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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.

But to millennials, The Man and Corporate America seem less relevant than they may have to previous generations. "They saw the tech boom, technology, the internet and startups," Smith says. "They don't care about The Man, and Corporate America isn't really a destination for them. They may wind up there, but their loyalty only goes so far."

Put these different groups together, and you'll likely have conflicts. "People operate very differently," Smith says. "Depending what your gravitational pull is, you may lean in or pull back. A lot of companies today are asking: How do we create commonality?"

Sometimes senior leaders have to act as referees. "Our older folks tend to be very control conscious," says Markos. "Their view is, IT says it should be done this way, and the business people should listen. Younger people think, 'How do I get the tools that empower me to do what I need?' I have this culture clash in my group. Occasionally it turns into heated discussions in my office that I have to resolve."

Peter Markos, CIO, Rotary International [2016] 
Peter Markos, Rotary International. Credit: Rotary International

The older employees often work in infrastructure and generally have seniority, he says, so they are usually seen as decision-makers, especially on issues such as shadow IT and the use of cloud-based systems. "I have had a number of instances where [IT] said no and it wound up cycling back to me," he says.

In one such incident, a consultant working from a remote location needed VPN access to complete a task. One of the older infrastructure engineers refused to grant it — unless IT shipped one of its own laptops loaded with its own applications and security protections to the consultant. "It was a bit of bureaucracy," Markos says. "This was a project that came straight from the CEO. I said, 'It wasn't your job to say yes or no, it was your job to make it happen.' Baby boomers tend to want a black-or-white answer. Millennials tend not to be so stark in their decision-making."


Creating a unified IT

If conflicts seem inevitable, there are also a number of strategies that can help lessen their effects and get an IT organization of diverse ages working as a single team, experts say. Consider the following approaches:

• Don't make assumptions about people based solely on age. Recognizing that different age cohorts tend to have different priorities and desires can be useful. Prejudging someone's abilities or attitudes based on age alone isn't useful. For example, at Gartner, Mok says, "we have many analysts who've been in the business a long time, but they're savvy about new technologies and open to outside-the-box thinking."


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