Yo-yo'ing on Millennials

Larry Dignan's post earlier in the week asking whether Millennials will re-invent IT struck a chord with a few of my Irregular friends. First up, Larry's conclusion:I remember this generational stereotyping with the Generation X crowd.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Larry Dignan's post earlier in the week asking whether Millennials will re-invent IT struck a chord with a few of my Irregular friends. First up, Larry's conclusion:

I remember this generational stereotyping with the Generation X crowd. Job market stunk. Generation X was different–they were pissed. They were wearing flannel shirts. We were all slackers. Then the boom happened and suddenly we weren’t slacking off as much. Generation X made out pretty well only to be humbled later. Business cycles do that sort of thing.

Same deal with Millennials. You may have to adapt your tech practices and management style a little, but not nearly as much as you’d think. Folks of all generations see through the management flavors of the moment. If today’s IT best practices are truly the best they’ll withstand the latest generation.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and when I look at some of today's leaders - even those like Bill Gates - who came out of the same general time as the summer of love, (which I'm old enough to remember with fond affection) it is hard to tell the difference between they, the generation before or the generation after.

Jeff Nolan notes that:

Every older generation looks at a younger generation with a dose of skepticism and inherent conflict, it’s no different here.

Yeah, that's true too and every time I hear myself thinking:  "In my day..." I have to catch myself and ask "Why? What's your point?" So many of us I think reflect upon a so-called golden bygone age where we wanted to change the world, were invincible and innocent to the realities of life. And then I read people like Euan Semple who is close(ish) to my age and wants to change the world. In a recent post entitled a humanizing influence, Euan says:

Someone once asked me what my motivation in getting involved in social computing for business was and I replied that if I had humanized the workplace just a little bit I would be satisfied.

When I think about the way enterprise software has sought to de-humanize transaction processing then it is easy to understand where Euan is coming from. We seem to have become convinced that process automation will cure all ills when in reality, as Sig Rinde continues to point out, it cannot deal with barely repeatable processes.  (or BRP) To me, this is exactly the space that so much social software should be positioning itself into. It's where the enterprise vendors should be looking to develop complementary, disposable applications. Instead, as Sig argues in management...duh?:

Why on earth is enterprise software still in the horse and buggy mode?

Why manage customers when they can be included? Why manage suppliers and channels when they can be a part of the process? Why manage processes when they can be driven by the participants?

Set up the roads, prepare the vehicles - that's what enterprise software should offer.

Drive the business. Managing is for circus directors. Or cowboys.

Ross Mayfield weighs in with:

Larry suggests that they (Millennials) will come to work and find out that it makes sense to centralize IT.  Trendlines and clouds suggest otherwise.  I also believe this effects management structures and practices.

Over the last couple of years I've yo-yo'd from one end of the scale on this to another. When I first saw the potential for social networks I was way over excited. I was in awe with the way my then 15 year old son flipped from place to place with apparent ease while maintaining attention to everything that was going on around him. It was an ah-ha moment where I thought I was seeing the future. But then I came crashing to earth as I realized that tomorrow's business leaders won't be my son's generation but the generation before them. Those brought up on process and email.

Except in cases of genuine revolution, things change slowly. I was reminded of that while watching Robert Scoble's interview of Marc Benioff where Benioff said that people over estimate what can happen in a year but under estimate what can happen in a decade. Cycling back to what happened during the PC era, you might surmize that a revolution did indeed take place. Maybe so, but the management practices that both preceded it and followed didn't change that much. If anything, among IT vendors at least, the command and control environments were strengthened. In the wider world, you only have to look at the number of organizations banning Facebook to see history repeating itself.

If the Millenials are to bring change then it is the management DNA that has to be addressed because no amount of technnology is going to do that for you. In that sense, I sometimes wonder whether there will be a fundamental shift in the way work is done and whether knowledge workers in particular will be given the freedom they need to handle barely repeatable processes.

My sense is that somehow, the large IT vendors will find a way of melding social software to process so that the incremental change Larry envisages becomes reality. That was the message I heard while attending Oracle EMEA's marketing kickoff. In other words, let's take what we can from the social world but please don't disturb the status quo in regard to the processes we already employ. It is a comforting message for management who see social software as too radical. Even though it ignores the opportunity to release huge value back to the enterprise through the ideas Sig is promoting. To me, that is a huge lost opportunity to massively improve effectiveness (note: not efficiency.) But then I could be completely wrong.

Susan Scrupski is saying:

We’re conducting a large research project right now on “Redefining Employee Computing” with 24 member corporations, many of them global– half are in the Fortune 100 (of those, 6 are in the top 50 and 3 are in the top 10).  I can assure you that the generational “collide” is a high priority board room and management issue.   It’s so strategic, many corporations are preemptively prepping to accommodate the new workforce and rethink their old school management processes.

Is that true? If so then I'd like to see the evidence. I know Susan has been looking for evidence this last year and has come up short. In the real world I occupy, I see a lot of resistance to anything as radical as Susan implies. In the video that Susan includes in the same post, I don't see anything about management change but an emphasis on cost reduction. That's not new. That's business as usual.

Where is this going? The social media hopefuls will naturally convince themselves that the management revolution they espouse is around the corner. That's part of their DNA. While I'd like to think they're right, I remain skeptical. In a world where regulation impacts so much of what is done, do these people honestly believe the Millennials will have that big an impact when those same Millennials will be faced with the challenges of climbing the greasy pole their predecessors defined? Perhaps YPulse nails it in talking about the work ethic:

The work ethic between generations is not comparable because their lifestyles are so different. While adults are content to work straight through the work day, most young "need" their twice-hourly Gmail, Facebook, and Gawker breaks. However, constant multitasking and tech-savvy efficiency makes up for it - or, at the very least, brings balance to the work place.

Generation Y hasn't perfected its workplace etiquette just yet, but they (uh, we) are still young. Baby boomers didn't graduate from college aptly prepared for professional life either. Until work place code-of-ethics text messages are developed, we will have to learn and mature just like every other generation.

I leave readers to debate this important topic.

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