Mind the Gap: Are You Anti-Social?

by | Feb 21, 2012 | Articles

Guest blog from Dr Karie Willyerd, Chief Learning Officer, SuccessFactors, an SAP Company, challenges L&D to adapt to changing communication styles of staff.

Let me take a guess at your age. No really. I’d say that if you predominantly use email rather than social media, such Twitter or Facebook, then chances are you’re over the age of 40. In fact, people over the age of 50 have a 20-30% higher usage of email than any other demographic. By sharp contrast, there’s been a whopping 40 per cent drop in email usage by Millennials (those aged between18-33) over the last year alone, according to research by comScore.
Times are changing. Fast. The internet has become the new social intermediary. One in eight people now meet their spouse online. Seventy eight per cent of European children have an online presence by the age of two. (That figure rises to ninety two per cent of two year olds in the US as parents post photos of their children on Facebook, Flickr, et al).  And it’s not just shaping our social lives. Our work lives are set to change dramatically by comparison to just a generation ago.
In less than two years, more than 47 per cent of the workforce will be Millennials. How do Millennials communicate? Like baby birds chirping for their next meal, they are constantly connected – whether it’s text, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter or dozens of other single-rich applications. According to Pew Internet Foundation, an average Millennial might send and receive over 3,000 text messages per month. At any given moment, they might have six to ten instant message sessions open on their mobile device.
Baby Boomers communicate via email. For the first time in modern management history, leaders and front line employees are using dramatically different media channels. Management is at risk of failing to speak the language of the front line. If communication weren’t difficult enough already, it’s now become exacerbated by new choices of media and the frequency of the signals.
If you’re a Baby Boomer, in the next two years you will start to become a minority. Some estimates suggest that 1,000 Baby Boomers are retiring an hour. And if you’re not careful, social media will pass you by. It’s not a fad and it’s not going away. Nor does it need to be a distraction in the workplace. Why not harness it to accommodate the communication preferences of this new generation?
Take learning, for example. If your corporate learning function looks the same as it did five years ago, or even two years ago, then you have a problem. Learning must incorporate the features that make hanging out on social sites compelling – commenting, rating, tagging, signals of changes, rich media, user profiles, the ability to form communities, and so on.
One of the greatest impacts a learning function can make is to bridge the divide between strategy and execution. We do this by building the skills and knowledge of employees so that they can help execute business strategy.
The majority of companies today have less than six levels of management compared to 15 levels a generation ago, largely due to the efficiencies of technology.  This means you’re likely to stay in a mid-level job for longer today than your predecessors did. A combination of factors is impacting ‘traditional’ careers, such as the flattening structure of organisations, an ageing workforce and fewer promotion opportunities.

Organisations need to change the paradigm of what they consider to be a ‘career’.  Most people think of a career as a sequence of promotions that people move through. In today’s labour market, this is not sustainable. In the future, a career will be more characterised by promotions, transfers, secondments, and projects that allow individuals to build portable capabilities and competencies in the workplace. A career today is about building the employment value proposition of the individual through the mix of experiences individuals are provided. Learning is at the heart of this shift, and social media is the delivery mechanism for building these portable capabilities.

According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity, high performing organisations are more encouraging of social media use than low performers. Shared workspaces, wikis and blogs received the most encouragement from employers, whilst tools with more security concerns, such as social networks, shared media and micro-blogs were more likely to be discouraged or blocked. The same research revealed that eighty per cent of respondents believe their organisations do not use enough social media technologies for their learning activities. Regardless of the respondent group – large companies, small companies, Millennials or Baby Boomers etc – the majority of workers would like to see more social media use for corporate learning.

Don’t be left behind. Don’t be a low performing company. And don’t be anti-social.

This article has been contributed by Dr Karie Willyerd, Chief Learning Officer at SuccessFactors, an SAP company, one Towards Maturity’s founding ambassadors who support the work of our independant benchmark, ensuring the results are freely available to all.

Karie is the co-author the best-selling book, The 2020 Workplace: How Innovate Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today and can be contacted at [email protected]

 

Find out more about SuccessFactors’ Learning to Mind the  Gap initiative here

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