SOM on IMD: Managing Digital Native Employees

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Dr. Karsten Jonsen, a research fellow at the IMD at Lausanne recently published an interesting article on the new generation of employees that increasingly enter the workforce – the digital natives:

Managing Digital Natives – Creating a work environment for tomorrow’s workforce<

Having grown up in a digital world, everything older generations had a hard time to learn is common sense to this generation. This will have major implications on how they work – which can cause a lot of conflicts but also brings up great opportunities.

The article nicely explains what makes these digital natives special and how employers should manage them in order to get the best result for both sides.

Here are some elements and my comments to them:

Digital Natives are:

Playful, like to set their own rules, enjoy freedom and try to avoid unpleasant tasks: agreed, but I disagree with the fact that they value fun more than fulfilling their duties. Today’s young professionals are very ambitious and critical towards themselves. They have grown up not only with all the amenities of our times but also in a more competitive world.

Entitled, feeling that they are the project, constantly improving their own brand, focusing on their own wellbeing: agreed, although the team spirit is in my eyes still being appreciated by the digital natives. But if this is something that is not being nurtured by the management, then yes, they are focusing on their own brand only.

Instantaneous, praising fast and random access to information, desiring instant gratification and constant interaction, ability to quickly handle large chunks of different information, great talent to assimilate to changing frameworks: agreed, but this is an explosive one. Today’s young talents are very demanding but if their demands are not fulfilled they can easily react and assimilate to new situations, such as for example a new job position in a different company. Today’s networks further support this.

Digitally dependant, „being offline“ experienced as a serious constraint: agreed, being online is not an option, it is part of our daily life. Thus as explained in the article, shutting them off from their digital networks will not result in more productivity. Instead a reasonable use should mutually be agreed on.

Participatory, generating information and sharing it openly with other members of the team is essential, they want to be heard and demand power early on: agreed, digital natives are used to communicate and discuss, so a very hierarchical business structure where they have wait until they may speak can be hard at first. The strong propensity to participation of course boosts teamwork and collaboration which, as also pointed out in the article, can also reach out to external resources that earlier on where completely out of reach for the company. Personal networks are „tapped“ to benefit the business goal. The better the network an employee brings along the better for the company. This however is something that often is hard to compensate as the positive results are hard to measure and are often not recognized by companies.

Karsten Jonsen and his team give four tips on how to deal with digital natives and I fully agree with them. They all show that companies have to rethink their structures and their internal rules in order to attract the greatest talents and more important (as recruitment is getting harder and harder and more expensive) retain them!

1. Give them freedom
2. Create sense of ownership
3. Coach them (and let them coach you)
4. Reward them everyday

What these points mean in detail can be read in the article which can be found via the link to IMD.

Many of the most successful companies of today such as Google or Apple make use of this new approach. Even German engineering company Trumpf has recently introduced a new work hour model which grants their employees the complete freedom on at what stages in their life they want to work how much. Every two years they can decide their weekly hours anew. CEO Nicola Leibinger-Karmueller explains this move with the fact that in the course of time, employees have differing expectations towards their job. In young years they are very ambitious, want to come ahead and get things done, in later years family building or care for the parents may be more in the focus. Many experts believe that this step will not only improve motivation and thus productivity but also have positive effects on the health of the employees.

This shows: Money is not all. A competitive salary still counts, but there are more and more factors that become relevant for employees when choosing their employer.

This article contains direct citations from the above mentioned IMD article by Dr. Karsten Jonsen and his team. The article can be downloaded via the link provided.