At the 2009 Innovation Summit: Design + Innovation = Sustainability I met Bruce Nussbaum who I've heard a number of times on BusinessWeek podcasts. He is the Assistant Managing Editor at Business Week. Bruce is also the Professor of Innovation and Design, at Parsons the New School of Design in New York.
I had the chance to spend a few minutes with him during a break. I mentioned that I'd heard him on BusinessWeek podcasts which I download from iTunes to my Blackberry. That led into a conversation about how different generations approach technology. I then brought up the issue of the entrance of Generation Y into the workforce and how that might reshape the workplace to the benefit of everyone.
Greg Woodard calls Gen Y the 'entitlement generation' who get rewarded just for showing up. "Here's your trophy from the 8 team soccer tournament, congratulations on good play and eighth place!" Stephanie Armour, adds to this in an article a while back in USA TODAY. She quotes Bruce Tulgan, a founder of New Haven, Conn.-based RainmakerThinking, which studies the lives of young people.
"Gen Y has been pampered, nurtured ...with a slew of activities ... meaning they are both high-performance and high-maintenance."
Stephanie goes on: "Generation Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management still popular in much of today's workforce," says Jordan Kaplan, an associate managerial science professor at Long Island University-Brooklyn in New York. "They've grown up questioning their parents, and now they're questioning their employers. They don't know how to shut up".
I suggested to Bruce that Gen Y's will be less likely to play a subordinate role in workplace relationships. They will expect to be treated as peers-- as adults. This is a good thing because problem solving requires getting to the truth around the customer problem you are trying to solve. If the dialogue is not on an adult-to-adult level then truth suffers. The objective of the conversation has an undertone of positioning and that 'political need', that 'survival need' for the subordinate, takes precedence.
If Gen Y brings more adult-to-adult dialogue into a company, the company has taken a huge step toward Trust, one of the three key elements to being an competitively innovative company.*
Bruce gave the closing speech at the Summit and I was delighted when he referred briefly to our conversation and the impact of Gen Y on the workplace.
*To be a competitive powerhouse a company needs to be great at problem solving and innovation. To be great at both you need the right work environment that fosters truth and action. The foundational elements are TEEˢ ͫ -- Trust, Engagement, Empowermentˢ ͫ.