Connecting Generations Digitally

My write-up for the Summer 2012 CMMA E-Visions Newsletter.

At the 2012 National Conference in Clearwater, we learned a lot about the differences between Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Gen X and Millennial generations, all of whom are represented in the workforce. We learned that collaboration is critical—but not easy to achieve. We learned that technology and social media will play an increasingly important role in bridging the generation gap. 

Let’s get specific. Tell us about ONE bridge you are building between the generations in your organization. (collaboration tools…social media initiatives…culture change projects…technology implementation…new training campaigns, etc.) Tell us the strategy behind building this bridge and how well it is or isn’t working. Give us enough detail that we can learn from each other.

At work we are building out an internal social application that combines some of the best features of Quora/Stack Overflow/Yahoo Answers (Q&A), Twitter/Facebook (Microblogging), and (link analytics). The thought process behind building the platform is to provide an online community for employees to connect, learn, and grow. The great thing about social media is it has become something all generations participate in outside of work. Facebook for instance has connected over a billion people across the world to date. The interesting thing is while current generations are at work, many still opt to not “pull” communications, but rather have those communications “pushed” to them in systems like email or hard copies. One of the reasons for this may be because Facebook is about you, things happening to your friends, and family which we hopefully all find are areas we care deeply for. Work is not always about you, and often times it is about others asking you to do things, things you may not even want to do. If you were to get a $1000 check in the mail each week you would be very eager to go to the mail to “pull it” but if you got a $1000 bill instead, how enthusiastic would you be to go pull that bill from your mailbox? So I am finding generations will pull or push information, but it has to be engaging, somewhat fun, and to a degree something they see value in. Simply providing content or systems doesn’t mean if you build, or develop content for employees “they will come” to receive it, no matter the generation.

Many companies are still very much email centric. Our hope is the new platform being tested and deployed in 2013 will not only allow employees to connect, learn, and grow, but also connect generations. Apart from delivering content employees care about, the challenge I am finding is each generation, for the most part (there is always an exception to every rule), has its own preference for how to communicate when using technology. We are asking ourselves if we should encourage those who prefer one form of technology while at work to adapt to newer forms of communication technology tools, or will they see the benefits over time and adopt to what other generations prefer? New generations of employees are entering the workforce with their own communication preferences and thus far are preferring they not have to use traditional communication tools, opting instead for what they are most comfortable with. I had a contractor last week just out of college ask if it would be OK for him to text me the status of his projects. Times are changing and businesses have to adapt.

Bridging the gap across generations can be difficult. What we have elected to do is use push technologies as our notification system, and have that pushed notification be optional in most instances. We will allow employees the ability to opt in and out of receiving the reminders via the push systems. At the same time, there are instances where we have a company initiative or executive communication which cannot be opted out of. If employees still prefer to have all communications pushed to them, they can subscribe to a daily recap of what occurred online with a link for them to join the discussion. The key to me is to keep everyone engaged using the preferred platform of their choosing until it is no longer efficient, cost effective, or the business stops seeing the value and chooses the more modern method themselves. For instance when was the last time you sent a fax, used a transparency projector, signed something with carbon paper, had a pager, answering machine, or looked up something in a phone book? People will stop using a technology when it is no longer efficient, or in a peer pressure situation, even when it isn’t “cool” to do so anymore. Peer pressure can be one of the most powerful forces for shaping what generations do, or don’t do.

If you can cater to how employees prefer to pull/push communication, you can hopefully bridge the gaps many of us are encountering. Each generation has a wealth of experience and no one way of communicating is better overall (each has its own pros and cons). You have to look at what each generation prefers, what strengths they bring to the table, and what matches your organization’s communication’s strategy.

Why Communications is Like Water

I have always enjoyed being around the ocean, especially in warm locations.  If you do a search on my site for “beach” you will see pictures of a very happy Jeremy.  OK so before I bore you with how much I love the ocean I have to get to the point of this post.  Communications is how I have made my living for almost half my life now.  I live, eat, and sleep communications and rarely get surprised these days with new ways people choose to communicate.   I saw Bruce Lee’s “Be Like Water” video on YouTube a few years ago and people at work know ever since I have referred to it when discussing challenges with communications in companies.

The reason the video resonated with me is I loved how Bruce Lee described water taking the shape of different things, as well as its different forms. I’ve visited a lot of companies over the years and I’ve seen a lot of company cultures. I think many of us overlook how important communication is to our companies.  Countries fighting in wars know the value of communications because one of the first things they do when attacking an opposing side is attempt to disable as many communications as they can.  If countries can’t communicate they can’t effectively organize, follow orders, and similarly businesses are the same way.

Returning to our water analogy, everyone needs water to live and in many ways professionals must communicate in order to survive.  How much or how little communication people send or receive determines how well they are able to receive it.  If you are in a rainstorm and you want to capture water, one of the most efficient ways is to put a cup under a gutter downspout.  Similarly if you want to want to capture the best audience when communicating you find your funneled, or target audience.  If it is raining and you run around with your mouth open, you will get wet but you’ll also stay thirsty.  In business many of us are communicating but how many times have you heard employees are being “flooded with information”?

How to Effectively Communicate Without “Getting Yourself All Wet”

  • Take a temperature check to understand your audience.  Will the person I am communicating with care and is it pertinent to them?  If no, what will it take to make them care of for it to be pertinent for them?
  • Don’t belly flop when diving in.  If you jump in without checking your grammar, you might not get taken seriously.
  • Default to the raindrop method when communicating rather than flooding your audience with too much information.
  • No splashing in the pool (get to the point).  You can swim and you can splash but when you get to the other side of the pool, people will appreciate you a lot more if don’t make waves by talking too much.
  • Like bathing, do it often, but only as needed.
  • One step at a time.  When people first learn to swim they need to know the basic mechanics before you throw them “in the deep end”.
  • You need someone to oversee that everyone follows the rules.  At the beach and many of the pools we hire lifeguards to make sure people follow the rules and help those who need it.  In business if you don’t have a person or team making sure people follow the rules, chances are, they won’t.
  • Make your communication short and sweet.  If you stay in water too long you’ll turn into a prune.  Prunes aren’t cool and you won’t be either.  Don’t be a prune.

Communications in a company can flow, or it can crash.  Be water my friend!

Bruce Lee Be As Water My Friend

The Dancing Gorilla

Can I have your attention for a few minutes? Great, that is exactly what I want to talk about today, getting people’s attention! I’d also like to talk about what should happen once you get people’s attention. In a meeting a few weeks ago I talked about my “dancing gorilla” experience when I lived in Oregon which I hoped would effectively articulate where most companies are from a communications standpoint and what it takes to get attention from others in our new fast passed, digital, and information overloaded society.

Would like to hear what you think. Agree / disagree or any comments? What tips and tricks do you have for getting results without being a dancing gorilla?