We’re in the middle of a historic evolutionary leap driven by digital innovation and software technology. And it’s created a generational divide that holds both promise and peril for leaders, managers and HR departments. This is a large fail for those of us in the trenches fighting this ongoing employee engagement crisis.
If you’ve ever watched a teenager (or younger!) on her laptop, mobile, or even iPhone, you know what I mean. She’s texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, taking a selfie, doing her homework and watching Katy Perry’s new video on her iPhone — all at the same time. Without breaking a sweat. Her brain synapses are firing in whole new ways. It’s some crazy combination of scary, exhilarating, baffling, and fascinating. These emerging generations are living a world that didn’t exist a decade ago – a global digital nervous system that operates in real time. And it’s the only world they’ve ever known.
For Gen Xers (large portion are leaders) and Boomers (many leaders here too), this new world can be (especially at first) daunting territory. It can be intimidating and overwhelming.
What it can’t be is ignored.
Those of us in HR and Leadership roles have seen too many walls go up between the different generations. There’s mistrust and unease all around. The Millennials consider the Boomers a bunch of old fogeys. The Xers feel caught between. Boomers can be condescending and closed-minded. And who suffers most because of this generational dysfunction? The organization! Performance and profits. For leaders the challenge is clear: get everyone on the same page/screen.
Here Are Five Ways To Break Down The Generational Walls In Your Workplace Culture:
1) Foster Communication. Get people together, informally, to talk about the new digital reality and what it means to the individual. Xers especially can feel inadequate about their lack of social-media skills. The more dialogue the better. And it’s good for (sometimes smug and hipper-than-thou) Millennials to be exposed to other generations. Just because someone isn’t a computer whiz doesn’t mean they’re not an amazing talent.
2) Demystify. The sheer volume and variety in the digital world can be overwhelming. Offer classes and training to Xers and Boomers. Pair them up with Millennial mentors. Many people are shy about admitting their lack of digital skills; once they’re taught the basics, they find they love it. The goal here is build a basic comfort level across the organization.
3) Be Flexible With Digital-Skill Levels. Some very talented people have no interest in spending endless hours on the computer. Sing their praises! Yes, they need the basic skills to connect them to the organizational nervous system and optimize their performance, but beyond that they can be Luddites. It’s SO important for HR and Leaders to understand that every talented person is different. There’s massive societal pressure these days to conform, to be plugged in online all the time. A lot of amazing people would rather spend their free time on other pursuits.
4) Create A Baseline. This is a site that unites. Something user-friendly that everyone can be a part of. This provides a foundation across the organization; it engages and inspires people. It literally puts everyone on the same page.
5) Be True To Your Culture. As with all business lessons, one size fits no one. You want to tailor your generational bridge-building to suit the specific needs of your enterprise. For some companies, the need is more urgent than others. Take an inventory of where things stand and develop your plan accordingly.
The future is here. Techno and digital tools rule. The rules in the World of Work are changing big time. All true. But optimal results depend of getting everyone comfortable, communicating, and working from the same baseline. Because the possibilities and opportunities are so vast in this new reality, the challenge is an exciting one.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes.