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How to bridge IT’s growing generation gap

Minda Zetlin | Aug. 23, 2017
Deft leadership and management skills and a lot of empathy are required to balance the priorities and expectations of millennials, baby boomers and the Gen X-ers stuck between them.

They also want that feedback to be brief. "You can write a tweet in 140 characters and express yourself 100 times a day, and a lot of these guys do that," he says. "When it comes to managing their work, you have to meet them in that way — the social way."

Antonis Papatsaras, chief technology officer SpringCM [2016] 
Antonis Papatsaras, SpringCM. Credit: SpringCM

That means being both responsive and succinct. "We had to change our procedures to use tools like Slack and Google Hangouts and instant messaging to communicate with them," says Papatsaras. "They don't like writing long emails; they write one-sentence texts."

It also means compressing traditional timetables for evaluating employees' work. "They want to be given feedback often, and that's every couple of days, not monthly, and not once a year like we used to do with annual reviews," he says. "They want to know whether they are on the right track."

3. They don't want to be bound by too many rules. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to the technology millennials use. "Because they are using iPhones and Android and can download an app to do anything, they kind of have that expectation," says Peter Markos, CIO at Rotary International.

That should come as no surprise, according to Fahlbusch, who says, "They're digital natives; their experience with technology is quite different, and they want a lot of choice."

But younger people's resistance to rules goes way beyond the question of which technologies they can and can't use. They also want the freedom to work away from the office, and they want their ideas to be given serious consideration, whether or not they're in an executive role. And, not surprisingly, they really don't want to be blocked from advancement by rules and traditions involving seniority and tenure.

That last concern is a big one, and it's why, for example, SAP's decision to appoint a young CIO sends a powerful message, according to Saueressig. "I believe millennials don't place such importance on hierarchies or seniority levels; it's more about connecting the right people to do the right things," he says. "Appointing a young CIO shows the trust SAP places in its employees. It gives people chances."


On a collision course?

This mistrust of authority and rules can put millennials into direct conflict with older colleagues — who are often more senior. Smith points to differing attitudes toward authority, what hipsters of an earlier era used to call "The Man."

For people who came of age in the 1970s and early '80s, she says, the whole objective was making money. Smith says that group's outlook could be summed up like this: "I don't have respect for The Man, I don't want to stick it to The Man — I want to be The Man."


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