle with moving the theory into action.

Learning from older generations

Our Managing Partner, Naseem Malik, was recently chatting with one of ISM’s Richter Scholars, a bright young man named Zach Abdulnour. He said: “For us, the ability to hear from executives and people with good career trajectories can give us the opportunity to learn from their experiences; their career paths, the mistakes they’ve made, some of the challenges, and what they’ve learned. As important as it is for us to learn what to do, it’s just as important to learn what not to do.”

Every relationship that a younger talent can build with more seasoned professionals creates a valuable addition to their network. It takes network intelligence to appreciate how much you can learn from people who have seen and experienced so much over the course of a long career.

Yes, times are changing. But when it comes to core abilities such as relationship management, negotiation, and how to deal with sticky situations in the world of supply management, the ability to tap into somebody’s brain and gain those insights through networking is something AI still can’t do.