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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.

In general, baby boomers are more open to new ways of doing things than you might think. For instance, in an effort to create a more collaborative, faster-moving company, BMC recently remodeled its offices to feature an open-plan format, removing offices and cubicles.

Monika Fahlbusch, chief employee experience officer at BMC Software [2016] 
Monika Fahlbusch, BMC Software. Credit: BMC Software

"I expected we would need a little change management with our older population," Fahlbusch recalls. "We needed none at all. We had anticipated people would be upset about losing their offices, but they weren't. The No. 1 piece of feedback we got was, 'I'm talking to more people than ever before.'"

• Create — and sell — a single vision for IT. People of all ages like to know that they're working within a team toward a common objective. Bringing IT employees together around one vision and celebrating your wins as a group will help build a cohesive team. That begins with getting the word out, both to IT employees and to the organization at large. "The one thing I usually find about IT is that we're not good at marketing," Fahlbusch says. "We're being asked to do more with less, and we're doing a lot to drive innovation. There's a lot to be celebrated."

This is especially important if you're trying to transform into a digital organization. "Respecting the differences across generations will help you reinforce your culture and management practices," Mok says. "It's not only telling people what to do, but also telling them why it's needed and how that translates into their own values. Not everyone will be willing to accept change, but with it coming from the organization top down, and bottom up as well, change can happen."

• Keep your own generational experiences and assumptions in mind. It may be your role to lead an entire IT organization with employees of all ages. But that doesn't mean you yourself are immune to the influences and values of your own age cohort. For example, Fahlbusch, who's 50, says she, like other people in her age group, tends to be task-oriented and places less importance on communication than millennials do, but she's trying to change.

Likewise, Markos suspects that his attitudes may be changing as the years go by. "I'll be 45 this year," he says. "I have never thought about my age, but I have noticed personally there are times when I feel I'm more on the side of control than I used to be."

After all, he says, the baby boomers were iconoclasts back in the '60s. "Maybe today's twentysomethings are challenging in the way that baby boomers were when they were 20," he says. "Maybe everyone is a millennial at some point in life."


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