Digital Natives: Are you ready yet?

A recent survey revealed that leading companies found segmentation very effective in managing the varying needs of a multigenerational workforce. Here, we explore different approaches to managing future generations of global leaders.

A recent survey revealed that leading companies found segmentation very effective in managing the varying needs of a multigenerational workforce. Here, we explore different approaches to managing future generations of global leaders.With talent shortages affecting profitability, according to PwC’s annual survey of CEOs, forward-thinking organisations are very aware of the role technology can play in engaging employees across multiple generations.The rise of social media reinforces the desire for instant access to knowledge and communities in the workplace, as well as at home. But just as companies are getting comfortable with managing and relocating the Millennials, the Digital Natives have arrived on the scene. Is it all change for all demographics, or simply a case of being adaptable and using a step-by-step approach?Meet the Digital NativesAt the Worldwide ERC conference in Shanghai, Scott Bales provided a fascinating insight into the world of ‘Digital Natives’ – those born after 1992. A technology guru in the cutting-edge digital and mobile arena, he was chief mobile officer for Moven, the world’s first cardless bank.Digital Natives are a generation born into digital technology. While individuals from older generations recall organising, planning and interacting with one another without mobile devices, computers or the Internet, Digital Natives have been using these technologies since birth – leaving them with no affiliations to the ‘old days’.“They are the same, but different to previous generations. Where they differ puts them at a massive advantage over their elders, as they naturally master the mindset to leverage human elements through digital,” Scott Bales explained.The impact on organisations and those managing global teams will be enormous, and this thought-provoking session was well received by an audience eager to understand how to support future generations of mobile employees.As citizens, employees, employers and consumers, we will all be affected by the tech generation joining us in the workplace, being consumers of goods and services, and as citizens influencing government and policy at local, national and international level.We know the mobility industry and the organisations it supports are often addressing how to manage five generations of employees. Providing relevant relocation services and policies for Generations X and Y is already very much on the radar, with innovative new packages and delivery methods evolving all the time.The pace of change is one of the challenges. At home, we often use mobile phones or devices and technology that are far superior to those provided in the workplace. This is a frustration for all, and particularly the younger generations.As Scott Bales explained, “In a world where consumer technology has overtaken and excelled well beyond that of the enterprise, employees struggle to grasp why corporate technology, policies and controls prevent them from unleashing the potential of technology in the very place they are paid to be productive, the workplace.”In the relocation context, there is often a mismatch between the mastery of technology that gives a clear advantage in terms of accessing information instantly, but there is also the lack of knowledge and understanding, which can lead the inexperienced into potential professional and personal danger. As Scott Bales put it, “Digital Natives are in search of ‘Google culture’ in the workplace.”But seasoned HR, relocation management companies and destination service providers know all too well the pitfalls that can lie ahead. Tips for moving things forward include creating experiences, not policies. Engaging with ‘the front line’ is recommended. By finding a problem you are passionate about, you will break through boundaries, as the power of innovation can be phenomenal. Find yourself a digital mentor and harness their expertise, and in return a wise head with first-hand experience can impart ideas and perspective to interns and management trainees. One step at a time is also a good policy.This is something we at Re:locate can help facilitate, by connecting those who have a clear understanding of Digital Natives with our readership.Scott Bales cited the growing trend for a new workplace culture where forward-thinking companies allow employees to bring their own devices to work. This enables them to manage time effectively and be more efficient.As he explained, “Digital Natives have an inherent understanding of digital technologies. They are part of a tech-savvy generation at the forefront of technological progress, and they want to be connected when they wish, from anywhere.”He highlighted that Digital Natives “want a flexible environment where they can have more avenues to be creative, to lead, and to share their knowledge without prejudice. They no longer believe in bureaucracy, but instead prefer a much flatter hierarchy.”However, in an increasingly compliant world, where global companies are facing ever-more-complex regulation, how can this be resolved?