In its annual look at emerging trends, Ricoh predicts generational disparities in career paths will present tough new management challenges
Your new boss is half your age. You're okay with that, right?
Organizations will increasingly face management challenges like this in 2014 when a new concept of seniority evolves (or "seniority" becomes obsolete) and Gen Y comes to work on a fast new career track, predicts Ricoh Americas Corporation.
To explain: the time-honored career path of learning at the feet of senior colleagues and working your way up from the mailroom makes little sense to ultra-talented Gen Y professionals. They've seen fresh-faced peers rocket to early success by parlaying prodigious digital skills they've honed since birth.
"What we're seeing is a stark dichotomy in career paths," said Terrie Campbell, Vice President, Strategic Marketing, at Ricoh Americas Corporation. "The traditional path is slow and steady, and the new one is possibly the fastest track in history. Millennial workers wielding exciting new skills are dropping into companies at mid-level and, in some cases, leapfrogging veteran colleagues to seniority. This two-pronged career path will introduce rampant confusion around expectations, duties and opportunities. Organizations will need to quickly adapt, starting today."
This confusion is complicated by Gen Y's distinctive workstyle - democratic, digital, mobile, social, information-hungry and technocentric. Successful companies will aggressively manage the phenomena without stifling any generation's potential.
"This new Gen Y career path isn't just a new paradigm; that would be easy," Campbell adds. "Rather, the dual career path will remain viable at least until Boomers have aged out of the workforce. Companies that want to seize the full potential of their entire workforce need to dedicate significant time and effort to accommodate generational differences and make their workforce perform in harmony."
Two more predictions
Ricoh, committed to making information work for business, has developed educated opinions on the future of work based on its experience developing solutions for thousands of clients. That experience sets the stage for two additional predictions that build on the first:
The workforce will become less about "me." In addition to being the most educated generation in history, Gen Y may be the most thoughtful. As a result, the drive for personal recognition, or being the "hero," is quickly falling out of fashion. The cult of individual success will be replaced by a collective "360 degree" concept of collective organizational success that includes the quest for meaning. We'll see fewer leaders, more "team players." The question then becomes, what impact will this have on the leadership and drive that has historically propelled American business? Will we see a slowdown in momentum due to the process of team decision making? Accountability measurements will shift as decisions and ownership become a team sport.
Company "blueprints" will disappear. We'll see cultural upheaval, good and bad, in the workplace as older workers take institutional knowledge, such as how the company developed, with them into retirement. Although their departure will result in the need for new creative thinking, it may also require learning from mistakes that have been made before.
How to bridge the divide
Ricoh aggressively addresses the generational divide as it builds information mobility solutions for the new world of work. Here are some suggestions for managing the generational divide from a cultural standpoint:
Find the blind spots. Although younger information workers can be brilliant and brimming with useful knowledge, some need support in deciding "what to do next" in terms of daily tasks. Campbell attributes this need to technology that has put young people since birth in worlds that are literally programmed for them. Identify the blind spots and fill them.
Train for creativity. To offset blind spots, organizations must present open-ended challenges to workers. With training, they will be able to adapt to unstructured opportunity, and innovation will thrive.
Create new mentorship models. Young workers have never been more talented, so the traditional model of having the older worker teach the younger won't always work. On the other hand, senior workers possess valuable experience that can only be acquired over time. Therefore, mentorships can be bi-directional and should be based more on specific competencies than seniority.
Train on generational differences. Salespeople of every generation need to be educated explicitly about generational differences of all types. These differences can dramatically affect how customers like to be approached, how much information they need to make a decision, and what they expect in terms of service.
Bring generations together. Differences can create disconnects. Intelligent strategies that capture and integrate unstructured knowledge - speech, chat, IM, email, audio, video, documents, etc. - bring people together for optimal business performance.
Preserve the human touch. With so much emphasis on Internet communication, face-to-face relationships are becoming a lost art. Successful companies will keep their collective interpersonal skills sharp through company events that reinforce social graces.
Consider a Generational Council. Some companies, including Ricoh, have established internal committees to formally examine workplace challenges and opportunities related to generational differences in workstyle. The council's agenda should include potential skills development, collaboration and customer engagement initiatives - as well as open, candid conversation.