Digital Transformation Dialogues – Part 2

(Resuming my dialog with transformation expert – and friend – Scott K Wilder). Scott had touched on the challenge an older workforce presents to digital transformation and the need to embrace Millennial Leaders…)

GA: I see this all the time. In fact, I’d venture to suggest that there might be a pretty strong positive correlation between the average age of your workforce and the perceived need for digital transformation. But this seems really hard to change. Good luck attracting young digital talent to a company that skews older AND is poor at digital. I also see challenges in adaptation. I argued that when you select a digital leader for transformation it’s important – even vital – to get someone who isn’t just experienced in cutting edge digital. They need to have experienced the pain of transformation to be effective in that role. But I see potentially similar problems trying to integrate younger employees into your workforce. I could see where they would just get frustrated. Obviously, though, this has to be done. Thoughts on how to smooth this? And thoughts about making an older workforce more digital in a fairly effective manner?

SW: Having younger individuals in your company is important for a true digital transformation. But don’t just hire them because they are less expensive than the older workers. Hire them because of how comfortable they are with technology and their desire to learn.

To smooth things out, first I would focus on what Millennials want in their career and / or what do they want to get out of their work. They have a tremendous desire to learn. Yes, it’s not just about achieving for them. Reminder: Creating a learning culture is an important way to transforming a company.

Therefore, during an interview process or an onboarding process, I would ask them:

– where do they see themselves in a year (none of this three year or five years stuff)

– what skills do they think they need to learn or acquire (maybe you, the hiring manager, help guide them towards an answer by sharing what skills are required for this)

– how can you (their manager support them)

Reminder: Find out their goals and aspirations before they start working

A big mistake companies make is that they never even consider asking these questions.

I would also look beyond the hiring manager or group. I would find a younger employee a mentor, who is outside the group they work in and who is not part of their of their everyday team (even if it is a cross-functional team). I would find someone who can be a good sounding board for the individual. In fact, I would have the person interview 2-3 potential guides or mentors. Let them feel like they are part of the process. Reminder: Assign them a mentor and Don’t just assign everything to a Millennial. (OK, that’s two reminders)

Establish toll-gates or check-ins with the younger employee. Part of creating a learning culture is to have an open and continuous feedback loop. Reminder: Check in with your younger employees even if there’s a manager that separates you and them.!

Younger people today are passionate about causes. So figure out if there’s a way to tie your digital transformation to a higher cause (or even calling). If you are T-Mobile, for example, can you use your technology to help people in less developered countries get better access to telecommunications (Maybe be part of Google or Facebooks’s Internet Satellite projects). Reminder: Define and share your cause!

And somewhat related to the ‘cause’ calling, make sure your company has a clear mission. People, in general, respond better when they know where the company’s True North lies — what the company is trying to accomplish. Final Reminder: If you really want to smooth things out and integrate younger employees into your digital transformation, make them a part of the journey from the beginning.

GA: This is great stuff. I’ve always been a little skeptical of generational theories – but there really are some noticeable differences with Millennials. It’s also, I think, a matter of our times. We talk about Millennials, for example, being passionate about causes – and I’ve certainly seen that. In general, though, I think it’s true more generally these days – not necessarily that people are more passionate about their causes  – but that they are more willing to cross work with other things and are less determined to have a work life and a non-work life which never shall meet. When you can get people to bring that extra passion to their work it’s a pretty big win.

But you dodged one aspect of my question (or at least sinned by omission) – what about getting older works more attuned to digital? In some ways, I think that’s a more important and interesting problem…