Managing your workforce requires more than keeping things running well today; it demands preparing for tomorrow. One of the biggest disruptions -- and opportunities -- lies in the new generation that will soon enter the workforce.

Known as Generation Z and defined as those born after 1996, this crowd is estimated to number 61 million people. Moreover, these new workers are different from previous generations in important ways. They can't remember life without the internet or cell phones, and they've been raised with a global social awareness. Those differences will require leaders to understand and respond to what sets Gen Zers apart.

It's not enough to merely update your tech for these digital natives. You also need to consider the changing needs and habits of your future workforce.

Gen Zers' familiarity and comfort with technology may actually delight you. This cohort has been using digital devices since infancy and can probably teach you a thing or two. Of course, device dependency won't automatically translate to high technical proficiency, such as advanced computer programming. And it hasn't paved the way for strong social skills, either.

Members of Generation Z have indicated that soft skills pose a learning curve. According to Deloitte, 92 percent of 4,000 Gen Z study participants in 2018 expressed concern about the divisive impact of technology on their professional and personal lives, and 37 percent blamed technology for their underdeveloped people skills.

How can you fit these tech-saturated social works in progress into your people strategy? When integrating Generation Z workers into your culture, these three tactics will help them thrive.

1. Hire for an interest in data science and machine learning.

Artificial intelligence is clearly a next big wave in business, but many organizations don't have employees with the skill sets necessary for competitive implementation. With the right people, these same companies could lead the way toward an exciting AI-driven future, spurring growth and facilitating new opportunities. Consider that Google -- which started as a search company -- is now disrupting the entire transportation industry, thanks to Waymo, its AI-controlled autonomous vehicle project.

Gartner has found that the biggest thing standing in the way of successful AI adoption is a skills gap. Yet there's hope: The interest in AI at universities is booming, with a massive increase in AI-related course enrollment over the past decade. It makes perfect sense to hire Generation Z workers who are fired up about AI research and business implementations.

2. Manage like a mother (or a father).

Because the next generation thrives on constant feedback, it's imperative to replace the traditional annual review with frequent communication about performance. "What parent would try to guide his or her kids by giving them a yearly report? The same idea goes for employees," says Alison Gutterman, president and CEO of Jelmar, manufacturer of CLR and Tarn-X cleaning products.

Unlike children, these younger workers don't need coddling -- they're simply hungry for feedback and highly interactive environments. Make sure your more senior team members understand this; you may find the increased interactivity benefits everyone.

I try to meet with my entry-level employees -- and others in high-growth mode -- every other month to check in on how they feel they're doing and where they could use more support. This is where we come up with some of our most interesting projects and identify ways to strengthen areas that drain employees' confidence, the last thing I want.

3. Encourage the entrepreneurs among you.

The post-Millennial generation has both a do-it-yourself mentality and a competitive nature, making them ideal ambassadors for entrepreneurship. After seeing their parents struggle through the recession and the student debt crisis, these Zers know they can't trust the system to provide for them. In 2014, Millennial Branding and Internships.com found 72 percent of high school students said they wanted to start their own business.

Because only half of those endeavors will statistically pan out, managers will get to work with plenty of entrepreneurial spirits. Gamification for training can coax these competitive players to develop a team mindset, and if you want an out-of-the-box way to acknowledge their individuality, consider letting employees choose their own job titles.

One firm I worked with had employees identify their "current" titles -- aligned with their existing skill level and responsibilities -- and pinpoint their "future" title. Those future titles outlined what they wanted to be capable of and what they wanted others to trust them with. The leaders and the employees worked together to create milestones and then agreed upon official promotions as employees met their goals. It was an engaging way for the company to create a career path for its entrepreneurial employees.

Generation Z brings exciting new opportunities for business, and prepared leaders can foster productive and engaging careers for these new workers. Prepare to embrace the generational shift.

Published on: Dec 13, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.