IT leaders can thwart battles between the generations using these smart strategies.
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As if shrinking budgets and tight implementation deadlines aren't challenging enough, today's IT managers must also contend with ongoing conflicts between Baby Boomers and Millennials. While it's true that Baby Boomers now comprise the largest generation by far, Harvard Business Review reports that in four years, Millennials--people born between 1977 and 1997--will account for nearly half of all employees worldwide.
A burgeoning presence, however, wouldn't be an issue if it weren't for Baby Boomers' and Millennials' disparate outlook on work, life, and technology. Consider today's always-connected, tech-savvy 20-somethings. Now compare them to the older generation's rigid work hours and decades-long loyalty.
"There are a number of sources of conflict," explains Bruce Tulgan, founder of management training firm Rainmaker Thinking, Inc. and an internationally recognized expert on multigenerational workplace trends. "The older and more experienced IT professionals think the younger and less experienced workers don't want to pay their dues and climb the ladder the old-fashioned way." Millennials, on the other hand, may have less experience but want to be appreciated for their "fresher perspective and skills," according to Tulgan.
Luckily, there are strategies IT managers can adopt to take control of their multigenerational IT teams and resolve any conflicts. Here's how:
1. Don't pretend it's all about technology. To be sure, Millennials are quick-acting multi-taskers who treat handheld devices like actual appendages. But the digital divide known to exist between Baby Boomers and Millennials is far less pronounced in an IT environment.
"You can't pretend that this huge divide is all about technology, at least not among IT professionals," warns Tulgan. "Remember, Baby Boomer IT professionals are pretty tech-savvy. The difference is in attitudes about the technology, what Millennials want from technology, and how they look at it. It's not true that they only want to use handheld devices to communicate. Rather, they simply have a higher threshold for using those technologies for constant connectivity, customization of their information environment, and answering questions with a range of potential answers. And it drives them crazy when employers try to limit them to the technology pools that are standard in an organization."
2. Re-examine your definition of flexibility. If you're hoping to receive accolades from your Millennial team members because you allow them to work from home on Fridays, think again. Today's 20-somethings view work-life balance as a right, not a privilege. "Flexibility is something everybody wants, but Millennials have never known it any other way," says Tulgan. "They simply can't imagine why the hours they work and the reasons they work are so important to an IT manager."
3. Educate yourself. Whether you're a 60-year-old IT manager confused by Millennials' need to tweet on the job or a 20-something IT manager locking horns with your older counterparts, brushing up on workplace trends can help you gain a better understanding of your IT environment. "IT managers need to better understand generational diversity trends, where people are coming from and how they're influencing the workplace," advises Tulgan.
4. Get engaged. Too often, IT managers adopt a hands-off approach to multigenerational conflicts in hopes that they'll simply fade away. That's a huge mistake, according to Tulgan. "When I look at a team with generational conflict, nine times out of ten I find a manager who is disengaged, hands-off, and undermanaging their team," he says.
Instead, Tulgan recommends that IT managers "go to each and every team member and find out what they want, what special goals they want to be shooting for, and what special rewards they want to go the extra mile to earn." After all, adds Tulgan, "what's called for in today's increasingly diverse, high-pressure workplace of tight budgets and fierce competition is highly engaged managers who can guide, direct, support, and coach their workers."
5. Search for common ground. Faced with varying outlooks on work and life, it's easy to forget that Baby Boomers and Millennials have things in common as well. Both generations want to complete implementations successfully, continue to take on exciting new projects, and refine their skills. For this reason, Tulgan recommends that IT managers spend more time "focusing on what everyone has in common, which is the work of the team."
6. Don't condescend. Desperate to resolve conflict, many IT managers resort to coddling Millennials with special privileges in order to keep them happy and on the payroll. "The biggest fiction being promoted by experts is that managers should humor Millennials and treat them differently from those from other generations," says Tulgan. "But I think this is nonsense."
Rather, Tulgan says, it's critical that IT managers hold Baby Boomers and Millennials to the exact same high standards and business objectives. Creating double standards is a sure-fire recipe for more conflict.
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