An Inside Look At How Gen Y, Gen X And Baby Boomers View The Workplace

Lindsey (LaManna) Makela

SAP multi-genertional panel discussionFostering a diverse and inclusive workplace has become a priority for many organizations in the business world today.

Why?  Because diversity drives innovation.  By maintaining a workforce of employees with varied perspectives, backgrounds and cultures, innovative ideas, products and processes come to life.

According to a Forbes Insights report, “Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce,” 85% agree that a diverse and inclusive workforce brings the different perspectives a company needs to drive innovation.

 

In a diverse organization, employees vary in age, work experience and generation.  As we know, every generation brings its own culture and transformations to the workplace and has different aspirations, values and ways of getting things done.

So does this make it hard for them to work together?  How do the less experienced generations like Generation Y (or Millennial Generation) fit in a workplace dominated by Generation X and Baby Boomer workers?

These were exactly the questions that SAP tackled at its Multi-Generational Panel Discussion, one of its Global Diversity Days events.  I had the pleasure of attending this eye-opening discussion, where panelists from across different generations (Generation Y, Generation X and the Baby Boomer Generation) compared experiences and shared perspectives of the workplace.  Panelists were asked a series of questions in order to uncover their differences when it comes to the work world, which I will discuss below.A comparison of the perspectives of different generations about the workplace

*Click on the image to enlarge.

Is it true that Gen Y expects constant feedback and gratification?

It is said that Generation Y desires constant feedback.  They don’t want to wait for the quarterly or yearly review, like Baby Boomers or Gen X who are more comfortable with waiting.

At the panel discussion, a Generation Y panelist completely agreed with the statement, claiming that the constant feedback that they want is not necessarily a “pat on the back,” but a way of measuring yourself.

It provides guidance and direction that allows you to improve at your job, especially in a high pace environment like IT.  Another Millennial, added that she enjoys weekly meetings with her manager to gain feedback on completed tasks, so in the future when she does it again, she can be certain that she is completing it correctly.

As a follow-up question, Gen X and Baby Boomer panelists were asked what they do as managers to make work fun for Millennials and to meet their need for constant feedback.

One Baby Boomer pointed out that every generation enjoys feedback, but that it may come from different sources.  While an early-stage career person may want feedback from their manager, a late-stage career person may gain feedback from customers or peers.

However, as a manager, it is very important to provide that feedback to any employee, regardless of the stage of their career.  Millennials may need more feedback though because they are just starting their careers and it allows them to correct themselves on a more responsive basis.

Another Baby Boomer added that he doesn’t like to wait until the end of the year to receive a performance review either.  He enjoys receiving feedback every week or bi-weekly, just to make sure that things are moving in the right direction.

He said that things change so fast and, let’s face it, we’re all not really good at communicating.  Communication is tough and work is so fast pace that providing as much feedback as often as possible is critical in helping employees be more successful.

A third Baby Boomer panelist presented a different perspective, saying that coaching is something that we do constantly.  However, he says that if you give people too much feedback too soon, you can create a situation where a person is working on things that are unnecessary.  People will learn from their mistakes.  It’s good to give coaching and tips, but for people that are very aggressive about their career, giving them feedback prematurely can be damaging.

What you should do is look for patterns and then reach out to those who are constantly doing something negative and then provide them with feedback.  Everyone else could just use some pat-on-the-backs and coaching.  You have to be careful with too much feedback because it can just as harmful as too little.

A Generation Y panelist agreed saying that structured PRM and coaching or mentoring is what enables him to succeed faster.  It’s less about feedback and more about guidance and encouragement.

How do you like to be rewarded for your hard work?

Panelists were next asked how they prefer to be rewarded, with a day off, a financial reward, or a personal note or peer-to-peer recognition.  A member of Generation X responded that while everyone loves financial compensation, he knows that money is not always a realistic reward.

As a substitute, recognition from peers and managers is really important and means a lot.  We’re all very busy and contribute to a lot of different projects, so we don’t always take the time to recognize others.  When people do take the time, the recognition and gratitude is very meaningful and appreciated.

A Millenial panelist added that these are especially important when you spend your time helping other teams with work that is not related to your core responsibilities.  All generations seemed to agree with that personal notes are the cheapest, but also one of the most valuable rewards.  What makes them even more prized, is that they can be presented to managers as a demonstration of their hard work for quarterly or year-end reviews.

