This past week I had the incredible opportunity to speak to an auditorium filled with college students. I’ve become accustomed to speaking, but this time I was a bit anxious. You see, I’m almost 40 years older than all of the young students in the room. I wasn’t quite sure I’d connect with them. I was hopeful but it wasn’t a sure thing. Even though I’ve been speaking for several years in a variety of venues, I still have that tinge of uncertainty which I welcome. I never want to take it for granted or be so self-assured that I overlook the reason I speak – the audience.
The topic was fascinating because I was tagged to speak about the Future Workplace !! (Cue space music in the background.) I wanted to see where the mindset was of the students so I asked them using Slido.
(Quick aside – If you’ve never used Slido as a presenter, I highly recommend it because it allows full participation from the group you’re in front of anonymously. Check it out !!)
The kids pulled out their phones, clicked on the QR code, and started typing. I chose a WordCloud for them to populate. There were nearly two hundred responses and the top answers were: Money, Work-Life Balance and Flexibility. So, the newest folks who will be entering the workplace would like to get paid and not work all the time !! I agree that is a need even today.
Once I knew where they stood, I turned the tables on what they expected. Instead of lecturing to them about my decades of vast experience, I talked about topics to look for and expect in the workplace. The tone was more about encouraging them to be intentional and create the workplace of the future themselves. I didn’t want them to be subject to what others define for them. My generation did that and I felt that the majority of my career was filled with traditional boxes following a top/down approach.
The workplace of the future is going to be people-centric and people-first. Since the auditorium was filled with people, I shared that they had the foundation already sitting in front of them. We talked about culture, behavior, contribution, adding value, and more. The message I wanted to make sure stuck with them was this – Embrace all that they are as people and all that they’ll bring to the workplace from their vantage point. Also, I emphasized to NEVER let people from other generations put them down or degrade who they are or how they approach work.
I closed by encouraging them to connect with current businesspeople to establish mentors to be resources for them. Yes, I also told them they should network, but I wanted them to know that networking is a business skill and not a job-seeking skill. I kept with my style of having my accompanying office table filled with toys and even got some laughs despite our age difference.
At the end of the presentation, I was touched by how many students stayed to chat. Several of them said, “I didn’t know what to expect when I came tonight. I thought it might be dull and boring, but it was fun.” My favorite comment was, “I had a picture in my head of what an executive from a company looks like and sounds like. I was floored to see you dressed in a colorful shirt, fun shoes, and jeans. You were down-to-earth and authentic. You changed my perspective on what C-Suite people could be.”
It was reassuring and ironic at the same time. My nervous assumption about our significant age differences was unwarranted. We connected because of the common fact – we’re all humans. I think we should continue to focus on the human factor of the workplace now and into the future. The “things” like AI, HR Tech, new processes, and systems will always be evolving into something new. We’ll never fully be ahead of the curve and any predictions will have some things right and others will be missed.
I’m sure people will be speaking far more about the “things” of work instead of the humans. That’s a shame because the workplace of the future will include people. People frame the culture. People design the strategy. People make work come to life through the systems and processes.
I encourage all of us to embrace those who will make up the future workplace. It will be exciting to see what they do and what is invented next. Believing in them now and lifting them up is how WE can impact the future. We don’t have to keep focusing on the How and What is coming. We will be successful now and into the future for years to come if we focus on the Who !!
I’m geeked about the future. I can’t wait to see what all of those students will do. I hope you are geeked as well !!