How to close your IT team’s generation gap

Think Progress Team

Monday 12 March 2018

If millennials don’t already make up a significant portion of your workforce, they soon will. The cohort, broadly defined as being born after 1980, will make up 35 per cent of the global workforce by 2020, according to research by ManpowerGroup. And which enterprise team will see the greatest influx of millennials? IT.

The great driving force behind the coming boom of the 1980s child is the much-covered need for digital transformation. As companies bring in younger recruits already equipped with in-demand digital skills, there’s a risk off driving a wedge between older, legacy-skilled baby boomer and Generation X team members.

“When it comes to the new skills required to accelerate digital transformation, a lot of existing staff who are baby boomers or Gen Xers have legacy skills and need to be reskilled,” Gartner analyst Lily Mok told CIO.com. “You need to bring in new blood, and that can create culture shock.”

In 2016, Lenovo partner SAP installed its youngest ever chief information officer, 31-year-old Thomas Saueressig. It was, Saueressig said at the time, a bold statement of intent from SAP, which showed a willingness to give responsibility to those who are ready for it. He saw his promotion as “a great way to spur the modernisation and rejuvenation of the company, and it’s also a great signal to the young talents we are trying to attract”.

The move is an example of promoting new skills while minimising culture shock. Successfully insulating against that jolt and tapping into the benefits of multiple generations working alongside each other means following a few golden rules.

Inclusivity is key

Creating a culture that actively values and harnesses employees’ differing experience levels, skills and outlooks will help them feel more comfortable at work. Think about team make-up: could an outspoken millennial benefit from a baby boomer’s knowledge? Could the skill sets of a typically independent Generation Xer and a more collaborative millennial mesh?

Understand differences

Explaining your thinking behind inclusivity will help to quell the frustrations some might feel at working within such a generational mix. Older employees might balk at being overlooked for promotion in favour of younger, less-experienced employees. Younger team members, more used to working faster and learning from mistakes, might not understand why a baby boomer would rather weigh up different considerations before making a decision. Showing the benefits of team blending will encourage people to work through initial misgivings.

Encourage talent agility

In the fast-evolving technology sector, no skill set will stay terribly useful for very long. The ability to change and adapt is becoming more useful than outright experience. That means IT managers are increasingly looking to people of all generations who can adopt new practices and methodologies.

Perhaps the most important generation in all this is Generation C – the consumer generation. It’s not defined by age. People of every generation are working and shopping online. More than any other tip here, collectively focusing on the consumer rather than age gaps will ease any tensions. A team that reflects the demographics they are trying to help will better understand them.

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