To continue, a Baby Boomer panelist explained that every reward is appropriate at certain times, but it doesn’t cost anything to say something nice.  With employees, it’s like a bank account.  You can’t start withdrawing until you deposit.  You have to let them know that they have great traits about them before you can start pointing out the things that they need to improve upon.

What do you look for in a company?

Panelists were next asked to describe what initially attracted them to their employer – the work life balance it promotes, its culture, the pay, its fitness facilities, the free lunch?  A member of Gen X claimed that it was the flexibility to move around to find new challenging work that drew him in.

To early-stage career persons, change is important.  We want to make sure that we’re not doing the same repetitious activities over and over again and that we’re always being challenged. Constant challenge helps you grow as an employee and helps your company grow as a whole.

Another panelist claimed that as a Millennial, he was more attracted to the company’s mission, purpose and sustainability practices.  The company has a powerful purpose and is not driven by just making sales, but its desire to change the world – that’s what means the most for Millennials.  It’s about being a part of something bigger than just corporate America.

For Baby Boomers, a company’s culture is key.  It really matters who your company’s leaders are and how the company treats their employees.  On the other side, having new, challenging work is another important quality that Baby Boomers look for in a company.

How long should you stay before switching to another role?

The next question was “How long do you think you should stay in your current role before switching to a new one?”  There’s an HR rule that you’re supposed to wait a year until you can really master your current role and then move on to the next challenging opportunity.

One Baby Boomer claimed that she has adopted a three year rule when it comes to changing positions.  The first year is spent learning the new role, the second year is spent excelling at it and then third year is looking at what’s next.  Another added that there’s one more aspect you’ve got to consider – who you are and what’s important to you.

If the role is not a good fit, then it’s not doing you or the company any good if you’re not happy and not producing.  Understand what your strengths are and what you like to do and if you’re not in a role that matches that, then find something new, no matter how much time you’ve spent.

From a Millennial’s point of view, time spent in a role is dependent on whether or not you’re being continuously challenged and presented with new opportunities.  When you feel that you’re talents are no longer being fully utilized, it’s time to consider other positions.

On the other hand, one Baby Boomer panelist cautioned people from leaving their role prematurely because you may miss out on a golden learning opportunity because you weren’t patient.  When you’re done with a role, you’ll know and you’ll be an expert.  But don’t rush it; get the experience because that experience will get you to where you want to be.

Is Generation less loyal to their employer?

Panelists also tackled the perception that Generation Y is less committed to their employer than other generations and the question of what has changed to make them that way.  Is it just a generational difference, is it the way Gen Y was raised, or is it an overall corporate culture change that has made company loyalty less important?

One Baby Boomer said that they used to call people that jump between companies and roles as “movers and shakers.”  He remembers that, while such risk takers were the minority back then, they actually did really well for themselves.

Now, he feels that moving around is the norm, especially for Generation Y who is trained to be “movers and shakers.”  However, there’s nothing wrong with changing roles and companies until you find a career that you’re good at and that you love to do – it’s actually good for the company.

Another Baby Boomer reminded the audience that when you move to a different company, you have to reestablish your network and your personal brand and that takes a lot of energy and effort.

There are many opportunities to move within a company to discover different, more challenging jobs.  By staying with one company and moving horizontally, you get a lot of valuable experience that you wouldn’t get by constantly switching companies.

Is your generation stereotyped?

The panel finished with the question, “Do you feel that your generation is stereotyped at your company and in the business world?”  One Baby Boomer remembers at his first job calling the older programmers “the old dinosaurs.”  However, he doesn’t see that being a problem today and enjoys the diversity at his company.

A member of Gen X claimed that Generation X and Y both experience the stereotype of “not wanting to pay their dues.”  He claims that this is a misunderstanding that comes from those generations’ desire to be challenged – not from a refusal to start from the bottom.

Often times the tasks that they are being asked to do upon entering a company are not really meeting their need for challenging work.  For the early stage career generations, as long as they are being challenged and engaged, they will stay. If they are not, they will leave to go to another company or reinvest in education.

I am interested in learning your perspectives on the discussion above.  Would you answer any of the questions differently for your generation?

