It is a great pleasure to start the new year with this column, and a great honor to join the team of bloggers and distinguished speakers at OPEN for Business. I will have the chance to share the views of some others, and the privilege to share my ideas with new audiences. And, despite my Francophile strain, I’ll be presenting at three conferences this year (so far) in English. Should be a challenge, but I’m ready.
These conferences will address three themes that have driven my work for 15 years:
- The power of new prosumers of the Generation C
- Social media influencer marketing
- Social and digital transformation of organizations
Right now, I want to discuss the third bullet — social and digital transformation — and look at what ultimately impedes those potential changes. What are the final steps an organization needs to conquer to be successful in this space?
Impediments to social and digital transformation
While there has been greater involvement from CEOs and each department in the digital transformation of their organization, companies are still slow to put the social aspect of the changes. The oldest Baby Boomers, who are pushing retirement and clinging to decision-making positions, continue to hamper social change organizations. For them, the changes are more difficult to integrate. They were trained in the Industrial Age — when execution and expertise were the key aspects of business — and they have developed over the years an economic model that no longer responds to the new paradigms of the digital society.
The presence of four generations that now coexist in work environments also complicates the transfer of knowledge and expertise within organizations. For the last Boomers and older Gen X (born before 1970) — and those groups are the predominant decision-makers in many organizations — digital learning was not natural and innate. One should not be surprised that they demonstrate some resistance to changes imposed now the transition to the digital age.
Conversely, companies and organizations that are most successful to take the digital revolution are those that incorporate the social aspects of the transformation, directly involving new generations in the changes. They facilitate collaboration and promote the transfer of knowledge and expertise. A key aspect is that you need to do this both at a higher level — mission and purpose — and also do it at the process level, because the process level is what most employees are actually responding to.
The new corporate social responsibility of Generation X
By 2020, the last Baby Boomers will be mostly retired, and older Generation X will be asked to play this role further. During their careers, they have acquired a highly valuable expertise within the organization, and developed a relational leadership that has served them well: two assets that can certainly be profitable for the new generations and accelerate social transformation.
You saw this recently in Canada with the election of Justin Trudeau, one of the youngest premiers in history. It revived many hopes in this sense, even among detractors.
For them, social transformation seems easier to integrate into the workplace. Their youth and adolescence were imbued with new technologies. They have experienced the transition to the digital age with the emergence of the Web in the 90s, and the arrival of social media with the new millennium. They have also known all major social and economic changes that have transformed our society and now share more equitable values.
Younger Generation X also become the first hi-tech parents, capable of integrating new technologies and getting involved in the digital learning of their children. In this context, as new leaders, they will be more easily able to promote the social transformation of their organizations.
However — and this is key — they will have to pass the torch to new generations, and actively involve them in the changes. Mentoring and training will be crucial to an extent, as well as a shift in hiring models: if technology is going to continue to advance at a rate faster than workplace process, we need curious, adaptable hires being made.
To accelerate the transfer, leaders and managers must agree to leave their comfort zone and cross the gap between their staff, ceasing to position themselves close to other senior leaders and ‘perks.’ They must work directly with their staff along these lines:
- What does the business need?
- Where is the business failing in terms of social/digital?
- Is this a problem that requires new talent or one that can be addressed internally with some shifts in personnel?
Facilitate the integration of new generations by content co-creation
Over the next five years, with the arrival of new cohorts of Generation Z (born after 1994) on the labor market, Boomers and Generation X will no longer be in the majority — and even the youngest X will give way to younger digital generations.
In the current context, the situation looks ideal at one level: multiple digital-friendly generations can be in the workplace at one time, collaborating around the newest technologies and pretty quickly understanding how to use them in a business, bottom-line-generation sense.
Because they have evolved and grown with new technologies from an early age, new generations have naturally developed a curiosity and creativity just waiting to be exploited. New web tools and social media practically became extensions of their personalities, and reveal their new platforms of expression and personal realization. In this sense, they call into question the established dogmas of authority, and expect that we finally recognize their contribution.
And since the production and dissemination of relevant content is now proving to be major challenges for organizations and businesses on the web and social media, a good way to integrate young people into the transformation might be to involve them in co-creation. The Marriott chain hotels has done this by setting up a content studio within their company.
What do you think? Do you believe that new generations can be involved at this level in the changes, and the co-creation of content can be an effective way to accelerate social transformation? Share your experience with our readers by commenting.