Friday, July 2, 2010

Leaping the new generational divide in the corporate workplace

Welcome to your new job. Faster, faster!

I love you, you're hired, now train me.

I've been making the rounds on my worldwide summer tour of patios and beers, meeting with former students, who I believe are now a species called "grads," and learning all about their experiences as new hires out in the big, wide world of the communications biz.

I wouldn't give their troubles to a monkey on a rock.

I'm hard-pressed to remember an era in which the generational divide between new hires and the existing establishment has been more pronounced.

The culprit is the ongoing migration of traditional means of writing, promotion, advertising, media planning, and all human interaction and communication to online and social media.

While many of my grads end up at progressive ad and PR agencies - quick to embrace social and all online media - others end up communicating in the corporate world, which is traditionally, well, traditional!

It makes for an interesting dynamic in the corporate workforce, to say the least.

The greatest generational divide

On one hand, our grads' best chance at getting a job, their very niche in the marketplace, is their ability to use online and social media on behalf of their employer or clients.

On the other is a more "seasoned" workforce that has worked hard to achieve its position in life, yet may feel a bit shaky about social media, run into corporate interference when it tries to use it, or has seen so much of it come and go, at this point it feels like playing catch up with one fad after another, or a train that's already left the station.

When you match some degree of resistance to online media from the existing and experienced corporate workforce with the online-savvy (yet otherwise inexperienced) newcomers to the corporate world, the stage is set for some interesting dynamics:
  • Is it the job of new grads to get into the workforce and start "training the trainers" on online and social media?"
  • Is it the job of the seasoned workforce to listen to them, and be open to learning new means of communicating?
If the answers to these questions are "yes," the big question is, "How?"

It's the job of the corporate world to preach "caution;" it's the job of the new hire to preach "innovation." So, a new hire in the workplace runs the risk of being so innovative that he or she steps on toes; a seasoned pro runs the risk of being so cautious that he or she looks out of touch.

I remember starting work in the communications department at Great-West Life and butting heads with my boss about my wacky ledes I included with every personality profile I wrote (see first paragraph, above). When my boss said, "Your lede is too clever by half," I responded with a defensive, "Great-West should be so lucky!"

We must approach gingerly.

Reports from the field

All of the grads with whom I've spoken are thankful to have jobs and discuss the corporate culture of their new workplaces with the positivity and good humor of an explorer trying to understand the nature of the alien terrain on which he or she has just landed.

Their experiences include these chestnuts from all different kinds of corporate environments - so what else is new in the communications business?
The "welcome-to-new-ideas" environment:
"I'm giving my boss a presentation next week on YouTube and social media."

The "aggressively welcoming" environment:
"I'm swamped with work, they're asking me for advice, and I'm not sure if I'm handling it properly!"

The "design sure changes over time" environment:
"You should see the fonts in their ads!"

The "late-adopter" environment:
"My work computer is an old PC that doesn't work for some websites."

The "live-in-denial" environment:
"The company blocks Twitter."

The "it was good for me, so it's good for you" environment:
"They want me to use Pagemaker. What's that?!"

The "wait and see" environment:
"They're interested in social media, but say they're not ready for it yet."

The "we don't want anyone to notice what we're doing" environment:
"Their ads don't get results, but they seem fine with it."
The point isn't to criticize one way to do things or another, but to point out that the "right" way to do things is probably some combination of bridging the traditional corporate culture with a healthy dose of what's new.

If the Internet has taught us anything, it's that "nothing is proprietary." In the history of networking and hiring, there may have never been a greater generational gap or need to bridge it, but it's up to both parties to give a little ground to make it happen.

So, if the ultimate goal in communications is to promote, inform, and connect with your audience, it shouldn't be too much to ask everyone to take a step outside of their comfort zone, share their expertise with one another, and use a diverse mix of communication tools until you find the mix that works - for your audience, not you!

Then evaluate the mix constantly - making sure that innovation is tempered by caution, like everything must be in the corporate world.

But - whatever you do - just promise me that you'll keep it away from "the legal department," OK? OK!

1 comment:

  1. I'm starting a band called, "We Must Approach Gingerly." Mostly industrial-covers of 80s ballads.


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