Managing a multi-generational workplace can be difficult. Learn how to optimize for success and prepare for employees of all ages at the Future of Work Forum in Orlando on June 3. Click here for more information and to register

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Lindsey (LaManna) Makela

About Lindsey (LaManna) Makela

Lindsey Makela is a Content Marketing Manager at SAP. Her specialties include digital marketing, marketing strategy, and communications.

What Gen Z’s Arrival In The Workforce Means For Recruiters

Meghan M. Biro

Generation Z’s arrival in the workforce means some changes are on the horizon for recruiters. This cohort, born roughly from the mid-90s to approximately 2010, will be entering the workforce in four Hiring Generation Z words in 3d letters on an organization chart to illustrate finding young employees for your company or businessshort years, and you can bet recruiters and employers are already paying close attention to them.

This past fall, the first group of Gen Z youth began entering university. As Boomers continue to work well past traditional retirement age, four or five years from now, we’ll have an American workplace comprised of five generations.

Marketers and researchers have been obsessed with Millennials for over a decade; they are the most studied generation in history, and at 80 million strong they are an economic force to be reckoned with. HR pros have also been focused on all things related to attracting, motivating, mentoring, and retaining Millennials and now, once Gen Z is part of the workforce, recruiters will have to shift gears and also learn to work with this new, lesser-known generation. What are the important points they’ll need to know?

Northeastern University led the way with an extensive survey on Gen Z in late 2014 that included 16- through 19-year-olds and shed some light on key traits. Here are a few points from that study that recruiters should pay special attention to:

  • In general, the Generation Z cohort tends to be comprised of self-starters who have a strong desire to be autonomous. 63% of them report that they want colleges to teach them about being an entrepreneur.
  • 42% expect to be self-employed later in life, and this percentage was higher among minorities.
  • Despite the high cost of higher education, 81% of Generation Z members surveyed believe going to college is extremely important.
  • Generation Z has a lot of anxiety around debt, not only student loan debt, and they report they are very interested in being well-educated about finances.
  • Interpersonal interaction is highly important to Gen Z; just as Millennials before them, communicating via technology, including social media, is far less valuable to them than face-to-face communication.

Of course Gen Z is still very young, and their opinions as they relate to future employment may well change. For example, reality is that only 6.6% of the American workforce is self-employed, making it likely that only a small percentage of those expecting to be self-employed will be as well. The future in that respect is uncertain, and this group has a lot of learning to do and experiences yet ahead of them. However, when it comes to recruiting them, here are some things that might be helpful.

Generation Z is constantly connected

Like Millennials, Gen Z is a cohort of digital natives; they have had technology and the many forms of communication that affords since birth. They are used to instant access to information and, like their older Gen Y counterparts, they are continually processing information. Like Millennials, they prefer to solve their own problems, and will turn to YouTube or other video platforms for tutorials and to troubleshoot before asking for help. They also place great value on the reviews of their peers.

For recruiters, that means being ready to communicate on a wide variety of platforms on a continual basis. In order to recruit the top talent, you will have to be as connected as they are. You’ll need to keep up with their preferred networks, which will likely always be changing, and you’ll need to be transparent about what you want, as this generation is just as skeptical of marketing as the previous one.

Flexible schedules will continue to grow in importance

With the growth of part-time and contract workers, Gen Z will more than likely assume the same attitude their Millennial predecessors did when it comes to career expectations; they will not expect to remain with the same company for more than a few years. Flexible schedules will be a big part of their world as they move farther away from the traditional 9-to-5 job structure as work becomes more about life and less about work, and they’ll likely take on a variety of part time roles.

This preference for flexible work schedules means that business will happen outside of traditional work hours, and recruiters’ own work hours will, therefore, have to be just as flexible as their Gen Z targets’ schedule are. Companies will also have to examine what are in many cases decades old policies on acceptable work hours and business norms as they seek to not only attract, but to hire and retain this workforce with wholly different preferences than the ones that came before them. In many instances this is already happening, but I believe we will see this continue to evolve in the coming years.

Echoing the silent generation

Unlike Millennials, Gen Z came of age during difficult economic times; older Millennials were raised in the boom years. As Alex Williams points out in his recent New York Times piece, there’s an argument to be made that Generation Z is similar in attitude to the Silent Generation, growing up in a time of recession means they are more pragmatic and skeptical than their slightly older peers.

