business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There are countless things we don’t know about the future simply because we can’t possibly imagine the direction or potential of technology, competition or consumer demands.

But there is one thing we do know: demographics. We know exactly how many 12 years olds there are today, which in turn allows us to know with fair certainty how many 22 year olds we’ll have in 10 years or 32 year olds in 20 years.

Demographics tells us this as well: the enormous Baby Boom generation (me included) is getting old and over the next few years will retire in massive numbers leaving a huge deficit of management talent in business. We also know that Generation X is much smaller and so cannot possibly fill all those positions. For that reason we know, with certainty, that Millennials or Gen Y will have to help fill in.

So when we talk to Gen Y, we are talking to the future.

Last week I had that opportunity when I got to interview a panel of four young executives (three Ys and one Xer) at the Minnesota Grocers “Industry Connects” conference. While the four obviously don’t represent everything about their generation (no one could) their comments were worth hearing well beyond the meeting room in Minneapolis.

Let’s examine three specific areas they highlighted, touching on technology and the essence of what companies will have to do to connect with future staffers and shoppers.

First, don’t underestimate the power of Instagram. All four cited the visually heavy social site as having the most potential for the industry thanks to the ability to display photos of products in ways that can lead to recipes and menu ideas. If nothing else, their comments remind everyone that a social media strategy needs to go much further than Facebook posts.

Second, authenticity is essential. All four said potential staffers and shoppers all put a premium on companies clearly and honestly representing themselves and their products. Plus, all four said they believe the food industry has a wonderful story to tell about products, people and services and needs to do it ever better.

But third, and maybe most importantly, was their opinion on what companies (and maybe the industry) need do to retain good young workers. Simply put it comes down to connections and engagement. The panelists talked about the importance of involving younger staffers in decision-making, recognizing that what they lack in experience they may replace with new ideas. (Such as the importance of Instagram.)

All four also talked of the importance of mentoring, that is, finding people in their companies or the industry at large who can help them better understand the turf and build their careers. That sounds like a recipe for a great initiative inside companies or the industry as a whole.

None of their comments sounded to me as the rantings of entitled younger people. They sounded serious, committed and sensible. Frankly the only way I was bothered was the reality that I was older than any two of them added together.

Here’s the thing: as Back to the Future tells us, we may not need roads in the future, but we’ll certainly need people. Luckily they are here already and can help if and when we choose to listen. Demographics can’t can don’t lie.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
KC's View: