Management of the Facebook Generation?

Scott Francis
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Those who know me well know that one of my pet peeves is the idea that whatever the “next” generation is, that generation must be managed differently, treated differently, etc.  Fortune magazine, which is one of my favorite reads, is one of the worst offenders, having promoted Generation X, Generation Y, and “the Millenials”.  I could go on a long rant about what I find wrong with these analyses.  But it is hard to know where to start.  Is it the gross overgeneralization of vast groups of people (which reminds me a bit too much of the same kind of overgeneralizations, when negative, which some call prejudice or ageism)?  Is it the idea that the next generation is always, somehow, lazier than the one before?  Is it the idea that the next generation is always, somehow, better adept at multi-tasking and networking than the one before?  Or is it the self-congratulating articles that show up in Fortune, where an author identifies with his/her own generation a bunch of happy characteristics that are clearly “unique” and unlike anything that has come before. I posit, instead, that people are… people.  The basic emotional and intellectual underpinnings of the people I meet do not alter that dramatically between 18 year olds and 65 year olds (maturity level, sure, but the machinery behind the surface? not so much).  Yes, the “kids” are more technologically adept.  But then, my parents were more technologically adept than their parents.  And their parents were more technologically adept than their parents’ parents.  So, what would actually be different is if the next generation was *less* technologically adept, rather than more.  This is not a function of increasing ability, it is a function of increasing technology – and the exposure to more technology at a younger age, and in more seamless integration to their world, changes things.  My daughter could use an iPhone quite well at 18 months.  Is she the next Einstein?  Maybe not.  I was initially impressed, but since then I’ve seen LOTS of babies flip through photos on iPhones.  Hey, the interface makes sense, even an infant can do it. I also hear that the younger generation (at one point, I was reading this about my own generation) wants to be managed differently, treated differently, by adults.  Actually, what every generation wants, is for the people they work for to respect their person, their work, and their lives – and they want to be effectively led by their leaders, and have the opportunity to lead their colleagues and teammates when appropriate.  From talking to my grandparents, I can see it was so with them.  From my own experiences as well. And with the 20-somethings I work with today. So it was refreshing to read an article that did not fall into any of these pitfalls.  Gary Hamel has a blog on Management “2.0”.  And in his article “The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500” he captures perfectly the *right* way to discuss this topic.
  1. He distinctly avoids age as a discriminator
  2. He does not ascribe ridiculous attributes to the vast majority of a whole generation of people
  3. He defines the generation not by age – but by a common interest – Facebook.
  4. He defines “status quo” by another common thread – companies on the Fortune 500.  (of course, Google employees would probably largely classify as both, proving that every generalization is going to be pretty off-target for some sample population).
He points out how the technology of Facebook and other technologies of its ilk have affected its users’ expectations of the word (he could have just as easily called it the Twitter generation or the Myspace generation or the Blog generation). Among my favorite points: All ideas compete on equal footing (because of the ease with which feedback and commentary can be fostered for any idea).  Leaders serve rather than preside (long a philosophy of good corporate denizens – that they were cultivating people as well as cultivating profits).  Intrinsic rewards matter most. My grandfather worked at Duriron (now Flowserv) for 44 years.  He retired, and then was on a pension for another 35 years.  His company evinced many of the traits Gary espouses over that time.  For example, one of the CEOs of Duriron worked under my grandfather, a Civil Engineer (and sometimes sales rep for the company), to learn the ropes.  The intrinsic value of doing a good job for the company was worth more than any bonus or incentive plan.  Power (influence) came to my grandfather because he was a good teacher – he shared what he knew freely.  He often chose his tasks – saw a problem and worked on it- rather than being assigned to it. Read it over and see if Gary’s thoughts don’t have merit for your organization.  Setting the title aside (I was really prepared for another bad article on this subject), this is one of the better articles I’ve read on the subject of how social software has changed the dynamics, or at least, reinforced dynamics that were already in play.

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