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Mind the Gap

You know the adage, "The only thing constant is change?" Yeah, often reverberated by those who are wise enough to know that it’s true. All things are in some type of motion. Cars racking up miles, food edging closer to its expiration date, technology leaping over previous generations. Everything is in a state of transformation. Change is all around us, especially in the workplace with new processes, different regulations, new competitors and modified products. We can't escape change, and with it comes opportunity and challenges.

Let’s focus on an area of change facing many companies; the workforce. Several trainers and talent development directors are echoing a similar message, "Our leaders are leaving and our ground floor is growing." There is a significant gap in the employee base. Baby Boomers are the leaders today; Generation Y’ers will be the leaders tomorrow. But how does a company build a bridge between the two? How do they impart the wisdom, knowledge and leadership of the former group with the resourceful, “I can Google it faster than you can explain it,” high-speed of the latter? Regardless of their prowess with the latest technology, no company feels good when only entry-level employees remain and the leaders and executives have all retired. Who is going to lead the organization forward?

The followers must grow to become the leaders. They must develop and advance in their roles. For a company to thrive it has to evolve. The entry-level to mid-level, the mid-level to upper. Organizations must instruct and empower the young workforce with knowledge and expertise to be tomorrow’s executives. But how? The tools and training methods that shaped the previous generation and made them valuable contributors now seem passé and under stimulating to the young. While Generation Y doesn’t shy away from new information and experiences, their level of engagement largely depends on how it’s delivered. It must be new, it must be direct and it must be leading edge. Technology, timeliness and practicality hold value to them. Chelsea Hill of writes, “Being exposed to the most advanced technology and being not only aware of but very dependent on those technologies has caused workers of Gen Y to require [them] in the workplace and in their training.”1 They like gadgets, they like to be engaged, and they like to surround themselves with tools and applications that help them live, learn and work more efficiently.

Consider these examples of how Millenials may see the workplace differently. No more clocking in and clocking out. Gen Y would rather record hours from their iPhone app. No more eating in the office cafeteria. They'll search the Twitter feed of the latest food truck and zero in on its location. No more teaching new processes in a classroom lecture. There has to be a job app for that. The younger generation sees things through a different lens, one that is faster, shorter and more independent. Generation Y’s bond with technology is a large reason for the gap between them and the methods of their predecessors. Technology is so integrated into their lives that performing tasks without it can seem tedious and slow, even a waste of time. In every way it is part of who they are.

At a recent HCI Learning and Leadership Conference, FedEx CLO Bob Bennett says that good companies allow for new thought and innovation in the way we learn and how we do things. They never accept, "That's the way we've always done it"2. Innovation, he explains, regardless of the source, is key to moving forward. That might also be a vital ingredient for minding the gap between generations; to allow for new ideas, new processes and new ways of learning; especially when it comes to technology.Maybe it’s using social media for greater employee collaboration and thought growth, maybe it’s creating mobile business tools and learning applications to resonate with how the younger workforce obtains information. Maybe it’s simply giving employees the option of working from home when it’s more convenient, or joining meetings via conference line from remote locations.

Whatever the approach, it's worth investigating. And it’s going to be crucial in adapting to a new breed of employee. How are you doing it? We would love to hear.

1 Chelsea Hill. “Training Generation Y” May 11, 2011.

2 Bob Bennett. “Keynote Address” HCI Learning & Leadership Development Conference. New York, NY. November 8, 2012.

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