Like any other self-respecting baby boomer in our times, I pride myself on my use of the latest technology. I love to tweet, post on Instagram, and use the myriad of apps on my smartphone to make all aspects of my professional and personal life more efficient so that I have more time to do the things I like to think add meaning and value.
However, I do admit that I am perhaps not the most proficient (yet) of all the digital or analytical capabilities available to me, and that’s where I might need a bit of help. But how many of us – the older generations – are willing to admit that or see it that way?
In the Leaders 2020 study, Oxford Economics surveyed more than 2,050 executives and 2,050 non-executive employees in 21 countries across multiple industries during the second quarter of 2016. Of the employees surveyed, 50% were millennials (aged 18–37), the percentage expected to make up the workforce by 2020; the executive sample also included a meaningful number of millennial respondents (17%). I was particularly interested to read the results around the progress toward digital transformation. We know that millennials in the workforce actually have more in common with other age groups than sometimes assumed – and it’s dangerous to make generalizations – but this research shows that there is a perception gap when it comes to progress toward digital transformation.
Another interesting aspect shown in the Leaders 2020 study, was that millennial respondents were dubious about the digital skills of mid-level and senior management and were much less likely than older colleagues to say their managers are proficient at using technology, for example to achieve competitive advantage, facilitate collaboration inside the organization, to inspire and motivate employees or to manage employee retention. And thinking about it, I suppose it’s understandable. They are the first generation to grow up with computers, the Internet and smartphones, and so using this technology is second nature and a completely natural way of working. Those of us who started working in the 80s or earlier can still remember the days when we used telex machines, telefax was a revolution and the advent of the golf-ball typewriter a miracle. I remember typing my dissertation paper on a little portable typewriter, aided by lots of Tipp-Ex, and in the knowledge that what I wrote was probably less than perfect in terms of orthography, layout and presentation (without all of those wonderful digital aids we all now take for granted). Unimaginable today of course, but expectations are much higher now that we can use technology to achieve the perfection, accuracy, speed and efficiency that we always strived for.
What the study also revealed is that millennials have less faith in their organization’s ability to help people grow on the job than older colleagues. They rate their organizations much lower in talent development strategies, in encouraging workers and top leadership to continually develop new skills, and in developing talent. For example, 52% of millennial respondents agreed with the statement, “We have strategies for developing talent within the organization, including skill sets necessary in the digital workplace” versus 65% of older colleagues.
One of the people interviewed as part of the study – Edward Levy, a 30-year-old London-based contracts specialist working for a commodities trading firm – is quoted as saying that it can be difficult to know where to concentrate development resources in times where rapid change is the norm. “I would argue that younger people need soft skills, flexible minds, good personalities, and a willingness to cultivate relationships,” he said. “But I think most would forego those skills and say you need Excel, programming, and modeling skills. The reality is that you need both, but the latter is often emphasized at the former’s expense, and those with the former are not always given a chance to learn the latter.”
I think that this is an opportunity for the gen-Xers, baby boomers, and traditionalists among us to trade skills here with the younger generations – the millennials and the gen-Zers – and support each other. Who says that a mentor needs to be older or more experienced than you? How about going out to get yourself a millennial mentor and ask them to help you become more proficient in the digital tools we need to transform our business, while you can mentor them on the soft-skill side of things? (Though I wouldn’t rule out that we can learn a lot from a millennial mentor on this side of the house too.)
Luckily, I am privileged to work in an organization that encourages such working relationships and where there is understanding of diversity in the differences in ages and the value that each individual brings to the table. I have millennials all around me who are more than willing to generously share their knowledge and help me succeed in our digital transformation and who want to learn from me.
So, why don’t you go out and get yourself a bit of reverse mentoring today and see what else you can learn?
To access the new think piece, “Make Way for Millennials” and to learn more insights from the Leaders 2020 study by Oxford Economics and SAP, please visit here.
Sue Pfleger is a Board Area HR Business Partner at SAP