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Digital natives speak the language of digital, and should participate in digital transformation.

Why digital natives should have a seat at the table

Without millennial perspectives, your digital transformation could go horribly wrong.

19 September 2016

By Ronda Swaney, contributing writer

Here's how senior executives get change wrong from the very start.

Jeanne Morain describes an early meeting as a consultant helping to update call center technology: "The group had done the whole Six Sigma thing and mapped out an entire process. I noticed that everyone mapping the process was at the senior and director level. There were no millennials and no people who actually worked on the call center floor—no one who was actually doing the job they were outlining."

That struck Morain, principal researcher and consulting strategist at iSpeak Cloud, as problematic. She asked to bring in some junior employees while the executive group went to lunch. "I pulled in a group of their top performers. I asked them to look at what this senior group had mapped out and to place hot pink stickies anywhere the process needed correction," she says. "When the senior level group came back from lunch, there were hot pink stickies all over the place."

There can be an experiential gap between how workers do the job and how management perceives the job, she says. Unfortunately, a generational gap is often built in. In her recent book, iSpeak Cloud: Embracing Digital Transformation, which details how top-performing organizations plan and implement successful cloud-based IT transformations, Morain emphasizes the need to incorporate digital natives—with their alternative view of digital interaction—into that IT evolution.

"They're essential," she says. "They keep ideas fresh."

Digital natives in the driver's seat

It's digital natives' insatiable appetite for tech that created our everything-as-a-service world.


"Technology is not the driver behind digital transformation—the analog/digital conversion happened in the '90s," Morain notes. "Yet digital transformation didn't blow up until the last few years. Why? That's when the digital natives came of age and entered the workforce. They were not inhibited on their adoption or consumption of technology because they have never known a world without it. It's digital natives' insatiable appetite for tech that created our everything-as-a-service world."

Through interviews with 60 IT leaders, Morain says, she learned that the speed and arc of a successful transformation maps to the percentage of millennials in both your customer base and employee pool.

As you move toward a full digital transformation, she says, it's important to know who your customers are and what they need from you. The younger your customer base, the higher their expectations of the digital experiences you offer. "You have to tailor your approach based on the technology use of your core customers," she says. "It has to be based on your core business rather than adopting tech for tech's sake."

And internally, the processes and technology you use to get the job done should take into account the digital comfort level of your employee base. Sudden, total technological revolution can disrupt the productivity of more established employees, while younger workers won't have the patience for stodgy, antiquated processes that just slow them down.

Morain describes a financial services firm she worked with: "They realized throwing new employees into the workforce of a 100-year-old company with a mind-set of 'this is how we've always done it' squashed their creativity. The new employees would get frustrated really fast and leave."

Leveraging millennial potential

To retain those younger, tech-centered workers, the financial firm created incubator projects in which millennials could bring new ideas and technologies into the organization.

"Those projects included having meetings with C-level executives so their voice was heard," she says, adding that "being heard" is important to this generation. "Make time to listen to what they have to say. Give them opportunities and venues where they feel comfortable voicing their opinions, but also make it fun. Think about what they care about: making a difference, saving the environment, understanding their lives, and applying that to the work they do."

Contained projects—and a platform that provides "guard rails"—help younger workers plug in and innovate within boundaries, letting them be creative without going too far astray. "If they make a mistake, the tech tells them, 'No, you can't do this, and here are the security reasons why.' That works better than Big Brother telling them no at every turn."

You have to appreciate the unique perspective that digital natives can offer. "Tech is second nature to them," says Morain. "This doesn't necessarily mean they're more technical than digital immigrants, but ... it's like being bilingual. It's just another form of communication. As a result, they look at it differently than we do."

In studying the success factors of a cloud-based digital transformation, Morain saw that millennials are key not only to a company's technological evolution, but also to its survival in a digital marketplace. "Digital natives," she writes in the book, "are positioned to help senior management understand the interests and needs of this expanding consumer base, so the enterprise can create compelling solutions targeted to them."

She told HPE Business Insights, "People don't buy from technology; people buy from people. If you don't understand who your customers or your employees are, what they are capable of, what motivates them, what will rally them around your vision and strategy, you will fail."

For a detailed look at digital transformation, from setting the right vision to leading through to execution, download Morain's iSpeak Cloud: Embracing Digital Transformation.

Ronda Swaney is a professional healthcare and IT writer, blogger, and content marketer.


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