Campus News

October 26, 2011

Knowledge Futures Forum: Workplace effectiveness is a generational thing

What Millennials, Gen-Xers, Boomers need and want in the workplace was the subject of "Talk'n Bout Re-Generation: Disruptive Patterns in Work and Learning."

The Oct. 21 panel discussion was part of the 2011 Knowledge Futures Forum, "Re-Generation: Envisioning New Relations to Media, Civics, Work and Learning."   

Knowledge Futures is a Halle Institute Research Program initiative on new and changing models of knowledge management.

Panel members, avatars for their generation, addressed the differences, needs and wants of the multi-generation workforce.       

Talk or text?

"For Millennials, it's [all about] text messaging. People don't want to talk on the phone anymore," said Dan Pious '13MBA about how his generation communicates.

Pious, a $1 million winner in "The Amazing Race" Season 16, thinks that text messages "have made things more difficult to a certain extent. I'd like to see kind of a happy medium, a little bit of texting and a little bit of talking and have generations come together more."

Renu Kulkarni, founder and executive director of FutureMedia at Georgia Tech, said for a really creative, collaborative discussion between generations, she finds that "the best solution is to take away the texting, take away the email, not schedule the meetings and go to a coffeeshop."

Managing the Millennials

Gail Norris, director of the Industry Solutions Division of Siemens Inc., said that as a Boomer-aged manager, she finds "that especially with Gen-Xers I give them too big of a picture and they are kind of lost in the middle. The Millennials will come back to me; the Gen-Xers won't. So understanding that has created some challenges in regards to how I manage."

Gen-Xer Chip Gross, client partner at interactive marketing agency Razorfish, described the multi-tasking that goes with managing Millennials: "I can be on a conference call with a client, responding to email, have the IM window opened up, having that entire continuum of communication happening, along with all the multi-tasking along with it."

Gross framed a diamond of communication: It starts with "someone sending me an IM. We need to have a conversation. That turns to into an Outlook message, then we end up in a meeting, then an email of what needs to get done and a recounting of the meeting. Then there's a bunch of IMs around on progress and where you are."

Millennial Chad Thayer, a BBA student at Goizueta Business School,  discussed the established set of rules that determines what is worthy of a text, a phone call, and "what can you Facebook-message someone versus what can you write on their wall."

Choose your form of communication wisely, he said, "based on the urgency and your relationship with that person."

Kulkarni, a former Motorola vice president, said, "I think what Chad's describing is why things like Google Circle have come to be, because there's so much blurring of lines between our lives — business, family, friends, parents, teachers, et cetera. And we as individuals have to find a way to cope with that blurring of the line and regain the control. And I think that's cross-generational."

Panelists discussed assessment and feedback on the job.

"What resonates well with Millennials is feedback as the task happens," said Gross, with post-project feedback for Millennials a "lot less formal, a lot more fluid and taking place over a number of different communications"

"The idea of the once-a-year performance review is actually kind of terrifying to me," said Thayer, who prefers constant feedback, even informally.

For a Gen-Xer, "it's how can they be more effective, more efficient and maximize their career," said Kulkarni. "But if it's a Millennial, more emotional things motivate them — giving them more freedom, leeway, inviting them to come to you with ideas."

With new technology, Gross noted that his Millennial workers want to get the "latest and greatest" right away, "to be able to use the latest and have fun with it as well as be effective."

In career expectations, Pious said, "I think a boss can be anywhere from a dictator to a friend. And I want the boss to be much closer to the friend side."

Thayer agreed. "The mentor-type of relationship — more toward the friend side but somebody that teaches you the things that you need to know. Feeling like you're relevant, feeling like you're not an afterthought is also something that I feel is important."

A real challenge for businesses today, noted Norris, is showing value for an older knowledge base but migrating it to the entry-level workers to maintain it within an organization.

"One of the things we're experimenting with is employee resource groups," she said. "The Millenials have formed one. What they're looking for is that mentor relationship. It is really important to them to feel that connection to that older generation and we [at Siemens] have an average age of 48 so we really have to focus on that knowledge transfer. We have to find some ways that the younger generation is receptive to as well as [so that] the older generation feels some recognition."

Gross feels that the technology that is available has been beneficial in helping to build strong connections between different generations and working styles. "I think in some ways the Millennials have helped the cold, innovative, job-focused Gen-Xers reconnect with humanity and find ways to work more effectively together beyond just boss and employee," he said.

What's most important, Kulkarni concludes, is "recognizing we have something to learn from each unique lens, that younger folks have a lot to teach us as well, and that everyone has an equal seat at the table."

File Options

  • Print Icon Print