"I bims" the Digitalization: The challenges of managing a multi-generational workforce

Every year, Germany's dictionary giant Langenscheidt selects the German Youth Word of the Year. In 2017 the winner is "I bims," a variation of "Ich bin," or I am. Whereby the young generation is using these words on WhatsApp, Snapchat and face-to-face conversations daily, the older generation is wondering what the meaning of terms like these even is.

This simple communication example shows how challenging it must be for companies to design the future of work nowadays and inspire and motivate employees of all generations at the same time. The reality is that the workplace 4.0 won’t exist with old structures. During the recruiting process new, digital tools often play a key role for younger generations on how attractive they find the employer. Older generations on the other hand tend to find it more difficult to adapt to modern technology. Since we are all aware of the fact that digitalization is key to competitiveness and diversity and a mixture of generations increases the productivity level – the questions is: How can companies handle a digital transformation dealing with multiple generations?

Priorities and Communication
In my point of view, we should never call this transformational change an IT Project. It should rather be the aim to make it the companies’ #1 priority and align cultural changes around it. Also, the internal communication becomes the center of attention and needs to become a coaching and supporting role to engage and motivate employees to participate. Dialog formats and Social-Collaboration-Tools will help your employees to share their experiences. Adidas for example gives an update on their product development and company updates live in their HQ every 90 days which is highly appreciated by their employees.

Management Behavior
Following the previous point, management behavior and management communication is decisive to successfully manage multiple generations and the change happening in the company. Thereby the adapted corporate culture must be practiced and demonstrated daily by all managers. This includes an open communication culture and adapting to new competencies where a value-guided leadership replaces micromanagement and hierarchies are streamlined. Taking proactive responsibility, transparency towards the employees and a team-oriented manner are fundamental principles. Furthermore structure, processes and values should continuously be questioned.

Involvement of your employees
If possible and it should always be possible, employees should participate in the change process as soon as possible. This can happen in many different formats. Upfront with employee surveys to determine which exact target groups with which concerns and wishes your company has and later throughout participation within the whole execution. Often companies built pilot groups for their projects. Here it’s also important to have a diverse and mixed group through all generations, so that the participants can become the voice and supporters of the change for everyone else.

As described earlier, there can be misunderstandings and strains, especially when it comes to communication, but nevertheless a generational mix enriches collaboration. Out of this motivation, an environment should be created where everyone knows each other well since the understanding of the different needs is one of the most important success factors for a company.
Also a modern corporate culture lays the foundation for future change- and digitalization processes.

Do you already have positive examples how you managed the future of work and digital transformation within a mixed group of generations? If so, I’m would love to hear your stories.

Attached a brief summary of the many generations who are nowadays working side by side and how they have witnessed digitalization: 

  • Within the generation of the Babyboomers work has a great importance to them. They created the term “workaholic” and new digital systems and devices are mainly used at work.
  • Followed by the Generation X or as some call them Generation Golf, they lived most of their childhood without a computer and become a witness of digital change and during their adulthood. Therefore, this generation had to consciously explore new technology.
  • Generation Y, which is mainly knows as the Millennials, is the first generation of the “digital natives” and experienced the online boom and globalization extensivly. In their opinion a workplace must be meaningful and fun and their career development often has a minor importance than a good work-life-balance.
  • And last but now least – the Generation Z or Generation YouTube who is completely adapted to digitalization on a daily basis. They would not survive in a non-digital world and social media is a big part in their private and professional life.

About the author

Jennifer Wachholz.JPG

As being a millennial herself, she is looking at HR differently. One year ago Jennifer Wachholz, moved abroad for a new job role at Oracle Digital advising customers on HCM Cloud solutions and experiencing again how change in her career positively impacts personal development and growth. You can find more information on LinkedIn

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