CIOs beware: The millennials are on the way

How CIOs and HR can get the most out of the next generation of digital natives
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor

How CIOs and HR can get the most out of the next generation of digital natives

CIOs need to adapt to meet the needs of the 'millennial generation' if they are to recruit and make the most of the best emerging talent.

The Centre for Information Leadership (CIL) at City University London has urged IT chiefs to change the way their department functions as the next generation of tech-savvy employees start to have an impact in the workplace.

The CIL defines millennials as people born after 1985 who have grown up using technology and are now entering the workplace with different expectations and needs to previous generations.

CIL director - and former CIO - David Chan explained that with the IT sector likely to boom in the next few years, demand for IT talent will increase. And with the millennial generation now entering the workplace, companies will need to make sure they cater for their demands if they are to attract the best.

For example, new ideas will be increasingly important to generate revenue and millennials will only be able to provide these ideas if they are allowed to work in an environment that suits their way of doing things.

Chan said: "The reality is that as millennials come on-stream over the next year or two, they won't find it comfortable working on the old corporate environment of command and control; and the issue for a lot of big organisations is they haven't actually woken up to the fact yet."

Business people shaking hands

Recruitment is just the beginning - millennials will be more productive if they are able to work in a way they are familiar with
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

According to Chan, millennials' prefer to work collaboratively and are better at using collective intelligence than previous generations.

If millennials are told to stop doing things the way they naturally would by outdated corporate policies, businesses will run the risk of stifling their creativity. Chan said organisations should therefore go "along the grain rather than against the grain" when defining work practices for millennial workers.

And with demand for IT skills growing, millennial workers are also likely to be less tolerant of working for organisations that stop them doing things in the way they're used to. Organisations must therefore look at changing working practices to keep their youngest workers satisfied as well as productive.

Chan outlined some top tips for CIOs to bear in mind when recruiting and managing workers from the millennial generation.

Balance security with access to information

Chan says that too often, corporate security systems prevent people getting access to the information they need to do their job.

"We've then got to start rethinking how we can make sure the secure transactions are secure but also have the flexibility so we can exploit the capabilities and creativity of this new generation," he said.

This means CIOs need to be open to use of other technologies that they may have previously shied away from due to the assumption that they are less secure. "The whole paradigm of security is to try and control everything and you can't - that's the reality."

Change your approach to sharing ideas

When trying to solve a problem, millennial workers are more likely to go out to their friends for ideas rather than rely on their colleagues in the office. CIOs should look at fostering collaborative working to a greater extent to make sure...

...younger workers are able to do this effectively.

Chan said there are areas where businesses will gain more by sharing information but the organisation needs to work out where those areas are - and make sure the right things stay within the company's firewall.

He added that people at the top of businesses share information via the board of directors or informal networks and so businesses should trust their employees to do this.

"The key is information. In a sense you need to have a different set of disciplines: 'We trust you guys but these are the things you need to be careful of', rather than 'I'm going to stop you guys doing it just in case you do something wrong'. Be a bit more intelligent about it," Chan said.

"The world is actually too interconnected now to control - that's the problem we've got. We've still got a paradigm of trying to control everything and we can't. All we can do is say let's be humanistic about it, let's make sure that we have the controls where we need to have controls but turn it around the other way."

Put business above IT

Chan said it's becoming more important that people working in the IT department think about the business above the IT team to create "more corporate belonging, more networking with the business, more feeling you're a part of the business".

He said that millennials are naturally better at networking and getting to know the rest of the business than previous generations and so CIOs need to make sure this isn't lost when they enter the workplace.

Business people around laptop

Digital native recruits will be much more comfortable than previous generations with collaborative working
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

To make sure the networking skills of millennial recruits continue to be strong, CIOs should make sure they're discouraged from adopting an isolated mentality which is prevalent in many established IT departments.

Chan said: "The smarter CIOs manage this quite well but you still find, certainly in a big organisation, the island mentalities."

One way of achieving a greater appreciation of the rest of the company is for IT staff to spend time with users so they can build important informal networks and have a better understanding of how the rest of the business works.

Changing HR's approach

HR departments can also play a role in getting the most out of millennial workers. CIOs therefore need to challenge HR departments to change the way they deal with recruitment and career development in relation to the latest generation coming into the workplace.

Millennials are much less likely to follow a prescribed career path than older generations according to Chan. He suggested, therefore, that HR departments should provide a framework for employees that allows them to organise their own career.

This could mean providing a list of training courses which employees can choose to sign up to depending on what they want to achieve in their career.

Although millennials clearly like to do things on their own initiative, Chan agreed that HR still has an important role. He said: "[Millennials] need guidance, they need counselling - but they like to make the decisions themselves."

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