“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” - Charles Darwin
The world today is divided as digitally deprived, digital migrants, and digital natives. For most of us, digital inequality is more synonymous with the lack of access to technologies and is more understood on a geographical basis; either in comparison to metro vs. non-metro cities or developed vs. developing countries. If we expand this further and peep into a household where 3 generations are staying together - grandfather, son, and grandson, digital adoption is stark. The generation gap in terms of technology between the older generation and the millennials who are digital natives is perceivable. What if I say a similar generation gap also exists at workplaces?
In today's digital world, every millennial has grown up with a smartphone and is used to a digital eco-system of social media, app-based transport, cloud kitchens, interactive learning, gamification, and instant gratification. When these millennials enter the workplace they suddenly encounter archaic technology, classical approach to problem-solving, long-duration projects, and an obsessive focus on RoI, all concepts that are quite alien.
Now let’s play out the organizational construct, where the leadership team in their 50s, keen to accelerate digital revolution, has to use the execution prowess of their millennial workforce in their 20s, the solutioning skills of middle management in their 30s/40s, governance skills of the board in their 60s for delivering to customers with varying degrees of tech-savviness across different age groups.
How do you find a convergence point with such a diverse set of employees with varying skill sets, capabilities and acceptance of technology without stifling the creativity of millennials, while keeping projects within budgets and ensuring the solutions cater to the relevant client segments? Well, I don’t have clear answers, but my experience has given a list of enablers that will ensure no idea is dismissed and creativity is appropriately rewarded.
The primary enabler is accessibility. Millennials are not shy but if they don’t get a prompt audience with the decision-makers their bright ideas will be buried. Give them access to showcase their ideas and thoughts. Positive reinforcement is equally important, if ideas are dismissed without an appreciation of merits and explanation of de-merits, future ideas will be inhibited. Recognition and public endorsement of ideas that have made the cut are critical and helps in communicating that relevant ideas matter and can come from the rank and file. Finally, participation has to be encouraged through gamification, creating a competitive environment where ideas are heard, evaluated, recognized and endorsed.
While this framework will not guarantee start-up levels of enthusiasm, it will definitely coalesce the employees into a successful team and create a culture of participation and ownership. Gen Z have already entered the workforce and time has come for the leadership to unleash the digital natives.