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Following the Idols (Part 3): The Ambitionist Generation (1985-1996)

A series on the business idols of different generations.

The biggest change in the HR market, the absolute focus on idolism and talent management, was motivated by this generation. It has been said by experts that the changes started by the Diplomats generation were accelerated, intensified and completed by the Ambitionists. No wonder, since we are talking about a very strong-willed, almost pushy generation, for whom it was not a lucky start to their careers from a generational career point of view. We could say of the Precisionists and Diplomats generations that they were in the right place at the right time for different reasons, but the Ambitionists generation, in this respect, we can say that they started their careers in business at the worst possible point. The 2008 global economic crisis and the period that followed was when they were entering or could have entered the workforce, and the next stage of their careers was timed to take place in COVID-19. If these two facts alone are taken into account, it is understandable that this generation does not have a very good relationship with the parents of the generations before them.

Ideal Timing

Although the timing of their entry into the workforce was unfortunate for their own careers, their impact on the overall HR culture is significant for this very reason. This generation has redefined the idol by completely changing decades of tradition. In fact, this generation listens, appreciates and sees through traditional managerial tricks. This is mainly due to the fact that the Ambitionists generation was the first generation that did not learn or live through it, but grew up with social media in a concrete way. They are fully aware of how to use the online space and, more importantly, they can see exactly who is and isn’t real. Often, they also exaggerate their expectations of reality, but this is understandable when they spent their entire youth in the “fabulous world” of Facebook and then Instagram. In addition to the need for realism, there is another important factor that has become a basic expectation of idols: the ability to portray a quasi “superhero” figure. The idol must have special skills in his or her profession and be able to apply them in an appropriate way. And in their case, validation means money and fame, because that is what they really want. This generation has created a situation in business where, without real idols, a company can only survive because the most talented people won’t go to work there. Because the Ambitionists expect two things from a job: either they can build their own career and become an idol for their generation – which is a difficult challenge – or for the next generation, or they want to be next to an idol so that they can experience a sense of success, status and power every day and get a dose of it.

The idols of the Ambitionists

When we define the idol image of the Ambitionist Generation, we also roughly define the rules for companies to build idol management, as the biggest fight in the market is currently going on to attract and retain this generation. No wonder, as they are at the heart of their active working years and the development of their companies. Today’s 26–37-year-olds are becoming true managers, they are now beginning to see a return on the energy and money invested in them, and unfortunately they are at a major crossroads in their careers, so there is a good chance that they will make a final judgement about their current jobs. And this judgement will be made primarily on the basis of the idol values of their leaders, the first decision-makers there, because they will not waste their time in the shadow of leaders from whom they cannot or should not learn. In their eyes, the idol is – and this is a big change from previous expectations – a highly skilled professional in his or her field, but also a good manager and a happy personal life to boot. It is the latter that the vast majority of managers fail at, as the previous generation was characterised by an easier career and therefore neglected their personal life. Moreover, the Ambitionists generation sees through social expectations, and for them a happy private life is not about having a traditional family model, but about whether the manager is actually radiating positive energy because he or she is satisfied with his or her private life. This may be because they are single, or have no children or pets, or even because they have eight children. What matters is whether you have found your own happiness. Many top managers and senior executives do not understand why young colleagues, who have built successful, great careers, do not respect them. In most cases, the reason is that his private life is seen as sad, often – we are talking about a very critical generation – pathetic, and they do not want to follow that example. Certainly, they have brought an age into the HR profession when it is either very easy or simply impossible to remain an idol, because, frankly, you have to become a truly idol figure, not just pretend to be one. That is why the use of a sharp mirror has become an essential part of idolisation management programmes, showing what the subordinates think of the manager, and without accepting this image there is no chance of real development, and then the generation of Ambitionists will generate a constant turnover in the company, as they will not stay with their employer.

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Following the Idols (Part 2): the Perfectionist Generation (1961-1972)