Switching off the sun: Preparing for the next generation in the workplace

Hannah (the daughter of a colleague) was strapped in her car seat as her parents headed off for a weekend away. Hannah is a bright, engaging two-year-old and no doubt had thought plenty of thoughts from this particular vantage point, one that I might add she was well accustomed too – as are most two-year-olds.

On this particular occasion, bright early morning sunshine streamed in through her window. After a short while, Hannah’s voice was heard: ‘Mommy.’

‘Yes, Hannah.’

‘Please can I have the remote control?’

Allow for a quizzical parental pause here, familiar ground for any parent of a two-year-old.

‘Huh? A remote control? What do you want with the remote control, Sausage?’ (Parental term of endearment . . . an entire subject of its own!)

‘I need to switch off the sun, it’s getting in my eyes.’

Hannah’s request reveals a world view that believes that there is a remote control for everything under and including the sun. After all, in Hannah’s world there are remote controls for the gates, the garage doors, the car and house alarms, the TV,  VCR, DVD/MP3, the satellite dish decoders as well as remote phones, cellphones, mouses (should that be mice?), keyboards, toys and just about anything you can imagine.

The fact of the matter is that Hannah and her next-of-kin generation (Generation X) are highly techno-literate and will expect your company to be so too. If we thought that the Xers pushed the battery in this regard, just wait until Hannah and her generation (Generation Y) hit the office! (For that matter schools – the playgrounds for Generation Y before they are due to arrive on our doorstep, had also better upgrade quickly.)

During what we have labelled the ‘Information Age’, there was competitive advantage to be had through the installation of better and smarter IT systems. After all, assuming they were used correctly, they enabled relevant information to get to the surface quicker, resulting in speedy responses and smart strategies. However this advantage all but disappeared as our competitors installed their own hardware, software and other kind of ware, all of which meant that theirs was newer, faster, and cleverer.

The playing fields have been leveled and having smart IT is necessary but no longer sufficient or even impressive. This is tough to hear if you have just spent millions upgrading your IT systems. Understanding and using technology, personally and as a company, is now an essential skill. And don’t believe for one minute that old dogs can’t learn new tricks! They can and do all the time. Just this morning I heard of an 84-year-old man who had enrolled himself in school to complete his education.

Attracting and retaining the ‘bright young things’ in business today requires you to have the ‘remotes’. It may not be your world, but it is certainly theirs.

Learning from them how to programme the video machine and how to SMS offer immediate home-based lessons and are a good place to start . . . that is, if you can find the damn remote!

(And if you don’t have creatures inhabiting your cave who can impart such skills, I would be only too happy to lend you one of mine!)

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