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Multigenerational workforces: 6 ways to foster digital change

These management practices can help you capitalize on generational diversity in the workplace.

Digital transformation is not all about tools or technology—it’s about people too. Today's workplaces are becoming increasingly multigenerational. Older employees are staying in the workforce longer and mixing with younger colleagues who are just starting their careers. As such, the range of ages in the workplace is naturally expanding.

A recent survey from executive development firm Future Workplace and Beyond, The Career Network, found that 83 percent of respondents have seen millennials managing Gen X and baby boomer workers in their office. However, 45 percent of baby boomers and Gen X respondents said millennials lack managerial experience, which could have a negative impact on a company's culture. More than a third of millennial respondents said managing older generations is challenging.

I became the CEO of a technology company in 2009, when I was 28 years old. I have experienced the challenges of managing four different generations in the workplace, including employees more than twice my age. To say the least, it requires a highly adaptable leadership style. Based on my experience, here are six practices that can help foster multigenerational collaboration and technical agility in any workplace environment.

1. Know your audience

Baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials bring their own communication styles, values, and work methods into the office—and recognizing this fact is an important component of business success. For example, it's common for millennials to prefer short, text-based communications, while older generations often gravitate toward voice exchanges.  

Beyond communication choices, different generations often work and use technology differently. But there is no right or wrong way—only the method that works best for each individual in the performance of his or her job. Identifying the fact that there are differences, educating employees about those differences, and respecting, recognizing, and playing to each generation’s strengths validate each worker’s value and enhance the quality of work produced.

Getting buy-in for digital transformation is much like any leadership project: Until your employees feel heard and respected, the pace of change will be glacial. Once, when I was in the early months of transforming a team of workers at a company, I met strong resistance from some more experienced employees. One of them, a seasoned executive, responded to my suggestions for change with, "What does this guy know? He's, like, 12."

Instead of disciplining the heckler, who was my subordinate, I brushed off the comment with a little joke and later addressed the situation with him privately. My goal was to show a certain level of poise and respect for the dissenter. It wasn't one situation that ultimately fixed the lack of trust between me and my older employees, but rather a continuous commitment to listening, learning, and showing compassion. 

2. Prioritize transparency

I'm not sure anyone really enjoys office politics, but I've found that younger generations are especially averse to it. Millennials tend to prefer to work in transparent, collaborative environments. Transparent businesses eliminate departmental silos and drive productivity with clearly defined goals and incentives. 

While millennials are leading the shift toward transparency, all generations respond well to clear and concise leadership strategies. For example, I've learned not to be evasive about pay increases or bonuses when speaking to employees, because it creates the unnecessary fear that “the company must be in a tough place." 

3. Promote peer-to-peer learning

In addition to traditional mentoring programs that involve older, more experienced employees passing on insights to their juniors, peer-to-peer learning programs can promote respect, understanding, and collaboration across teams and generations. 

Every employee brings unique insights and knowledge to the table. Great leaders recognize the value and expertise a multigenerational workforce brings to the fore and encourage all employees to respect other work styles and actively seek to learn from and about their colleagues.    

4. Let workers embrace technology

With digital technology permeating the workplace, it's important to give employees of all ages the opportunity to provide feedback regarding tech programs and practices. Encourage them to explore new media and bring their technological insights into the workplace. This can be a great way to develop a strong corporate culture.

Employees are often afraid of change, especially if they've been doing things a certain way for a long time. I encountered this fear when I overhauled our ERP and CRM tools and moved them to the cloud. While I was excited about the power of the new technology, my employees wanted to be sure that the new systems would make their jobs better and easier, and certainly wouldn't displace them. The resistance continued until I figured out how to address their concerns.

When businesses respect generational differences and embrace technological diversity, they often see improvements in productivity and job satisfaction. It’s a win for everyone.

5. Embrace Generation C

Generational diversity in the workplace has given rise to a new category known as Generation C, defined as early adopters who champion cutting-edge technology and use digital media extensively in their personal and professional lives.

As you might expect, those in the Gen C demographic are often digital natives. However, anyone in the workforce with a digital mindset belongs in Gen C. It's easy to assume that younger employees are more technologically savvy, but I've seen many Gen X and boomer employees with innovative ideas to leverage technology in the workplace.

Good tech ideas can come from any generation. In 2008, for example, an older operations manager in my company came up with the idea of using Twitter for customer service. That's a common practice today, but back then, it was relatively unheard of—especially for a B2B company. 

6. Create feedback loops

Digital transformations don’t stop with new technology acquisitions or implementations. For businesses to compete, they must maintain momentum. Feedback loops enable leadership to evaluate the status quo and make relevant and necessary changes. For feedback to contribute to a digital transformation strategy, it must work as a two-way street. Leadership needs to provide feedback to individuals and vice versa.

Try soliciting open feedback for shadow IT applications your employees have embraced. Surveys show that nearly 80 percent of employees use shadow IT for collaboration and file sharing. Risk escalates when employees feel they have to hide their use of these tools. By creating feedback loops for employees to discuss their use of shadow IT, executives can identify tools that enhance productivity. This open communication can build trust and lead to faster adoption of new technology. 

Multigenerational workplaces: Lessons for leaders

  • Each generation has its own communication style. Tailor your employee communications accordingly. 
  • Many millennials are highly tech savvy. So are many boomers and Gen Xers. Good tech ideas can come from any generation. 
  • Feedback loops promote transparency and yield happier employees.

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This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.