When Gen Y Runs the Show

The work environment will be reshaped to accommodate flexibility and flat structures when this generation takes charge.

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Carol Phillips, president of market research firm Brand Amplitude and an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame, has studied millennials and what drives them. "They need frequent bite-size promotions, and things can't be ambiguous. You have to tell them where the goal line is. They need it more than past generations," she says.

Because these younger workers are so hands-on, giving them real-world experience is the best way to groom them for leadership roles, Phillips says.

"You can't lecture to this group. They get bored so easily. They learn best by doing. The way they learn is by figuring it out," she says. "So give them tasks that stretch them a bit but that they're still able to do."

Susan Donovan, senior director of application development and support at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Arlington, Va., already sees these influences.

At 39, she's a Gen X'er. She says a key characteristic of her generation and the millennials is the need for flexible work schedules "so you can be a mom, an employee and a manager."

But younger workers also want more than flexibility, she says. They want interesting work that keeps them engaged. They want to keep up their learning. They want the freedom to push boundaries and try new strategies and technologies without fear of reprimands for getting it wrong the first time.

"They do care about the work, they just don't want to be on the same project year after year after year," Donovan says. "So we need to personalize what projects people are on."

"We like to learn and advance our understanding of things, and when we have a job that allows us to do that, that's a big deal," says Deric Abel, a Linux administrator at America First Credit Union in Riverdale, Utah.

Abel, 29, says one of his friends, a network engineer, recently left a job in part because he felt that he was boxed in and spending too much time in meetings.

That mentality translates into how Abel says he'll manage people as he moves into positions with more authority -- which he's on track to do. He says he would add more flexibility by, for example, allowing IT workers to choose their own operating systems for their desktops. He wants to add flextime and off-site work options. He envisions being a boss who's more of a facilitator than a manager.

Dawn Augustino, 44, an IT technical director at the University of Pennsylvania, has similar notions about the future of the IT workplace. She sees an organization where ideas and results -- not the number of years on the job -- earn people promotions.

She also wants to foster an environment in which workers can promote their ideas throughout the organization, and where they can try new strategies and feel comfortable bringing problems to her as the boss.

"It will be very flat," she says, adding that she already manages that way.

Jeff Schwartz, global and U.S. talent leader at Deloitte Consulting LLP, says next-generation leaders will also have a more global perspective. They'll be more comfortable with diversity, seize the latest technologies and look for results-oriented work environments that put the value on the job done rather than the hours worked, he says.

"The X and Y generations have come up in world where you have more options," says Schwartz. "Hopefully their leadership and management style will evolve to take advantage of some of these complexities."

Next: 5 indispensable IT skills of the future

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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