So how will this impact their behavior and desires as job candidates? Most of them are the product of Gen X parents, and stability will likely be very important to them. They may be both hard-working and fiscally savvy.

Sparks & Honey, in their much quoted slideshare on Gen Z, puts the number of high-schooler students who felt pressured by their parents to get jobs at 55 percent. Income and earning your keep are likely to be a big motivation for GenZ. Due to the recession, they also share the experience of living in multi-generational households, which may help considerably as they navigate a workplace comprised of several generations.

We don’t have all the answers

With its youngest members not yet in double digits, Gen Z is still maturing. There is obviously still a lot that we don’t know. This generation may have the opposite experience from the Millennials before them, where the older members experienced the booming economy, with some even getting a career foothold, before the collapse in 2008. Gen Z’s younger members may get to see a resurgent economy as they make their way out of college. Those younger members are still forming their personalities and views of the world; we would be presumptuous to think we have all of the answers already.

Generational analysis is part research, but also part theory testing. What we do know is that this second generation of digital natives, with its adaption of technology and comfort with the fast-paced changing world, will leave its mark on the American workforce as it makes its way in. As a result, everything about HR will change, in a big way. I wrote a post for my Forbes column recently where I said, “To recruit in this environment is like being part wizard, part astronaut, part diplomat, part guidance counselor,” and that’s very true.

As someone who loves change, I believe there has never been a more exciting time to be immersed in both the HR and the technology space. How do you feel about what’s on the horizon as it relates to the future of work and the impending arrival of Generation Z? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Social tools are playing an increasingly important role in the workplace, especially for younger workers. Learn more: Adopting Social Software For Workforce Collaboration [Video].

The post What Gen Z’s Arrival In The Workforce Means For Recruiters appeared first on TalentCulture.

Image: Bigstock

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Meghan M. Biro

About Meghan M. Biro

Meghan Biro is talent management and HR tech brand strategist, analyst, digital catalyst, author and speaker. I am the founder and CEO of TalentCulture and host of the #WorkTrends live podcast and Twitter Chat. Over my career, I have worked with early-stage ventures and global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google, helping them recruit and empower stellar talent. I have been a guest on numerous radio shows and online forums, and has been a featured speaker at global conferences. I am the co-author of The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Revolution of Leadership One Person at a Time, and a regular contributor at Forbes, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and several other media outlets. I also serve on advisory boards for leading HR and technology brands.

How To Find The Talent You Need To Solve Challenges That Don’t Exist Yet

Mike Ettling

Although executives, analysts, and experts regularly try to predict where business is headed, the pace of innovation continues to exceed our expectations and imagination – especially when it comes to the world of work. Not only is technology impacting how we work and interact with each other, it’s transforming what we actually do for work.People walking on office concourse --- Image by © Igor E./Image Source/Corbis

Consider this: 2 billion jobs that exist today will disappear by 2030, according to futurist Thomas Frey. 2 billion. That’s roughly 50% of all of jobs worldwide. Cathy N. Davidson, Duke University professor, backed up this prediction in her book Now You See It, noting that 65% of children entering grade school this year will assume careers that don’t yet exist.

How can you possibly plan for a future workforce in jobs we can’t today know? And how can we develop talent when we don’t what our business will need not just in a few years, but even in a few months from now?

The future of talent acquisition relies on a broad footprint enabled by technology

The dynamic of workforce mix is changing. Employees no longer fit neatly into a box, nor should they. Salaried employees. Hourly employees. Contingent employees. These categories are more fluid than ever.

As digital businesses like Uber and Airbnb have shown, the understanding of “employee” is being redefined to include people who are not employed in the traditional sense or necessarily found on the company payroll. Rather, they are customers – on the other side of the seller-buyer relationship.

This new approach does not come without risk. Once the salary-wage relationship is removed from the employer-employee equation, the degree of employee loyalty and affinity seen in the past will slowly deteriorate. This forces CHROs to adjust how to relate to their existing workforce, and as important, their future employees and the people who influence them.

