Deja vu all over again: managing across Generation Gap 2.0

The Pew Research Center just issued the results of a survey of 2,969 adults that found that the so-called generation gap -- which flared big-time in the 1960s -- is widening once again.

The themes of today's new generation gap -- social values and morality -- echo similar themes heard back in the Swinging Sixties. Younger people tend to be more liberal across a range of values; older folks tend to be more conservative. The Baby Boomer-led gap surfaced in the business world as they flooded the workplaces of the 1980s and 1990s, bringing greater demands for more meaningful work, more relaxed corporate hierarchies, and increased participative management.

However, there is an element of today's gap -- let's call it 'Generation Gap 2.0' -- that does not hearken back to the youth culture days of yore. That is, young people today eat, sleep and breathe technology in their daily lives. In the 1960s, the counterculture loudly complained about the changes technology was bringing into society. (Look at some of the popular movies of that era, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which menacing computers overpowered their human masters.)

For today's generation, technology is a best friend forever. The Pew survey finds that about 75% of adults 18 to 30 go online daily, compared with 40% of those 65 to 74 and about 16% of people 75 and older. Only about six percent of those 65 and older used a cell phone for most or all of their calls, versus 64% of younger people. About 11% of over-65s sent or received text messages, compared with 87% of younger adults.

In a recent article in the latest edition of Teradata Magazine, I described the changes organizations should expect from this generation, alternately referred to as "Generation Y" or the "Millennials." Raised on the Internet, members of this incoming generation are accustomed to real-time information anytime and anywhere. They see global networking as part of their daily lives and don't pay much attention to formal hierarchies or communication channels. They are bringing their social networks and mobile devices into the workplace, and expect to be able to use these tools in their daily work. As customers, they expect access to products and services on an on-demand basis, and have no compunction about sharing their views about companies they do business with across the global Web.

While Generation Gap 2.0 does not appear to be as severe as the 1960s tear in the social fabric, businesses need to understand and develop smart approaches to managing this latest generational influx into their workforces and customer bases.

A number of ideas and approaches to bridging this gap were explored by Lisa Haneberg, author of Hip and Sage, in her discussion with my colleague Vince Thompson here at the Smart Planet site. Haneberg urges more senior managers to adopt the social networking methodologies that are used by their younger counterparts -- both as an organizational communications tool and as a career booster.

"You need to show in your resume and verbal interview that you have a deep knowledge of managing teams domestically and globally virtually through VOIP, webinars, internal social networking and blogging," Haneberg says. At the same time, recognize that mentoring now works both ways -- there's a lot that the older managers can learn from younger employees.

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