Five Rules for Managing Digital Natives

By Bevil Wooding

There is a cultural shift now underway that is transforming the human side of organisations. Digital Immigrants are being replaced in the corporate ranks by Digital Natives. From Human Resource and Corporate Learning to Sales, Marketing, Management and Innovation, the tide of change is growing harder to resist. The organisations that stand still in the face of this cultural avalanche will lose top talent. The companies that smartly respond to the shift, will not only gain an edge; they will ensure their survivability.

Social media is playing a major role in shaping how society interacts with the world. It is not a passing fad. Its dominance is here to stay. We have witnessed the rise of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+. At the same time, we are witnessing the rise of the digital generation.

As ubiquitous as social media is, there are vast differences in how it is being used, and how it is influencing human behaviour. On one side the digital native;on the other side the digital immigrant

Digital Natives are those persons born during or after the general introduction of digital technology. They have grown up surrounded by and immersed in digital technologies, such as the Internet, mobile phones, digital music and online social networks. So what does that make everyone else? Brace yourself. If you are not a Digital Native, you are a Digital Immigrant. In other words, digital immigrants were born before the widespread proliferation of digital technologies and adopted technology at a later stage in their life.

Employees now routinely expect their employers to provide more self-service work tools, to mirror those they use in the rest of their lives. In fact, even the term “work-life balance” is now dated. In its place has evolved the phrase “work–life integration,” wherein we acknowledge the blending of the two. This is why every organisation that cares about innovation, business competitiveness and sustainability must understand what it takes to keep Digital Natives at least productive, and ideally, happy.

Why? Employees are expecting and increasingly demanding a greater voice in how, where and when they work. More and more, the preferences being expressed are for a workplace that is more personalised, mobile, and social.

The good news is that Digital Natives can infuse companies with a new work culture. They can accelerate the transformation of outmoded processes and systems. They can bring new technological skills and fresh thinking that can be harnessed to improve workplace efficiency and to significantly
increase productivity.

Here are five keys to getting the most out of the digital natives in your organisation:

1. Mobility Matters

For natives, new gadgets aren’t just toys. They depend on technology daily to meet their needs. They develop elaborate communication systems built around technology to connect them instantly to information. To hold their attention, you’ll have to re-imagine corporate learning. Lose the notice board, ditch the white board and retool the boardroom. Instead, integrate corporate communications channels more in line with how natives socialise and collaborate outside the workplace.

2. Multi-taskers by Default

Stop waiting for natives to focus; they live in a state of “continuous partial attention”. If you think they’re trying to do too much at work, you should see them after hours when they’re tweaking the settings on their Facebook page, looking for research material online, updating their Instagram accounts, window shopping on Amazon and watching the latest viral YouTube sensation *one* more time. Get used to it. Instead of expecting them to do less, demand that they do more.

3. Empowered to Create

Many ‘ordinary’ natives are publishers, movie makers, artists, song creators and story tellers. They tend to learn best through trial and error. As a recent Harvard Business Review article put it, “show your creatives unconditional support and encourage them to do the absurd and fail. Innovation comes from uncertainty, risk, and experimentation—if you know it will work, it isn’t creative. Creative people are the natural experimenters, so let them try and test and play. Of course, there are costs associated with experimentation — but these are lower than the cost of NOT innovating.”

4. Embrace the Social

The internet is at the center of the digital revolution, the social revolution and the knowledge economy. Ubiquitous online social networking sites facilitate a reflexive culture of sharing. Since natives solve complex problems best in an environment of (online) collaboration, you should allow workers to build and maintain a social network while at work to share knowledge and foster communities.

5. Change is Constant

There is a reason natives tend to process information at twitch speed; their paradigm is one of constant change. That disposition puts them ahead of the curve, because everything will change even more in coming years. If you can harness their ability to transform corporate processes and systems, you will find that they infuse your company with a new work culture.

Bevil Wooding is the Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN (www.congresswbn.org), a values-based international non-profit. He is also Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an education-technology non-profit (www.brightpathfoundation.org). Reach him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at technologymatters@brightpathfoundation.org.

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