Posted on January 3, 2018 by Nicole Geronimo
No matter how fast as tools, trends and technologies change, IT will still be about people. The CIO’s first concern is to provide people with the technology they need to do their jobs.
But, the technology-driven workplace is changing fast. Numbering more than one-in-three, the largest cohort in the American workforce are those under 35, the Millennials.
From the devices they use to the very definition of the word “job,” Millennials have a distinct set of expectations. Failing to accommodate them threatens to leave an organization unable to recruit, keep and get the most out of Millennial talent.
These digital natives tend to have a contrasting view from that of their predecessors when it comes to IT. At a recent IEF dinner, we spoke with IT leaders in San Francisco where the 35-and-under generation became a key topic of conversation. Here’s their assessment of the next generation of the workforce.
Fast to adopt, slower to trust
Millennials are recognizable for their seeming inability to separate themselves from their devices. As one attendee in San Francisco argued, Millennials differ from their older counterparts in that they’re “digital natives.” She noted, “They don’t know any other reality.”
To many Millennials, the constant presence of technology is second nature. This makes workers under 35 more likely early adopters than their older counterparts when it comes to the latest tools. When non-Millennial workers learned new software, one member explained, they often didn’t realize its capability existed. When he introduced that same technology to their Millennial peers, it was often “old news.”
“There’s a perception they were already using that technology anyway.”
The group in attendance also observed a Millennial penchant for fast learning. One IEF member described a recent security deployment in his organization. “We did a roll out of some advanced two-factor stuff. The millennials were all done.” Where older employees required a longer ramp-up, those 35-and-under adapted right away. “We had training, we had sessions. Everybody was like, ‘what are you talking about? I’m going back to my job.’”
Another attendee likened the Millennials in his organization to “technology scouts.” Often, this demographic was the first to bring emerging technology to his attention.
“I just can’t keep up. And I love that part. I think there’s a mutual respect that we kind of gained for each other.”
However, the Millennial eagerness for the latest and greatest also comes with its own costs. Too much freedom to experiment with technology could leave the organization exposed to risk. “It’s high maintenance, but they’re entertaining,” said one member. He found allowing the Millennials in his organization to embrace emerging trends and tools within limits worked best. To him, this “freedom within a framework” served to grant workers under-35 the technology they wanted while keeping risks in check. He outlined his approach to mentoring these younger workers:
“Let me show you how not to hurt yourself.”
Another IEF member, a Millennial himself, described the way democratization of technology drove many of his peers to demand a more individualized IT experience. When it comes to devices and the workplace, he cautioned IT leaders looking to roll out new policies and requirements.
“You have to communicate it. You have to explain why and be ready for questions.”
Concerns over the separation of corporate and personal data ranked high. “It seems for us millennials are also more whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s Big Brother.” Sometimes, he lamented, the worry over data security seems paradoxical. One minute, a Millennial might ask of a new work-mandated security feature, “is this going to be creeping on my stuff?” But, when they find use for some application?
“They’ll just go and just download whatever and install on their phone or their laptop.”
Technology plus purpose
The growing influence of digital natives on the workforce begs the question: What role does technology play in the acquisition – and retention – of Millennial talent?
In a word: it’s critical. Millennials are more apt than their older counterparts to value the most recent devices, cloud applications and tools. Having lived most or all their lives keeping up with the pace of technology, moving into a workplace that lags may seem like a step backward.
In technical fields, the competition is fierce. For recruiting Millennial technical talent, technology is “table stakes.” One IEF member in construction explained his situation surrounding recruitment of college-age talent. “They are totally focused on technology. Some come out of school better trained than some of our senior staff. We have to be able to demonstrate that we are a leader in these abilities.” Otherwise, he explained, “you’re getting what’s left over.”
The fast pace of change is pressuring organizations in every space to foster new skills and methodologies within their IT teams. The members in attendance agreed that free-flowing ideas brought forward by digital natives have made this an exciting time to be in IT.
One defining feature of the Millennial generation is the desire to feel a greater purpose to their role.
“They expect a higher touch model. And some purpose behind what their role is.”
Endowing engineers under-35 with a sense that their contributions matter, the members observed, is of critical importance. With innovation-oriented initiatives like hackathons or “skunk works” teams, several members reported huge returns in enthusiasm from Millennial IT staff. One member found their team was capable of achieving “amazing stuff. Overnight they’re just developing an entire feature set.” The feeling like their efforts helped the overall growth of the company had a powerful motivating effect.
“They’ll stay up all night.”
Another IEF member suggested that the profusion of technology throughout the organization has breathed new energy into the IT department. The team’s role in enabling the business on the front lines lets individual staff see they have a tangible impact on company performance. “We’re so used to the people who feel like they’re connected to the growth of the company being more in the customer-facing type roles,” one attendee noted.
“I think having that connection is extremely important.”
FURTHER READING: This is the Secret to Holding Onto Millennial Employees (Fortune)
Freedom over foosball
The members also noted that there is also a considerable lifestyle aspect to attracting Millennial talent. From remote work to flexible hours, free meals and in-office foosball tables, there is a stereotype of the Millennial as an entitled and perk-hungry employee. However, a 2016 survey by Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) revealed Millennials are more excited by the opportunity to work with forward-looking technology, like virtual or augmented reality, than by office culture benefits.
Rather, it’s a sense of control that attracts Millennials to an organization and keeps them around. As host Erika Van Noort argued, “Every question we’re addressing seems to come back to what extent we want to give this next generation control to do what they want.” Whether it’s choice of tools or devices, work hours or assignments, Millennials thrive in environments where they feel their influence matters.
Offering this sense of control is a way for brands to draw from top Millennial talent. For Northern California brands who aren’t household names, this is key. One tactic is to adjust the way your organization defines its job descriptions.
One attendee explained her organization’s approach. “We’ve moved away from having really well-designed job titles with very clear and prescriptive role descriptions to aligning them with skills and then making things more project-oriented.” The result is a workforce that feels more like a “gig economy” within the company, including regular progression and movement without the need to leave the job.
“That creates a very defined hierarchy for a Millennial to operate within.”
Another member’s organization borrowed Google’s approach by allowing employees to select one or two projects per year. This way, he explained, employees “get to devote a certain amount of their work time towards a project they find engaging.” Rather than annual performance reviews, there’s a conversation around year-end about next year’s project. This, he argued, provided freedom “without giving them so much leash that it becomes reckless for the organization.”
For attracting and retaining Millennial talent, the members found conveying a meaningful story was just as important. One IEF member from a major software company noted that Millennials, in his experience, were attracted by efforts in cultural inclusion, diversity and volunteering. “Stuff like that, I think, is really what attracts them and keeps them there,” he explained.
“You need to have a story.”
To this end, the member’s organization has taken to applying a re-recruitment strategy using graduates of its campus program. “We do a lot of having millennials work with millennials to explain why here’s the place to be.” The result is a clear message to the younger generation entering the workforce. “We are a software company and the mission, right now, is to learn from the customers what their needs are, not what we wanna sell.”
Concluding our discussion in San Francisco, here are the biggest takeaways our IEF members had regarding the growing 35-and-under workforce:
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