“It’s time for organisations to wake up. The Digital Natives’ generation is coming, and their needs will push the boundaries of your organisation,” said Scott Bales.Millennial priorities revealedAshridge Business School has produced a new report, The Millennial Compass, on behalf of the MSL Group. The research confirms that Millennials are focused on achieving through personal networks and technology, having a good work-life balance, and getting high levels of support from their managers.They don’t want to be tied to an organisation, a timetable or a hierarchy, and they’d rather avoid the stress they see their senior leaders shouldering. They may lack some of their predecessors’ relationship, communication and analysis skills, but are confident in their abilities to run business in a new way.A total of 1,293 Millennial employees from Brazil, China, France, India, the UK and the USA responded to the survey. The study found that what was important to them in their working lives varied by country, but several key findings emerged.Despite popular conceptions, the majority of Millennials surveyed, in all countries, described themselves as more ambitious than not. However, the report suggests that, as many employers have already discovered, “Loyalty doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong work value for Millennials. On average, 30 per cent of those surveyed worldwide intend to leave their organisations in the next year. Nearly half say they plan to depart after two years, leaving only 57 per cent still working for the organisations they’re with today.”This adds fuel to the argument in favour of aligning talent management with global mobility. There are also warning signs ahead for companies wanting to develop global leaders. As the report states, “While they have a strong desire for work-life balance, Millennials seem to be closer to their immediate families and friends than ever before. Even though they travel virtually in and out of their comfort zones all the time, they’re less eager to make a physical move. These trends could impact the future of international business as well as Millennials themselves, who may miss key career opportunities.”This evidence backs up the experience of the APAC-based HR, talent and mobility specialists we reported on last year, who were struggling to persuade Chinese high-potentials to go on assignment, whether in their own country, the APAC region, or further afield.How Millennials see their relationship with their boss is also fascinating, and it is no wonder that organisations are anxious about the implications of managing this generation. Says the Ashridge report, “When asked about the role their manager currently plays, most survey respondents chose ‘friend’. This answer ranked first in the USA, the UK and Brazil, second in China, and third in India. In France, Millennials see their boss as a peer.”It was also clear that Millennials with younger bosses felt more engaged. Youth appears to motivate youth, with the report saying, “Millennials with younger (Generation X and Millennial) managers believe their skills are better utilised than those whose managers are from the Baby Boom generation.“To demonstrate this point, Millennials in India are way ahead of other countries in believing their organisation harnesses their talents (75 per cent agree). China is second, at 63 per cent. Correspondingly, Millennials in these countries have the highest percentage of young managers.”Jive talking The Ashridge research seems to confirm what US software developer Jive has predicted with the introduction of its ‘enterprise collaboration’ software platform, designed to capture the enthusiasm of both Millennials and savvy social-media enthusiasts of all generations.With echoes of the momentum to bring your own technology to work mentioned by Scott Bales, the platform gives large global players the ability to offer a flat structure, manage talent, drive innovation and keep their workforces, especially the young, engaged, motivated and connected, wherever they are in the world.As Matt Tucker, Jive’s chief technical officer and co-founder, put it at a recent seminar to promote the company’s expansion in Europe, “People want better, simpler ways of getting work done.” This was also one of the drivers behind the company’s announcement of a partnership with Cisco, to enable connection in real time via WebEx meeting, chat or a voice call, without leaving the Jive platform.A powerful case study from Kim England, head of internal community and collaboration at Pearson, which employs 40,000 employees across 70+ countries, illustrated the power of the Pearson family and its employer brand in retaining a valued talent via Neo, its customised Jive platform.The system was quick to roll out, starting with 150 people in November 2011. This had increased to 18,000 users by the launch in March 2012. Kim England explained, “The people who came in early built the purpose. Later, as others saw how to use the platform and its benefits, even the cynical were converted. There was engagement from the start, with teams of ‘champions’ helping to roll out and build up the community.”Ms England admitted that this took a lot of thought and planning, which had really paid off by utilising a combination of technology and human connection. Now, there was a sense of community around Neo, which was “how people got their job done”, but it also provided lots of scope for conversations and knowledge sharing at all levels, as well as leads for customers and research and development. It has also proved a useful tool for helping to get new products to market.As Kim England said, “People feel part of the family; it’s not all about the money.” Her top tip was to ensure engagement by leadership from the top. Because Neo enables transparency, there is instant feedback from management, which inspires a different, better and empowered workforce that is also diverse and integrated.In Ms England’s experience, the biggest hurdle to adoption was middle management, as they needed hard evidence that Neo worked. This was where patience, training and a steady approach had paid dividends.Supporting the business case Deepa Ramesh, talent manager for Millward Brown, a global brands and research agency with 88 offices in 58 countries, also extolled the virtues of the platform, which gave them the cutting edge they needed to drive creativity and share knowledge and intellectual property.Millward Brown’s