In the early days of television, the first television actors emigrated from comfortable and settled careers in stage and radio. Their adaptation to the new reality created by television was clumsy at best. Nevertheless, the television revolution kept rolling, creating new possibilities and new cultural norms for communications. Overtime, television forced a change in presentation practices to fit the new technology and harness its unique capabilities. Radio and its followers continued, but were overshadowed, influenced, and dominated by the habits and norms created by the new technology called television.
Such a transition is occurring now in the modern workforce. Four unique generations represent today’s worker, each with its own needs, motivators and communication preferences. Born before 1978, Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers spent part of their careers working in analog environments. Familiar with typewriters, inter-office mail envelopes, Telex and early Xerox machines, these generations also mailed in resumes and cover letters (on high quality paper stock), filled in timesheets, and checked off tick boxes on paper forms during performance evaluations.
Then the digital revolution arrived, and Millennials along with it. Even Millennials who joined the workforce in the early years of the digital revolution have never worked in an environment without computers. A great proportion has never worked without access to corporate networks and the Internet.
HR Comes Into its Own
During this same period, the Human Resources function came into its own as a profession, evolving from a secondary consideration of “personnel” to a fully embedded strategic process whose function is to shape the organization and its culture to achieve business goals.
More resources were invested in HR, including investment in technology solutions to automate various processes. However, the first HR systems simply adapted paper-based processes to digital form. For example, think of some of the performance evaluation forms we have all seen. Many of those were static documents created in a spreadsheet or word processor. Paper-based processes were simply converted to digital form.
This may have been a step forward in efficiency, but it wasn’t really a transformation. Rather than simply employing new technologies, transformation requires HR professionals to revaluate their existing processes and requirements, taking into account new resources, a changing workforce, and shifting business conditions sparked by the digital age.
As more Millennials enter the workforce and new technologies continue to be introduced – such as social media, smart phones and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) – it is essential that organizations continue to stay agile and rethink their talent management processes for assessing, developing, and sourcing today’s digitally native employee base. A reinvention of HR practices is required. And as with the early days of the digital revolution, the basis of this reinvention should consider new cultural norms created by emerging technologies.
New Technologies, New Expectations
New technologies interacting with culture provide the norms for new expectations. As avid adopters of technology since childhood, Millennials expect more contextual communications from employers. Millennials expect software to be up-to-date, peer-connected and open to change.
Instead of a static performance evaluation in a spreadsheet, Millennials may expect to:
- Be notified about their upcoming evaluation via social networking tools or their smart phones;
- Have a URL dispatched to them, which will connect to an online performance evaluation, which can be completed and submitted immediately;
- Have the performance evaluation respond dynamically by intelligently probing specific areas;
- Receive feedback from their supervisor and peers using the same tool within days or hours;
- When complete, be provided with a gap report which indicates the learning tools, which will help them bridge the gaps; and,
- Be provided with an indication of what milestones have been completed and which will need to be completed before advancement in their careers.
Likewise, Web-based recruitment of new talent through social networking sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook is becoming increasingly popular. It’s no longer enough to have a website that merely is a list of current vacancies. Employers must earn the attention of Millennials through effective use of social media resources, such as:
- Building a community by producing compelling content or facilitating relationships between candidates and their potential employer;
- Making the experience mirror online job seeking experience to mirror that of shopping or banking including “order status” and “customer service orientation;”
- Communicating the company’s image, culture and values;
- Making the recruitment process faster, more accountable and standardized; and,
- Making it an end-to-end process, allowing line managers to view applications online and seamlessly transfer candidate information to employee records.
Creating an Effective HR Solution
To create an effective online HR solution, organizations need to ensure the work processes are designed in light of organizational goals. Regardless of the solution selected, companies must follow some guiding principles:
- Recognize that HR technologies are only part of the solution. The goal of such technologies is to ensure enhanced engagement and enhanced collection, storage, communication, and distribution of information.
- Bring in internal or external HR technology experts: their knowledge, skills, acumen, and experience are invaluable.
- After implementation, continually monitor performance and keep up with new technology developments.
- Continually watch for shifts in communication norms which could disrupt existing practices.
To succeed in the environment Millennials live in, HR professionals may have to start from scratch. There may be some existing processes or requirements that require a facelift rather than an overhaul. But rather than simply pushing existing practices onto new technologies, HR practitioners need to discover new possibilities and expectations created when technological change instigates new cultural norms. In practice, this may mean the acquisition of new solutions, rather than using those at our disposal to a greater degree.
As HR professionals continue to integrate a new generation of workers into the workforce, they must not do so by adopting technologies which create a divide with pre-Millennial workers. Demographic changes are dictating that existing generations of workers will be an enormous asset far longer than anyone expected. The key to successful and integrated processes is not ignoring the existing generations. The new workplace must make accommodations for the enormous knowledge existing workers possess while reaching out to integrate a new generation of workers.
With the proper enablers, Traditionalists and Baby Boomers can share their vast corporate knowledge with the entire organization – and use new software to reduce the amount of time it takes to perform tasks. Generation X can work independently while connected to the rest of the organization. And Millennials can absorb the knowledge now shared by their predecessors to develop their professional knowledge in a shorter time frame than previously imaginable.
All in all, as HR professionals we must work not only to connect our workforce and balance the competing priorities, but also reinvent how we do HR processes to integrate and welcome the digitally native Millennials.