By Anthony Marshall
As organizations grow more interconnected, business – and business models – are changing. Every two years we ask CEOs and public sector leaders worldwide to share their views on the future. In 2012 we also refreshed the Global Student Study and surveyed members of the millennial generation who as future leaders, customers, and citizens, will be driving change for tomorrow and beyond.
The 2012 Global Student Study, “Connected Generation: Perspectives from tomorrow’s leaders in a digital world,” surveyed more than 3,400 college and university students worldwide to better understand their opinions, beliefs and aspirations. We asked students some of the same questions we posed to CEOs in IBM’s 2012 CEO study, Leading Through Connections.
Not surprisingly, social media was a standout topic for both CEOs and students. As one student commented, “The Internet is now the new place where business relationships are formed.” When it comes to building relationships with customers, students felt social media should get top priority today, while only 56 percent of CEOs said they were using social media to interact with customers.
CEOs, however, intend to catch up in the future: 84 percent of CEOs – and 84 percent of students (exactly the same proportion) – said social media and websites will be the most important mechanism for interacting with customers within the next three to five years.
New tools help enable social business across multiple dimensions: 61 percent of students reported that social media has helped increase their awareness globally, and 50 percent have formed relationships with friends on social media that are as meaningful as their “real-world” friends. For the connected generation in the workplace, distant colleagues are becoming much more than names behind an email.
“Social media has allowed my generation and others to feel more involved…Any successful organization will take full advantage of social media and the ways it touches populations,” said one student from the U.S.
The propensities of the millennial generation to use the tools of social media to form relationships with peers online holds enormous potential to enhance collaboration and cooperation among employees across geographies, across societies and across businesses.
Social media wasn’t the only “social” the students were focused on. Seventy six percent of student respondents said increasing social and environmental responsibility was a major change companies needed to make to meet customer expectations within the next three to five years. Only 44 percent of CEOs felt the same.
“On top of social and economical issues, the environmental issues will be a challenge, and it will be our role to include sustainable consumption in everyday business,” said a student from Switzerland.
Though the study showed some disconnects around the role of social and use of social tools, both CEOs and students agreed that some workforce capabilities are crucial to the future. They are in strong agreement, for example, that communication, collaboration, creativity, and flexibility are becoming foundational skills for the workforce of the future. Students also believe that organizations need to become more open and transparent to empower individuals both inside and outside organization of the future.
This commitment will likely push some enterprise leaders beyond their comfort zone – but will become ever more important. CEOs who are prepared to invert organizational pyramids will encourage employees to stretch beyond traditional hierarchies, and innovate and collaborate across boundaries. Students, in turn, will understand that while change may be difficult – they aren’t the only ones who believe it is necessary. Acting as agents of change and bringing new perspectives, insights and ideas to the table will be incredibly valuable both personally and professionally to both students and CEOs alike.
As CEOs and Millennials come together in the workplace expanding the opportunities to connect – with peers, partners, employees and customers – collaboration, openness, partnering and innovation will become the hallmark of business in the interconnected era.