While Generation X did not give a crap about building corporate America, Generation Y defined its own paths through corporate life, all largely non-linear, family-centric, and gold-star focused. If an achievement can’t be conveyed through social media then it doesn’t exist. The Organiziation Man is no more.
History is the study of the cycles of human development: war and peace, the rise and fall of civilizations, and the ebb and flow of generations. So history predicts how the tone and tenor of Generation Z will resemble most closely the Silent Generation. Which means they will construct a new version of The Organization Man.
“Each era has its own executive profile,” says Peter Cappelli, professor of human resources at Wharton, who has made a career of studying the differences among executives across generations. This month he released a long-term study about the trajectory of careers at the top of Fortune 500 companies.
The study notably predicts what you must do over the next ten years to get to the top. While the bottom and middle tiers of senior management show varied paths to get there, top ranks have a more prescribed path to success.
Ten years from now Generation Z will be the team to beat at work. Because Generation Z will have a love of strong institutions and organizational stability that is unequaled by anyone else in the work world, and they will start climbing quickly through corporate ranks.
See the photo of the escalator? Someone sent it to me as a great example of user interface. But every time I look at the photo I think of it as a great illustration of how preceding generations will languish one side while Generation Z marches upward on the other.
Here’s how to get a safe spot at the top of that corporate escalator before Generation Z passes you.
1. Get an Ivy League degree or stay at one company. An astounding 24% of senior leaders in the Fortune 500 have Ivy League degrees. (And the percentage is on the rise over the last ten years.) Those who did not have degrees from the Ivy League had a more difficult time moving from company to company and had to work their way up, usually over two decades, within a single company.
2. Move around within general roles instead of staying in one functional role. Capelli says those at the bottom and middle ranks of management were more likely to have developed their career in “functional silos” like legal, communications, and human resources. Whereas people at the top were more likely to have have a wide variety of operational experience – including P&L responsibilities.
3. Gain international experience while you and your children are young. Most senior executives have international experience, but a survey from Harvard Business School finds that both men and women are unlikely to relocate when their kids are pre-teens because it’s so hard on the kids’ emotional and social development.
4. Create a solid support system at home. Top executives don’t always have kids (most women executives don’t) but they always have a supportive spouse. That same survey from Harvard Business School found that for men, this means emotional support and the ability of their spouse to sacrifice the short term for the long term. For women a supportive spouse meant “willingness to free them from traditional roles at home.” Also, most top-tier men have a stay-at-home spouse, but only 10% of similar women do. Which means the women have household help to make up for it.
5. If you need to go to therapy, do it early in your career. Emotional intelligence is more important than ever for top-level executives. A key aspect of emotional intelligence is the ability to have negative thoughts without dreading them. This thought pattern allows you to make decisions based on your values rather than the wish to get rid of negative thinking. Susan David, psychologist at Harvard, provides a blueprint for building emotional agility.
Her blueprint includes a list of values for people to choose from. You just go through the list quickly checking off what matters the most to you. I took a picture of the list because I like it so much, but I did my own checks before I took the picture—sorry.
The list shows how clarifying your values helps you make faster and better decisions. It seems too simple to be true, but you know what? It’s true for me. I checked all the stuff that makes me love writing blog posts. And the checks also show me why I love doing webinars at Quistic —because in my videos the focus is so clearly on achievement but also on honestly, authenticity, and openness.
I have been worrying that spending too much time on videos is too much of a diversion from my blog. Now I see they are aligned. And the decision to make lots of videos seems easy and obvious now.
But the other thing this revelation shows me is why I’ve never been on my way to the top of corporate America. I value things that disrupt and challenge an organization rather than things that build an organization. Which means I definitely won’t be able to keep up with Generation Z as they race up that escalator to the top. Instead, I value the process of describing what it’s like to be standing on the slow side.