How to recruit and retain the Net Generation

Wikinomics author Don Tapscott says the post-baby-boomers are wired differently

In his 1997 book Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, author Don Tapscott predicted that the children of baby boomers would make up an enormously influential group as the first generation to grow up surrounded by high-tech tools and toys.

In a new book, Grown Up Digital , Tapscott revisits the so-called Net Generation (those born between the late 1970s and early 1990s) - to take at look at how they are already affecting the workplace with their unique attitudes and aptitudes. The new book, due out late next year, will include data gleaned from a US$4 million research study that included interviews with more than 11,000 of the 80 million people that make up the Net Generation.

Tapscott is also the author of the popular book Wikinomicson how collaboration will affect global markets.

In an interview with Computerworld, Tapscott said the Net Generation has unique talents to offer to employers, which must adapt their hiring and workplace processes to effectively recruit and retain them.

Tapscott contended that high-profile knocks against the children of Baby Boomers as a generation that's uninformed, lazy and eager to advance up the corporate ladder without putting in the required blood, sweat and tears couldn't be more wrong. He noted that the group's work habits are just different from their parents, as they have been profoundly influenced by technology like instant messaging, video games, mobile phones and search.

As a result, he added, this group may eschew a structured workday and the traditional slow processes normally involved in company operations.

"These kids' brains are actually wired differently," Tapscott said. "Their IQs are up by all the measures we have. This is the smartest generation ever. They are highly motivated and bring with them a new kind of culture. They bring a new model of work and collaboration into the work force that is better, results in higher performance and better innovation."

But armed with these new models of work and collaboration, they often bump up against traditional corporate culture that may prompt them to leave a job, Tapscott noted. For companies to adequately take advantage of what he describes as "Talent 2.0," Tapscott said they must gain insight into the drivers behind their behavior.

Those drivers, he noted, are directly linked to the various technologies that they cut their teeth on, and require that companies add speed, freedom, openness, authenticity and playfulness into their cultures.

According to the results of Tapscott's research, which he provided to Computerworld, companies must accommodate the new generation's need for speed - real-time instant messaging conversation is core to their communication with a worldwide database of contacts. This preference for quick, peer-to-peer interaction often can be stifled by the traditional hierarchy of managers and long work processes in place at many companies today.

The new workforce is also used to taking advantage of the freedom that mobile technology provides them; in fact, freedom of choice "has become like oxygen" to them, Tapscott said.

Their desire for freedom and balance can be exploited for competitive gain in many ways, Tapscott said, citing flexible work hours and the incorporation of variety into individual workflows. Companies also may try virtual teaming, allowing Net Generation workers to satisfy their need to socialize with peers worldwide by using collaboration technologies.

Other suggestions from Tapscott's research for successfully engaging Net Generation workers include:

  • Providing a healthy amount of project work, which has the intensive time frames and cyclical nature they prefer;
  • Catering to employees taste for speed by setting up quick (five minutes perhaps) opportunities for them to present their new ideas to management; and
  • Encouraging management to develop informal relationships with workers where criticism and congratulations are accepted and invited by both.

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Heather Havenstein

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