Panel Discussion

This article notes that the digital generation — the 6-26 year olds referred to as the Net or N-generation — is starting to step into the workplace and will soon dictate the political, economic and business agenda of the 21st century. Numbering 80 million in the U.S. alone, and composed of the delayed offspring of Baby Boomers, the N-generation will be demanding change in the workplace, with a particular focus on authority.

Are businesses prepared for this confrontation? CioInsight Executive Editor Marcia Stepanek convened a roundtable on youth and the future of the workplace. Most participants agreed that the N-generation will alter the balance of power between managers and workers, resulting in authority becoming based less on seniority than on “the negotiated abilities of people or teams regardless of age, to execute change, promote new skills and harness emerging technologies in the service of business goals.”

Interesting predictions about the N-generation from the roundtable discussion:

  • Technologically savvy students often teach the teacher and are demanding that their teachers be willing to be coaches and team members more than all-knowing leaders. This situation will extend itself to the marketplace as these students become employees/partners.
  • N-gens will want to be treated as investors of their intellectual capital rather than as variable costs.
  • Rather than asking how much money they will make, they will want to know if you’re fully Wi-Fi’ed and what kind of laptop and bandwidth they’re getting.
  • Catching up with technology and positioning companies for the technological future is now too vast a goal for Chief Information Officers to fully grasp. Companies will be forced to create cross-generational teams of various skills to facilitate this process.
  • The role of the CIO will change from helping managers understand equipment and software resources to helping all levels understand the N-generation people who understand and are comfortable with the new technologies.

A consensus seems to form that the N-gen’s are technically-focused but not necessarily so across the expanse of an organization. The CIO will likely be a facilitator who benefits from reverse mentoring. Businesses will therefore need to create an entrepreneurial environment; if N-gens aren’t approached as “partners”, they’ll become a generation of entrepreneurs. The article includes a Web link to a complete transcript of the roundtable discussion.

Source: CIO Insight; September 15, 2003

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