It's amazing to me how much debate surrounds the challenges associated with managing generations X and Y in the workplace. Questions persist about the best ways to communicate with, and engage, the post baby-boomers who have been raised on Facebook, text messaging and IM's, and who have a language all their own as a result. But really, I fail to see how this is different from any other good, old-fashioned generation gap where the underlying issue is simply about a need to understand differences. Meanwhile, what we don't need are more management theories that mire us in frameworks and attempt to force people into a mold that was built by those who came before us. While the existing model may not be relevant for some, it is still for others. The point is, we can't change where we came from nor can we change where we are going, but we can find a mutual meeting place that intersects somewhere in the middle and addresses where we are.
The most common questions I hear follow with my most common answers:
Q: "How do we get them to hear us?"
A: One option is to speak their language. It's not hard to learn. (a.k.a. LOL) And if that doesn't work for you, the other option is to simply respect that every generation is socialized differently and appreciate that change forces progress.
Q: "How can we engage them (in their work) when traditional methods of communication fail to reach them?"
A: Don't impose the old way of doing things on them. Ask them what they want and how you can most effectively bring out their best. They'll tell you.
Q: "How should we handle their compulsive need to text, tweet, IM and check Facebook status updates constantly while at work?"
A: Set policy that says they can't. If they do it during a meeting or conversations with others, it has nothing to do with technology or age. It's plain and simply rude and should not be accepted as permissible behavior any more than standing up and walking away while someone is talking.
Q: "How do we handle their ADD/ADHD attention spans?"
A: Speed things up. They're bored. Add more variety. They'll be fine.
Q: "How do we train them?"
A: Make training more interesting. Make it relevant to their jobs. Don't bog them down with theories and don't drone on. Have them speak more than the trainer does and use slides that move, have sound, color and numbers in addition to the words.
Q: "How should we manage them?"
A: Be very clear about what is acceptable and what isn't in your organization. Values, goals and priorities shouldn't be all that different because a younger generation is suddenly present.
The most important thing to remember is that communicating effectively and managing for results are not necessarily the same. To communicate with employees you generally need to reach them, which usually happens through affect. On the other hand, to manage people you need to establish a structure that supports and shapes the behaviors necessary to fuel a business that thrives. The common ground for both is that you need to be clear, clear, clear in how you articulate and convey your message.
In terms of whether social media should be "allowed" in the workplace at all, it's really very simple. If it's work related then it is totally appropriate, and if it's personal then it should be treated as such -- not forbidden, but kept to a minimum. If employees abuse it, then it's time for the firewalls to go up. Meanwhile, take the best of both the pre- and post-information age and make the most of the opportunity to be stretched into new territory.