If you’ve been around business for a while, you are probably noticing some changes about the up and coming workforce. All of these younger and what I refer to as “Digital Generation” folks seem to be completely different than the workforce you might be used to. Many pundits out there have labeled this generation as lazy, or having a sense of entitlement that hasn’t been earned. Some call them the A.D.D. generation, or think they have no real social skills because they spend so much of their time texting or connecting with friends on Facebook. Many business men & women are actually scared of this generation of workers because managing them seems like a monumental challenge. Hiring these people means threatening the homeostasis many firms have created for themselves.
I’m here to tell you that this way of thinking is wrong. Not only is it wrong, it is downright dangerous if your company is hoping to grow and thrive in the coming years. Instead of fearing and resisting this digital generation and their methods, its time to start embracing and encouraging them. The life of your business may depend on it.
I’m going to make a bold claim here: If you strive to understand the digital generation and what drives them, you may just have a chance at understanding the future. This generation intrinsically “Gets” a few things that the generation before them simply don’t understand. Like it or not, these things they view as normal are going to shape the business landscape for decades to come. If you know what some of these norms are, you’ll be well positioned to attract and hire the best talent this generation has to offer.
Here is a brief introduction to some of the major “norms” of the Digital Generation and what your business can do to take advantage.
Norm #1 – Judge me by my results, not my time
This generation has grown up with computers, cell phones, the internet & iPods. Technology is part of who they are. As such, they are using tools and communication platforms that many baby boomer generation companies are too scared to consider. These forms of communication mean that they are always connected to both work and personal contacts almost 24/7. Because of this, the lines between work and personal life really begin to blur. While a baby boomer worker gets all of their work done between 8am & 5pm, a digital gen worker might respond to emails at 9pm after dinner, or work on a proposal at night because they are more productive then. The point being that life – both business & personal – doesn’t have the defined boundaries it used to. Digital Gen Workers don’t like to decipher between when they can talk to friends & family and when they should talk to work contacts. To them, work is part of life and therefore will be mixed in with the rest of it like everything else. They want to choose the best times for themselves to fit everything in.
Of course this doesn’t mean that deadlines don’t exist. Give them deadlines and expect them to meet them. Just don’t expect them to have “butt in chair” Monday through Friday from 9-5 just because it makes you feel better to see them there. This generation might do their best work from a park bench or at a corner table in some random Starbucks.
Norm #2 – Enough with the meetings. Lets’ do this!
Believe it or not, the digital generation is made up of doers. They like the satisfaction of accomplishing hard tasks and solving tough problems. They like to get things done. The only problem (if you want to look at it that way) is they are sick and tired of you talking about it! They want to get their hands dirty, test a concept, and see whether or not it works. The tools they are accustomed to using and the platforms they work on allow for incredibly fast and cheap ways of testing new products and services. While you take your time planning, meeting, budgeting and researching, chances are a digital gen worker has already launched, monitored, and measured the same idea. All in a real world environment, and all for cheaper and less risk than your approach. As a bonus, they learned a lot along they way by actually DOING instead of DISCUSSING.
If given enough leeway, you might even find them doing these things in their free time, and creating revenue streams for your company that you had no idea could exist. Just look to Google for a great example of this. They actually give their employees 20% of their time to spend on personal projects. Many of their best products have been created because of this including GMail, Google News & Google Grants.
If you want to attract and retain the best of this generation, its time to nurture and environment of DOING and less TALKING.
Norm #3 – Embrace the Technology, Don’t Fear it.
Okay fine, I’ll admit it! I’m just a little bit obsessed with technology. I’m just like many of my digital generation peers. Lucky for you, we’re into it for all the right reasons. Reasons that can really help your business.
Digital Gen workers adopt and enjoy technology primarily because it enables and enhances communications. Don’t think that is true? Just look at some of the most popular and powerful platforms out there today. For the most part they serve one main purpose: Connecting People. I’m talking about Email (GMail, Outlook, Hotmail, etc…), Social Networking (Twitter, Facebook, Ning, Flickr), and tools like Skype for video calls. To people who haven’t grown up using these tools, they all look like a giant waste of time. To digital gen’ers, they are just the next thing in a long list of communication enabling technologies starting as far back as the telegraph & the telephone. Using these tools not only makes sense, it would be stupid not to take advantage of them.
Think about that for a second. Could your business benefit from enhanced communication & collaboration? It isn’t a trick question. If you answered “yes” or even thought about it, its time to start opening your mind.
Of course technology goes way beyond just Facebook & Twitter. Just adopting social networking wont get you very far. Chances are your digital gen workforce can also give you some great tips on how to increase employee productivity, speed up and enhance company processes, and jump start your customer service operations. The technology platforms this generation likes to use do similar things you might be used to, but also add in an additional layer of communication & collaboration.
Lets take Project Management software as an example. Products like Microsoft Project are scrambling to catch up with smaller, more collaborative type products like 37 Signal’s BaseCamp. The old way of doing things was very much centered on inputting information, and measuring & managing that information. The newer entrants in the market do this as well, but their focus is on something different. Their focus is on enabling effective communication & collaboration on a project. They allow a company to extend their project management platform to their clients, vendors, sub contractors and more, all via the internet. The tools are dead simple to use and don’t have all the features that most companies never even use. When software is both simple & effective, it leaves time for people to work on things that actually matter, instead of learning to use 20% of a huge software package. If you want to use BaseCamp to manage your projects (they have a free 30 Day Trial), expect to log in and pretty much “Get it” within 10-20 minutes.
This is just one example, and there are many others. I write a lot about them here on this blog. The point being of course that technology and especially the way we use technology is changing has changed. Open your minds to engaging your digital generation workers and you just might find you like the results. Your bottom line will thank you.
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Photo Courtesy of DigitalBob8