In the technology sector, where things change within the blink of an eye, generation gap in the workplace can present some big challenges for small businesses. There is a lot being said about the disparate mindsets that Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials bring into the workforce. People talk about their expectations, decision making styles and their idea of work-life balance. To be fair, all throughout history, we have had intergenerational workforces, be it a small business, farming family, or even with a blacksmith and his apprentice. However, today; thanks to technology, complexity of business processes, and the pace of business, bridging the generation gap in the workplace is no easy task. There are some big challenges in this area. Here’s a list of what I think are three of the major factors contributing to these challenges.
Factor 1:Technology trends
I visited my in-laws last week and while I was there, I helped set-up their new printer that had sat in its unopened box for two weeks. This is absolutely fine during my free time, but what about at work? Do I really want to work with people who are scared of using Bluetooth or Skype?
The Gen Xers were the first ones to start using the Internet and then Millennials are what we call “digital natives.” Today, the business world would come to a screeching halt without the Internet. The youngest of the Boomers about 15 – 20 years back helped write software, but they probably never would be as adept as Millennials are. The Boomers laid the foundation for the IT era, but many Boomers today do not use the information technology in the same way that the next generations of Xers or Millennials use it. We could say that professional Xers as a whole were the first ones to start using the Internet on a daily basis at work. And now we have Millennials, who are the true “digital natives” – technology and Internet usage is a way of life for Millennials. This is a common challenge most companies face – the use and understanding of technology within its staff.
Factor 2:Complexity matters
So fine, you hire tech savvy Millennials and Gen Xers or maybe even Boomers. Of course, if you are a tech company, you cannot hire people who do not understand technology. But what happens when you need to strike a huge deal with a large Fortune 500 company? Here’s where it gets tricky. People, especially young people who have an in-depth understanding of technology do not necessarily understand complex business processes. Unless they have been to grad school to get an MBA or have a strong background in business. These people likely have not experienced a true multinational sales experience.
On the flip-side, what if you need to sell to Proctor and Gamble? You are going to sell them on business process outsourcing. You need to get all their infrastructure sitting behind a firewall, move into a cloud, you process their data using sophisticated tools. Here Boomers may not be as effective.
Factor 3:No speed limits
The Internet is making people work and collaborate at never seen before speeds. In the 80s and 90s, you probably had customers flying in on chartered flights to close deals. You would have three big deals year, but today you might need anything between 3,000 – 30,000 transactions for your business to reach profitability. Very few companies are releasing products and software on an annual basis. At 9Lenses, we have already had 34 software releases this year – agility is the name of the game.
Even when it comes to interacting with staff, I can have a 10 word dialogue with one of the Gen Xers or Millennials in my firm and know that we connected really well. On the other hand, I have tried to hire experienced staff and they try to do the same things that they did at big companies. At meetings and presentations, there are long introductions and we tend to have longer conversations. There is nothing wrong with this, but just like me, every technology firm needs to ask if this works for their business.
A question of engagement
People of all ages choose to work at both large established companies and small entrepreneurial startups – two cultures as different as day and night. The double-barreled question you need ask while hiring is, “Can this person fit into my company’s culture and can my business truly engage this person”? There are some entrepreneurial Boomers who can never fit into a large company and there are some Millennials who would never survive in a small startup, which is still developing systems and processes, these people may need well-defined structures. However, if a person gets engaged and sincerely wants to do something, they are going to be faster and more effective. So what would you, as a manager do to truly engage the brain and heart of a person working in your firm?
Edwin Miller, the CEO of 9Lenses, is an accomplished four-time CEO recognized as both a growth and a turnaround thought leader. He has proven his skills of leadership, motivation and business model assessment and creation in both both the public and private theaters. He has successfully transformed domestic and international organizations through both organic and acquisitive means. His experience spans many different technological, horizontal and vertical markets.
Edwin has authored 9Lenses Insight to Action:A Social Approach to Business Optimization and Snapshot9 What’s Your Picture?:Accelerate Your Business Performance. Click here for a free download of the first chapter of Snapshot9 What’s Your Picture!