platform, Greenhouse, supported the business case for social media with businesses, customers, partners and employees. The firm’s challenge was the huge amount of knowledge it owned, which it needed to share globally.Greenhouse has given Millward Brown a one-stop knowledge solution and improved community.Solving problems through knowledge sharing, cross-group and department collaboration, brainstorming, new thinking, and ideas which fuel thought leadership are just some of the ways in which the company uses it. Other benefits are in onboarding, launching campaigns and internal communications.As Elisa Steele, VP of strategy and marketing at Jive, pointed out, brands that engage with their customer community can command a 23 per cent premium, as clients are looking to work with companies that invest in their people and culture.Mobility policy: is flexibility the key? On the other side of the coin, Emma Trafford, head of client services at international relocation firm Robinsons, challenges both the stereotypes that exist for Generation X and Generation Y and some of the generalisations made when considering mobility policies.She argues that, in fact, many of Generation X and Generation Y’s needs are the same as those of other relocating employees, and it’s the way in which those needs are met that should be tailored, through things like communication style, feedback and recognition.Surely, then, Ms Trafford says, it would be better for firms to develop policies flexible enough to embrace all generations? Although you may need to make some assumptions in order to set the mobility policy boundaries, by breaking out of rigid policy provisions you can cater for employees’ desire to take control of their assignment. This should ultimately help to attract and retain the best talent.It is a good point, and one that needs to be aired. Millennials and Digital Natives are going to have to coexist with other generations of colleagues for some time to come, so equitable solutions for all are needed, and the more each can appreciate the other’s viewpoint, the better. The advancement of technology, with a step-by-step approach, must surely be the way forward.The global mobility community is certainly up for the challenge, and shows the flexibility which will ultimately lead to success. Technology, after all, is just another culture.Becoming a successful digital enterprise Meanwhile, a McKinsey and Company Insight urges companies to stop experimenting with digital and commit to transforming themselves into full digital businesses with seven habits that successful digital enterprises share. These range from being “unreasonably aspirational” to ring-fencing and cultivating talent. “Digital talent must be nurtured differently, with its own working patterns, sandbox and tools,” says the report.As part of McKinsey’s growing e-commerce division in Silicon Valley, an ‘idea incubator’ helped increase online revenues by 30 per cent in 2013, outpacing Amazon’s rate of growth. This is exactly the kind of performance that a social-media-style platform, such as the Jive example, can help to nurture.McKinsey’s seven habits include continuous delivery and improvement and agility, supported by big-data analytics. Integrating data sources into a single system that is accessible to everyone in the organisation will really improve the speed of innovation, it claims.As we know, across the global mobility arena there is a big drive for analytics and a joined-up approach to retrieving and sharing data. Deloitte’s winning entry for Re:locate ’s Technological Innovation in Relocation award is a breakthrough that HR, global managers and their service providers have been waiting for.In March, a report from Deloitte University Press highlighted that “too much access to information” had turned us into “overwhelmed” employees. Nearly every company sees this phenomenon as a challenge to performance, but struggles to handle it. Information overload and the always-connected 24/7 work environment are undermining productivity and contributing to low employee engagement.The Deloitte report showed that 65 per cent of executives rated the overwhelmed employee as an ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ trend, while 44 per cent said that they were ‘not ready’ to deal with it. It concluded, “HR has an opportunity to lead efforts to manage the pervasive communications practices that overwhelm employees, simplify the work environment, create more flexible work standards, and teach managers and workers how to prioritise efforts.”“Simplifying business and HR systems and making them easier to use,” the report said, “can also make employees more productive. People no longer want more features in their enterprise software; they want ‘one click’ or ‘one swipe’ transactions. We call this the ‘consumerisation’ of corporate systems – which really amounts to valuing the time of a company’s employees as much as it respects the time of its customers.”Its authors added, “Studies show that people check their mobile devices up to 150 times every day. Yet despite employees being always on and constantly connected, most companies have not figured out how to make information easy to find. In fact, nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of employees have told us they still cannot find the information they need within their company’s information systems.”In Deloitte’s most recent research on HR systems, ease of use and user interface integration were rated as the most important factors in driving user adoption. The survey also highlighted the urgent need to create more time to think and produce.If this all sounds familiar, that is a good thing. As ever, there are no easy answers, but the good news is that there are options out there – and, encouragingly, many to suit the complexities of managing global teams.

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