To create an employer brand that is more fluid and differentiated, CHROs should consider four things:

1. Your employer brand matters whether you’re actively recruiting or not.

Your employer brand needs to be an interaction that happens consistently – whether or not you are looking for new talent to join your team at the moment. And while the brand is not the sole purview of HR, HR is in the best position to shepherd it.

2. Expand your footprint to attract the best – before they’re even in the workforce.

In our age of social media, people follow brands they admire. But here’s a secret: This also brings an opportunity for following high-performing professionals within or outside the industry as well as students of all ages who are mastering valuable skills.

As I look at my two school-aged boys, I see firsthand how their new generation – Gen Z – will create their own definition of work and career fulfillment. Pretty soon, new graduates will be less concerned about job titles and more interested in working for companies with whom they feel an affinity. And increasingly, these interactions begin long before a job search.

3. Master the science of data – no PhD required.

How many of us groan when terms like “data science” and “number crunching” get mentioned? Today’s technology is taking away the fear factor; analysing data is becoming more intuitive and delivering more valuable insights. And increasingly, the machines are doing it for us, melting processes along the way.

4. Engage before Day 1.

HR today has the tools to become less about process and more about employee engagement. Onboarding is a perfect example of how, and why it matters.

Typically, onboarding has been about providing the physical things a new employee needs to start working: security badge, laptop, desk assignment, setup of a 401k account, and payroll deductions to name a just a few. None of this generally happens until the person walks through the door on Day 1.

Now we have the ability to make onboarding a social interaction, allowing a new employee the opportunity to be engaged before they even start. HR can provide the ability for new employees to connect with their manager, along with peers who can help them better understand and navigate the organisation, and potential mentors who can help them become successful – reducing the traditional ramp up process that can take months or longer.

In today’s digital economy, it’s less about the job and more about the talent. How are you preparing?

Want more future-focuses strategies that empower your workforce? See 6 Habits Of Mind That Will Impact The Future Of Work.

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Mike Ettling

About Mike Ettling

Mike Ettling is the President of SAP SuccessFactors. He is an inspirational, visionary and highly dynamic leader with a wealth of leadership expertise, genuine business acumen, and an exemplary record driving multi-million dollar sales, marketing initiatives and transformation in a global context.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

By Dan Wellers, Kai Goerlich, and Stephanie Overby , Kai Goerlich and Stephanie Overby

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

Other comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future.

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

The process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

Organizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

Lowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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Dan Wellers

About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

About Stephanie Overby

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Retail Tomorrow: How Today’s Technology Is Shaping Retail’s Future

Stephen Sparrow

Do you ever think about tomorrow? Many retailers don’t. They’re too concerned with what’s happening in the moment. They’re too wrapped up in managing their daily business operations or maintaining profit margins.

Don’t get me wrong – those things are important. But tomorrow matters more than they know.

With game-changing technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality, and machine learning reshaping the retail landscape, tomorrow can no longer be ignored. If your company wants to stay ahead of the competition – both now and in the future – you need to begin experimenting with these innovations today.

Beer, there, and everywhere: Create an immersive customer experience

Imagine you’re a Brooklyn-based brewery. You craft the most delicious beer anyone’s ever tasted, and Brooklynites are absolutely gaga over your product. But how do you spread the word? How can you make people in Seattle or San Francisco thirst for your beverage?

Virtual reality and IoT tools can help you create a more immersive customer experience – one that gives people an in-depth view into your brewery – so folks across the country can get excited about sampling your suds.

By setting up a 360-degree video camera and implementing virtual reality capabilities, you can invite people all over the world to tour your facility. They can visit the tasting room, check out the outdoor patio, and watch the kettles work their magic in the production area.

IoT sensors, meanwhile, can provide prospective customers with insight around your brewing processes. Attached to the brew kettles, these sensors enable you to share real-time data about each batch of beer, from when the hops reach a boil to when fermentation is complete.

If viewers like what they see, they can order a case of your beer online.

Creating an immersive customer experience, where people get a glance behind the curtain to see how your company operates and how your product is made, is a surefire recipe for retail success.

A passion for fashion: Predict trends so your customers are always dressed to kill

Instagram, the popular image-sharing app, has a global community of more than 800 million users. These users share upwards of 95 million photos and videos per day.

If a woman from the United States is traveling to Tokyo for an upcoming vacation and wants to make sure she looks fashionable while visiting Japan’s capital city, where can she turn?

