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June 2012
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Millennials are wired to network

By L. Darryl Armstrong

Born into the digital world, M-Generation employees are wired for speed and constant connection. Connected to friends, family, and even strangers, they are masters of multitasking for immediate information gathering.

When a technology becomes obsolete, they rid themselves of it immediately for the latest upgrade. The replacement is always the newest, fastest, slimmest and most fashionable.

Even though Boomers and GenXers are technologically savvy, we are awed by the ease with which Millennials navigate the complex and ever changing digital terrain.

While you and I may surf You Tube occasionally, a Millennial will make and post his own movie in an hour and link it to everyone on his LinkedIn account.

Although we marvel at his skills, we also recognize the dark side of such technology and the impact that digital immediacy and constant connectivity can have on our employees and their audiences at large.

As Baby Boomers and GenXers, we're concerned that the Instantaneous, perpetual availability of friends and entertainment means that a M-Generation employee could be slacking off instead of working. We can't believe it's possible to be productive and wired-in at the same time.

How she can get any work done with the music playing constantly in her earphones? Has the informality of social media left Millennials unmindful to professional work place etiquette, appropriate styles of communications, and the boundaries between professional and personal information?

Lancaster and Stillman in the M-Factor book point out our concerns that the continual flow of digital content is eroding the M-generations' attention spans and impairing their ability to concentrate.

We're concerned that the Millennials have no criteria for distinguishing what is authoritative information from what is just one blogger's opinion. Do they even understand that this is an important distinction?

Observing these digital natives, we may overly focus on their devices and the strange behaviors they conjure -- heads buried in screens, fingers clicking out texts, and eyes darting around dozens of images per minute. These things, though, are outward expressions of what could be the defining personality of the Millennial generation -- the concept of continuous collaboration.

"The M- Factor" predicts that the Millennial generation will be known as the "Great Collaborators." And this can be a good thing.

For the M-Generation, work is usually a team sport and isolation from friends, family, and coworkers is the worst! Remember the TV-show Friends? The analogy here is most appropriate.

When you see them plugged into their devices, remember that they are probably using that device to connect with someone, to communicate something that matters to them, or to attend to a community of their own making, all of which may be business related.

Reconciling yourself to your M-Generation employee's constant immersion in the digital world may begin with this recognition. To prevent conflict and crisis from developing, develop a greater appreciation for your wired and constantly plugged in employee so that you can make his weird, wired ways work for you.

Find a project that is a perfect match for his interests and his technical know - how. Let him drive it as fast as he wants. You may pick up a few new tricks and learn something about social media yourself.

This also may result in a teachable moment if his enthusiasm, efficiency, and innovations collide with organizational traditions, protocols and habits. You can demonstrate how "faster is not always better".

Finally, it is important to develop the habit of assessing an M-Generation's work based on what she produces, not by how she spends her time. Between dramatic changes in educational paradigms and the rapid evolution of technology in the past 20 years, your new hire's ways of being productive may not bear any resemblance to your ways of being productive. The completed project, however, is what matters.

He may spend more time at the coffee shop than at his desk. Based solely on casual observation, you can't tell whether he is working or playing. You wonder about his work ethic when he outsources tasks and assignments to friends, family, or even large groups of online acquaintances.

As a supervisor, you could insist that he conform to a work style that looks more productive to you. However, a better alternative is to evaluate his performance based on criteria that you can both agree on, namely, well-defined outcomes. In other words, you must negotiate an arrangement that meets both parties' needs.

Let your M-Generation employee know what needs to be accomplished when, and do this in an upfront, direct, and clear way.

Then step back and let him tackle it in his own "unique and wired" way. You may be pleasantly surprised.

L. Darryl Armstrong is a crisis prevention and management consultant. He is reachable at 1-888-340-2006 or drdarryl@aol.com. His website is www.ldarrylarmstrong.com. He is available on a limited basis for speaking engagements and workshops.

Sources: The M- Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace" by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman (Harper Collins, 2010)

PWC.Com - Millennials in the Work Place - Reshaping the World https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/assets/reshaping-the-workplace.pdf

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