Thriving with Generation Y in the workplace - the role of IT

25 April 2012

Pete Wells

Pete Wells

Back Office AMT Delivery Manager


Lazy, lacking respect, no company loyalty, entitled to everything now, everything is transactional and furthermore, they expect to be rewarded for everything. And, if they are rewarded, they want something else!

This wasn't my last performance review - they are common perceptions of Generation Y, (aka Gen Y, Millennials, Net Generation, Echo Boomers), people born during the 80s and early 90s to parents born during the baby boom.

Even if companies can't be persuaded that these might be misconceptions, they have to at least accept Gen Y is rapidly becoming the lifeblood of our organisations.  Companies have little option but to embrace them and the opportunities they bring. This includes adapting our management approach and ensuring the IT strategy meets their needs.

Managing Gen Y expectations

At least one of the Echo Boomers in my team wants my job. They don't want it in 3 or 5 years time, but in the next couple of months. I know this because he told the trainer on an internal course he attended.  Perhaps I should put him back in his place and tell him how it took me years to get to this position and maybe one day in the future, if he works hard...!! Had I done this, he'd likely be gone in 6 months time. Consequentially, I would have lost a valued team member and be forced to rethink my succession planning.  Instead we discuss the steps required to get him to that place so he sees a path to where he wants to be - not without recognition and reward along the way.  Retention is an issue at SThree so it is key we understand the type of approach needed.

I could easily associate the negative traits from my introduction to my self-assigned successor and complain that these youngsters need a 'good slap'.  This is quoting the fellow commuter who observed the subject of this blog during construction on my tablet of choice (very Gen Y).  He also commented they should get a haircut!  Anyway, giving the guy a slap would be doing my team member and the majority of Sthree's revenue generating workforce, a huge disservice.

We recently ran a very successful upgrade to SAP ECC6.  It was a technical upgrade that required users to get heavily involved with process mapping and testing activities.  Most of them were members of the Net Generation and the inevitable question was from many was "What's in it for me?"  We gave them the mandatory prize (overtime, a bottle of wine) for their involvement but it was a challenge to sell the need to do this when there isn't an immediate return.  It will be the foundation for lots of exciting projects that will leverage our investment in SAP over the next few years (and for a company our size we are investing a lot).  However, people still want to know what they are getting now!  What we have to do is show them the roadmap for change and ensure programmes of work are iterative and form part of a long-term goal.  Of course we then have to deliver on this and quickly, but it does keep people engaged, interested and included as part of a team.

Opportunities

So, where are the opportunities? The average employee age at SThree is around the mid to late 20 mark. SThree is an international recruitment organisation that likes to pluck graduates fresh out of university and train them to be Sales Consultants.  They have been climbing Sthree's ranks for years so we have had the opportunities a Gen Y workforce provide for years and they are huge opportunities. These Echo Boomers are the most socially conscious generation ever. They are absorbed in a world made possible through technology and it is a world they are naturally competent in.  Rather than being lazy, they just communicate differently and work more effectively using the tools at their disposal, multi tasking and finding shortcuts.

Social Networking

Social networking has played a key role here and is the lifeblood of Gen Y.  Like many other companies, we've started to embrace the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter as part of our applications landscape. For our business, the potential for leveraging these tools to communicate with candidates and clients is huge, so their adoption is vital.  It dispels the view that these tools are a distraction when, in fact, they should be seen as a way of working more efficiently.  If you aren't convinced then check out this video (is this lazy or am I communicating my message more effectively?).

Consumerisation

Social network tools in the work place are also important because the personal and work life of Millennials needs to be seamless. Flexible working and consumerisation look to address this requirement too - the office is my home, the train, Starbucks and even the street.  People need to be able to access everything they would in the office anytime, anywhere.  Furthermore, they want to access it on the latest device and the one of their choosing.  Progressive IT departments have to embrace this to attract and retain personnel.  If they don't, Gen Y will look elsewhere and they will easily find organizations that will.

A BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy has been helping to attract Gen Y workers for SAP in Australia since September 2011.  10% of their 700 strong work-force use their tablets or smart phones.  OK, so this figure isn't a large percentage, but if you look at the new hires during this period then apparently 80% of them, mostly in their 20's and 30's, take up the BYOD policy.  It's perhaps a blindingly obvious point but I'll say it anyway, the proportion of Generation Y employees is only going to increase.  To quote SAP's Andrew Fox, Head of Mobility and Cloud Solutions, "Generation Y doesn't make an exception between personal and business life, they want to bring their own device to work. BYOD is unstoppable so it's better that the IT department manages it".

Sthree is also embracing this as a concept with consumerisation an important part of our IT Strategy.  We have recently rolled out Good to the majority of the workforce so they can access their calendars and email on the move.  Citrix is also available for people to access their desktop.  This alone isn't going to support a work anywhere, anyhow, anytime workforce.  Culturally we still have work to do, but it's a good start as IT targets its tools at Gen Y.  There are challenges and like SAP we've discovered that, internationally, a blanket policy is not possible. Local legislation means we have to work collaboratively with HR and Legal to ensure we are compliant in different territories.

Usability

Applications on our devices also have to be easy to use (no-one wants something that requires an instruction manual as it's not an efficient way of working).

I attended the 2011 SAP User Group Conference and it was encouraging to hear about a more user centric SAP strategy.  One demonstration of SAP HCM truly reflected the interaction that users want from the applications they use as a key part of their working day (or night -whenever they want to work).  I can't help feel SAP is still behind the curve on this though.  We've just implemented the latest version of SAP Solution Manager and whilst the new web-based user screens are improved, they don't go far enough to throw off the shackles of the outdated user experience.  The old SAP is often still too visible.

SAP Employee and Manager Self Service is part of our roadmap for change and from what I've seen so far, the product has moved forward.  However, I also feel it still lags behind the type of interaction employees expect from their applications.

Conclusion

There is of course much more to the Echo Boomers and how to attract and retain them however,  embracing their culture, adapting our management styles and ensuring they have the right tools (largely, on their terms) are all key factors in ensuring organisations capitalise on  this opportunity.

Of course as much as it suits sociologists to categorise everyone in buckets, we are all individuals and the lines are thankfully blurred.  One thing is for sure, the cliché of successful companies adapting to change has never been truer and cultures that embrace this generation sooner rather than later will undoubtedly be the ones left standing.

So how Gen Y is my family and I?  On a typical Sunday morning my 2 and 3½ year olds are navigating through Peppa Pig (sometimes in Polish or French) on the iPad. I missed match of the day (MOTD) last night but it's OK because I told my Tivo box the other week I like football via the 'thumbs up' button.  As a result it recorded MOTD without me asking. One eye is on the game, the other is accepting more Facebook and LinkedIn requests.  I also respond to my brothers canvassing on Facebook to see if he should do his masters course.  I really should catch up on my work emails on Good (or my Blackberry). Too late, my wife texts me from upstairs as she wants a cup of tea, immediately and as she likes it (no hot and wet quips please).  I don't protest as it's all transactional and I want to play golf later.

On a final note, here are some interesting comparisons taken from Generation Y: Surviving (and Thriving) with Generation Y at Work by Peter Sheahan.

GenerationY-Comparisons

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Below par golfer, Real Ale quoffer, Oldham Athletic fan, husband and father of two and in his spare time, BackOffice Applications Delivery Manager.

Pete started his IT career 16 years ago in a testing role at United Utilities before progressing through a Grad training scheme at FI Group (formally Xansa and now Steria) and ending up at SThree 6 years ago. Pete has worked in BA roles using PeopleSoft Project Costing and Billing, SAP FICO and SAP HCM and has been managing the SThree's BackOffice and SAP Team for 3 years. Find out more about Pete.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bluefin Solutions Ltd or SThree Plc.
 

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Pete Wells

Back Office AMT Delivery Manager

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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