The Innovation Generation – Communication Styles

I’ve seen many articles in recent weeks about the tech-savvy Millennials and their impact on future work. I concede, even welcome the changes that business will need to introduce in response to these new expectations, but I don’t see the massive change that some writers seem to think is inevitable. The world will not change to accommodate the Millennials, but relevant and effective new working styles will definitely be adopted where they make business sense.

I will certainly agree that communication styles will change. For example, there will be a greater reliance on (and expectations of) instant and ubiquitous connections – with people, information and technology. IM is already on the way out, and texting is the way to go; my high-school-aged daughters think nothing of racking up thousands of text mails every month.

Unfortunately, this kind of freewheeling message content is going to run headlong into the litigious real-world. Many companies are still struggling over records retention standards and expectations. Public companies will need to maintain some control over messages that could contain proprietary or inside information. Corporate survival and protection from liability are clearly not on the minds of students as they post embarrassing pictures on Facebook pages, and even adults get trapped by unfortunate text messages that come back to haunt them.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge believer in alternative messaging styles and flexible collaboration. I’ve managed and/or participated on multiple “collaborative” teams – people from different companies, zip codes, time zones and countries. Separation by time and space has been a business challenge for years, but you could set up a shared FTP folder, or swap e-mails about projects, as long as I’ve been working. The teams that succeeded understood the differences between working across the hall and working across town, and moderated their communication styles accordingly, using the best tools available.

The value the Millennials bring is a de facto openness to collaboration tools. To them it’s not something new that they need to learn; they expect the rest of us to already be there. Their rude awakening will come when they need to invest some change management time getting us “old folks” to catch up to their fast twitch messaging style; they won’t be able to pass us by because we’ve got the organizational and process knowledge. (that’s why we’re on the team, right?)

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