The above image was shared with me via LinkedIn yesterday with the comment “Wow, I can’t believe that 6 of the top 8 apps are the same in each generation.”  Maybe my mind works differently, but I saw the differences, not the similarities.  What I saw was the relative position of the communication tools in this list and how it changes across the generations.

Let me make a little data analysis here.  I grouped the apps by type, and the generational differences suddenly become very clear.  What struck me was that the social media communications (orange line) and the information (grey line) have very clear trends.  OK, we are only talking about the TOP 8 apps, and I shouldn’t draw too many conclusions, but there is a clear message here.

The definition of social generations doesn’t just depend on when you were born, but on how you interact with your environment.  The graph above highlights one of the important characteristics of the different generations, and that is how they communicate.  It Is also a very clear message to organisations about just why they need to change.

Organisations have grown up under the influence of Baby Boomer CEOs and Generation X managers.  The working culture and processes are adapted to the generations that built them.  But as the new generations enter the workplace, they will bring their new culture with them and more importantly, their expectations.  The communication example above is just one of them.

Organisations have become far more multinational, and as a consequence, more multi-cultural.  It is a management trend currently to learn how to deal with different cultures and how to get the best from them.  This is of course vital for the health of an organisation, but when I see graphics like the one above, I can’t help thinking that there is something missing in the simple multi-national cultural analysis.  Generations are also unique cultures and the newest generations that are about to join the workforce are so radically different from the generations that defined the current working methods that there is often little common ground between them.

What does that mean for the workplace?  We know that teams work best when their working methods are similar to their cultural tendencies. Teams will use whatever tools, method or process that are the most acceptable to the majority of its members. That’s why most industrial organisations are governed by Baby Boomer systems.  As more and more younger generations join the workforce, the Baby Boomer majority will decrease leading to pressure to change and introduce new tools or methods.  The communication tools highlighted at the start of this article is just one example.

The new generational expectations will come from people who don’t have the benefit a full career’s worth of experience.  Although they might know what they want to change, they don’t know how and more importantly, they lack the knowledge of why the legacy systems are there.

In the changes that will be inevitable in the future, it is imperative to ensure that organisations don’t throw out vital systems in the drive to modernise.  In the latest report by the EIIL, we advocate that the voice of wisdom should play an active part in the change process.  A particular group of older workers that we have termed the Transition Generation adds a longer wavelength of thinking to the instant, social-media, communication that is the current trend and this could help organisational stability in a world in transition.

6 of the top 8 apps may be the same in each generation, but the different generations will stay different from one another.  They will have to work together and we are currently forcing the new generations to accept the old generational ways of working, but those ways will have to change.

Don’t be afraid, be prepared!

Paul Bennington