Instagram, of course.

With a simple keyword search for “fashion” and “Tokyo,” this woman could be knee-deep in results highlighting the top trends from this chic metropolitan hotspot. Now, with a better idea of what the locals are wearing, she can pick up a few new outfits before her trip, and she won’t feel so out of place in her American attire when she visits.

Retailers, particularly fashion brands, can benefit from how consumers are using apps like Instagram. By analyzing what people are wearing in photos taken in fashion meccas like London, Paris, Tokyo, Milan, or New York, your business can have its finger firmly on the pulse.

Pairing your analysis with machine learning capabilities can enable your retailer to detect and predict the hottest fashion trends. This will help your designers tailor the clothing they create to what’s happening – or what will be happening – in the market.

If more people are wearing floral-print miniskirts, you can design matching leggings. If more people are dressing in denim, you can ramp up production on jean jackets.

Staying up to date on the latest fashion trends can keep your retailer at the top of its game. Predicting the next big thing in fashion using machine learning? That will have your business declaring “game over” to all your competitors.

Not your grandma’s kitchen: Increase customer convenience through greater connectivity

Connected products are invading our homes. We have smart TVs in our living rooms. We have showerheads equipped with Bluetooth speakers in our bathrooms. We have lights that brighten or dim based on our sleeping schedules in our bedrooms.

In the kitchen, though, things are getting really intelligent. From precision cookers that alert you when dinner’s ready to coffee makers you can operate with your smartphone, kitchen appliances are creating a whole new level of convenience for customers.

With a smart refrigerator, customers can create shopping lists using a touch screen on the door. IoT capabilities enable people to add or remove items from their lists using a mobile device. Customers can even submit their grocery orders to a nearby store through their smart fridge, a convenient click-and-collect shopping scenario.

Augmented reality, meanwhile, allows people to peek inside their refrigerators without even opening them. If a woman at work wants to see if she has enough milk for a bowl of cereal tomorrow, she can check using a tablet or smartphone.

Retailers and consumer products companies can leverage this technology to deliver a more engaging product experience. The packaging of a stick of butter, for instance, might have a code on it. When a man peers into his refrigerator using his smartphone, he could click on the code and find out the product’s expiration date. Or perhaps he can learn a few new recipes he could bake using the butter.

By creating a hassle-free shopping experience and enhancing how your buyers engage with your products, you can increase sales and earn your customers’ loyalty.

Home sweet home: Modernize retail like real-estate agents have revolutionized homebuying

Think of how the realty business has changed over the past 25 years. In the early ‘90s, prospective homebuyers had to schedule an appointment with a Realtor or attend an open house to see a home they liked.

In the mid-2000s, house hunting went online, with sites like Trulia and Zillow springing up. Today, homebuyers can snap a photo of an on-the-market house they like using a mobile app and see pictures of the home’s interior, learn the price, find out the square footage, and discover how many bathrooms it has.

Retailers should strive to modernize their industry like the realty business has revolutionized homebuying. Barcode scanning and sensor tracking are just a couple technologies that could help.

If a customer is walking through the aisles of your store, you could offer them the opportunity to scan a tag on a shirt with their mobile device and instantly give them access to outfit ideas or show them accessories that match the top.

Sensors, meanwhile, could track where a shopper is in a store, allowing your retailer to send timely and relevant offers based on their location.

Adding value to your customer experience is the name of the game in retail. And there’s no better way to create a more valuable in-store customer experience than with the latest technology.

Innovation experimentation: Forge your path to a brighter future with revolutionary tech tools

Innovations like IoT, virtual reality, and machine learning are shaping what retail’s future will look like.

Your company’s success – both today and tomorrow – will depend on your willingness to embrace these technologies and experiment with new ways to engage and satisfy your customers.

Join us at the National Retail Forum’s 2018 conference and EXPO at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on January 14–16 to learn how the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system can help your organization bring these exciting technologies to life.

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Stephen Sparrow

About Stephen Sparrow

Stephen Sparrow is the Director of Retail Marketing at SAP. He defines, champions and executes marketing strategies to increase penetration and capture of revenue opportunities across SAP's retail enterprise accounts. He also develops industry advancing and perception enhancing programs to drive brand preference for SAP in the retail community.