Are You Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?

By Matthew Forcey posted 08-13-2010 17:22

There’s a lot of talk about “Millennials” these days, and what impact they/you will have on the future of our organizations. For those of you not familiar with the term, Millennials, or “Echo Boomers” (my favorite), are those born in the 1980s and 90s. They/you grew up in a generation that revolves around the web, and come to the workplace with a very different outlook on communication. I think back to when I was in high school and my parents had to install a second phone line in the house. Why? Because I had a younger sister. Sis seemed to have that phone glued to her ear from the time she got home from school, to the time she went to bed. Hours a day on the phone! Keep in mind, this was when most homes only had one phone line. No one had voicemail, or call waiting. If you were expecting a call, good luck, there was just a busy signal awaiting any incoming calls. The Dark Ages, indeed. Fast-forward a couple of decades. My own daughter is heading into her junior year of high school and turning 17 this fall. Not only does she have her own phone line, but since it’s a mobile, she has it available at any time, day or night. So, take a guess how much time my 16 year old put on her cell phone last month? Would you believe not more than 30 minutes? And most of that was me calling to check up on her (which tends to be a very short call if she has her way). Now, can you guess how many text messages my ultra-networked princess sent and received last month? Over 7000, no lie. That’s over 240 texts a day! Surprised? Maybe not. But know that this number doesn’t include any instant messaging, posts to social sites, or video chatting with multiple friends on one computer screen. She has, as I’m sure you would agree, a very different outlook on communication. After relating these numbers to a group of business and technology executives recently, I received some thought provoking feedback. First, from a technology director at a company with over 10,000 employees, who related to me that their CEO had, earlier this year, distributed a memo to his senior managers, forbidding the use (in the workplace) of social networking and instant messaging tools, as they are “a waste of time and hold no business value”. Secondly, an anecdote from a twenty-something colleague who disclosed that he can have a face-to-face conversation with a group of like-aged friends, and many of them will never make eye contact while talking. Due to the nature of our talk, he was attributing this to the lack of actual face-to-face communication that goes on as a result of the plethora of available digital tools. Fortunately, in the case of the large manufacturer, the company’s CIO was able to (although it took a few months) help his boss understand the importance of providing these new communication tools to their workforce. Although the story ended on that high note, it doesn’t distract from the fact that the mindset existed and does most likely exist in many of the companies we work for or work with. Does this mean that these “social media tools” have not yet crossed the chasm in the corporate world? It seems we still have a ways to go. For many companies, instant messaging technology is, at best, a stand-alone tool, implemented on an ad-hoc basis, that does not integrate with other information systems, such as email, calendaring, or CRM. Likewise, most haven’t made much headway in tapping into the intellectual capital that exists within their own ecosystem, via the use of an internal corporate social network (including personal profiles for all employees). How far along is your company when it comes to empowering employees with available collaboration and communications tools? Companies that have made it to the "rationalized" or "dynamic" levels of the spectrum (see associated chart here: ) are the first to attest to the dramatic effect these tools have had on productivity and revenue gains. It really is a marvelous thing to witness the empowerment enabled by integrated information and communication tools, supporting the distributed, "always on" culture that is so prevalent. As for upcoming generations of workers being ill prepared for interpersonal communication, I’m not all that concerned. Perhaps I should be, what with a 16 year old daughter and all, but the reality is that every generation pushes the envelope with whatever new tools are available to them…sometimes to the trepidation of the previous. Also, working in the IT field, I can affirm that there are quite a few 30 and 40-somethings who could use a little work on their own interpersonal communication skills (we know who you are). Those, regardless of age, who have embraced social communication tools are in better shape when it comes to establishing complex networks of associates and coworkers. Moreover, they certainly have a foot up when interacting with distributed groups and teams. As Millennials are just starting to enter the management ranks of corporations, it might still be too early to determine the full impact they/you will have on the future structure of organizations. Though according to research by the management consulting firm Monitor Group (, in addition to changes in communication methods, we might expect to see the following: •Increasing trascparency and loss of privacy •Unprecedented flexibility in working conditions and benefits •New approaches to development and career planning •Insistence on integrated and interconnected technologies •Scarcity of qualified and willing employees for "traditional" jobs The conclusion the Monitor Group research presents, as it relates to technology, is that Millennials (who are the largest generation to enter the work force since their Boomer parents) not only have an expectation that the latest collaborative communication tools will be available to them, but many take into consideration a company’s technology infrastructure when deciding if they will accept a job offer. The subsequent recommendation is companies should be working now to establish internal social networks - online and otherwise - to channel and amplify communication. Near term, there is obviously no overlooking the current economic climate and what it means to companies’ ability to invest in technology, as well as hire these new workers. I am reminded of this just this morning by an article on MSNBC’s website ( that talks about the dismal job prospects for recent grads who are feeling the brunt of a down economy, created chiefly (as if from a Shakespearian tragedy) by their parents’ generation. Having said that, there are many positive indications that business is trending up. Companies who are using this time to embrace changing dynamics, put the processes in place to exploit them, and in turn updating their infrastructures, are the ones best prepared to take advantage of new opportunities. After all, when is the best time to buy an umbrella? Read the full Monitor Group report, "Catalyst for Change. The Impact of Millennials on Organization Culture and Policy" here: To learn more about the technologies and services that can advance communications and knowledge sharing in your organization, check us out at:

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