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Next generation leadership: Leaving the individual and the organisation "Net Better Off"


Expert insights from Aidan McHugh, Parter, BDO. This blog has been written exclusively for IoD Ireland.

What are the new expectations of management and leadership in this hybrid world? In this thought leadership article, Aidan outlines key themes such as: the multi-generational work force; customer v employee centricity; the idea of Net Better Off; while maintaining growth and margins.

Sticking out ur GYAT for the Rizzler, ur so skibidi, so fanum tax. I just wanna be ur SIGMA OHIO”

Confused? You’re not the only one, but if you go to primary schools across the country this is what you will hear in the playgrounds. Not only have this generation completely different needs and expectations they have a totally different language.

This is not something new. Each generation over the last 100 years has had different needs and expectations. However, as described by Jean M. Twenge in her brilliant book ‘Generations’, there are four main drivers of generational changes in history and when you stand back you start to understand why the world of work has changed so much in the recent past.

Drivers of generational change

  1. Technological change is the mother of all generational difference – Even without quoting Moores law we all know the advances in Tech in the last 20 years has been life changing. Just think about the mobile phone and social media for example.
  2. Individualism and a slower life are the daughters of all generational difference. People are living longer, become more obsessed about appearance and themselves. We spend longer at home, in school or college and take longer to enter the real world. We are all living longer.
  3. Major events are friends and family that show up occasionally for all generational differences – Think about the 2007 financial crash and the impact of Covid on the world

Business is ultimately about people and over the last 30 years we have seen a leadership movement from dependence/conformity in the 90s and noughties (2000-09) to independence/self-expression from 2010- 2024 where we moved to full employee centricity during Covid. Now the call is clear we have a need for what Loevinger calls Interdependence in her stages of ego development. We are hearing leaders talking about the shift from employee centricity to customer centricity but, personally, I like to think about the concept of leaving the organisation and individual “Net Better Off”.

“Net Better Off”

I presented the slides below at an IoD Ireland event last month to try and explain why I believe as an executive or board member you need to start thinking about Net Better Off in your business.

Slide 1 - Paradigm shifts in the workplace

Although not being shouted from the roof tops (unless you’re in Tech), growth and margins are coming under increased pressure. Attraction and retention numbers are going in the wrong direction, and we awoke from the pandemic to a changed business landscape. The message is simple. We are all in the same place, the balls are in the air right now and we are all trying to figure it out.

Slide 2 - Current & future generations 

Right now Gen X are leaders, Millennials are managers with Gen Z taking the entry level positions. By the time we get to 2030, Millennials will be the leaders, Gen Z running the business and Polars entering the workforce. We need to understand the differences as this is happening fast.

Slide 3 - Problems companies are facing

In order to look at the challenges facing organisations and identify the possible solutions I decided to go with mass generalisation and put people in a 6X6 box.

  1. Covideers - Let’s start with the older ones - I call this the Covideers - these are people that have found bliss living in their PJs, starting work on a Wednesday and have built the best relationships with the DHL delivery drivers. The other group are either having a mid-life crisis, working in a job that has lost all purpose and blaming each other for whose idea it was to have kids in the first place.
  2. Avocado Entitled Bunch - The Millennials - I like to call these guys “The Avocado Entitled Bunch.” These gluten intolerant folk delaying parenthood and living their best life on Instagram want it all: work life balance, fair pay and value alignment and they are prepared to leave if they don’t get it.
  3. The Conscious Pessimists - Then we get to the Gen Z in what I’m calling the Conscious Pessimists. We see a shift from optimism to pessimism, entitlement to insecurity and self-confidence to doubt as we transition to this group. Whilst being their authentic selves, and everyone is equal and saving the planet.

Ok, so don't take this to heart. I'm only being provactive to make my point. In the following two slides, I try to understand these groups in more detail and identify potential solutions for executives. I also outline what I call the confused corporate, tired, emotional and irritable.       

Slide 6 - Net Better Off

In this slide, I outline the concept of Net Better Off. At a high level the idea is simple we want to leave both the individual and organisation net better off throughout the relationship. We want to create that alliance from both sides where we move from “employee and role” to “individual and career” and “employer and job” to “organisation and career”.

This will be a mindset change and will require change from both sides but ultimately, we believe the organisations who make this move will reap the rewards. As previously mentioned, this is a state of interdependence and will require high levels of leadership maturity but if it doesn’t start from the top, then let’s not start at all.