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Corona crisis: Why Companies must include Young Managers in high-level Decision Making now

Lars Linnekogel
Lars Linnekogel

Fair-weather leaders – this term is often used to describe the generation of managers from the past decade of rising prosperity and expanding markets. Insufficient experience with real crisis to cope with the most difficult situation since the WWII. We hear this time and again when today’s generation of younger managers are being discussed. In reality, there is hardly any generation better equipped to overcome the current crisis than these managers between Generations X and Y, says Lars Linnekogel, Founder and Managing Director of strategic consultancy TTE Strategy. These are the reasons why.

  1. “Purpose” isn’t just a trend: they know how much is at stake for them

Anyone who is now in their mid-thirties to mid-forties knows what is at stake: their own career will be significantly impacted by this crisis over the long term. Just like the lives of their families and children. The necessity of making significant decisions now for a long-term – albeit uncertain – time frame is of greater personal importance to this age group than almost any other. This real, tangible pressure will lead to young managers seeking responsible and sustainable solutions for the present and the future at the same time. They know that it isn’t just about short-term survival; it is about making the right investments in the long run. “Purpose” is not a fashionable requirement for them – it forms the foundation for their decisions.

  1. Uncertainty is ever-present for them: they were socialized with ongoing change

The burst of the first internet bubble in the beginning of the new millenium, 9/11, the economic and financial crisis beginning 2008, the rise of the tech giants: hardly any other generation before them has experienced so many changes in such quick succession as to be almost simultaneous. Anyone in their thirties today has been used to operating in very uncertain terrain from the day they left high school. Because today’s trends may be over by tomorrow. It is not for nothing that, to its predecessors, Generation Y appears to be sometimes erratic in its decision-making and being very security-oriented at the same time. Focused on performance and leisure in equal measure. Spoiled and yet also under great pressure. Because of this socialization, managers from this generation succeed in adjusting to new underlying conditions and adapting their decision-making and behavioral parameters very quickly. They are almost made for an age that brings with it perhaps the greatest change of the last twenty years.

  1. Born in the tech age: they do not need to learn “digital” first

Those young(er) leaders today already had Facebook at university. The iPhone was often their first smartphone – they skipped all its predecessors. Digital natives have made it to managerial level. And lastly, the way they have worked also differs from their predecessors: they ensured a new boom in the design of the world of work – long before corona. Working from home, working remotely, sabbaticals – something that has only recently become a reality for some has long been used by younger people. Right now, they are not switching their mode of working at all: they are actually enjoying finally being able to savor it as part of the new normal – in order to be able to work more flexible, in a more target-oriented manner, and more freely. What still really irritates and frustrates many a seasoned business leader actually exhilarates their younger rivals. They do not need to learn “digital”. They live it.

  1. Emotional intelligence as a core competence: they scrutinize themselves intensively

How many experienced managers have moaned time and again that these young people want to have nonstop feedback, always wanting to know where they stand? They also bring far too many “feelings” into business with them. With all problems highlighted by false feedback cultures, one thing is certain: younger people have always scrutinized themselves heavily. They want to know what they can do, where they stand, whether they are still on the right track – both professionally and in human terms – so as to continually realign their work on this basis. They recognize errors and correct them. As managers, they pay closer attention to themselves and those they manage. They bring precisely the emotional intelligence that is increasingly sought-after as a core competence. They are thereby establishing a new type of management that focuses more heavily on inclusion, reflection and humanity.

  1. Acknowledgment of new societal norms: in essence, they are characterized by ecology and sustainability

In our modern democracy, there has rarely been such a close intermeshing of economy, politics and society. The state is pushing increasingly frequently into the economy by compensating or subsidizing economic losses, or even becoming a shareholder. It is becoming all the more important for companies to treat this “state” stakeholder – in the past sometimes publicly and savagely attacked, and seldom loved inwardly – completely differently. It is much easier for younger managers because they essentially share the social positions in general: more ecology, more justice, more sustainability – and less out-and-out ego centering. This makes it easier for them to better combine the goals of their economic performance with social acceptance.

To preclude a possible misunderstanding: I do not use this consideration to create an “old vs. young” scenario. But rather to illustrate to those decision makers on the supervisory board, the corporate management, the partners and shareholders why now is exactly the right time to pass more responsibility onto young people – as a form of responsibility transfer between generations rather than abruptly.

What can these decision makers do now in order to initiate precisely this development? To this end, I wish to introduce a few lines of thought:

  • Transferring strategic projects to younger managers in a targeted way: Responsibility can only be exercised by those to whom responsibility is conferred. Do this now. Trust your upcoming stars not just to provide assistance to experienced managers as better assistants, but to exercise responsibility themselves. By transferring relevant strategic projects to them – if desired, with shared but equal responsibility alongside experienced managers. They will recognize that their younger managers approach their tasks in a different way and with new ideas.
  • Expand senior management: Look around you – how many top juniors have you already placed on the highest executive board? Start by including your most promising upcoming stars in high-level decision-making. This need not mean that they all receive a management title straight away. It may perhaps be possible to establish a senior management in which all participants have the same rights and duties without cementing this immediately with regard to employment law. What is important is providing clear prospects for this kind of option: those who introduce fresh perspective and prove themselves – not those who are especially adapted – have the possibility in the medium to long term of becoming a legal part of the upper management level.
  • Establish “New Leaders Board”: Set up a “New Leaders” board. Provide it with concrete objectives: specific challenges in the company that must be resolved. An optional function for all relevant strategic decisions. An advisory right with regard to who in the company should take on which roles and responsibilities. What is important: do not just set it up for peer discussion or as a PR stunt in order to create a pool of upcoming talent. Make it a committee capable of acting and making decisions – with a practical business use.

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