How CIOs Can Prepare For The “Network Generation” Of Workers

Is social media awareness a good thing or a bad thing?
Is social media awareness a good thing or a bad thing?
Image Credit: Gauthier DELECROIX – 郭天

CIOs have a responsibility to create an IT department that can help the company move forward. We need to be able to attract and retain the best workers who will be able to deal with the technology challenges of the future. As we prepare to onboard the latest crop of graduates, we may pause and wonder what we are getting ourselves into. This batch of hires is socially media savvy like no generation before them. Is this going to help them fit into our IT department or is it going to hinder them?

Say Hello To The “Network Generation”

The college students who are graduating this year find themselves graduating into a surprisingly strong work environment, especially compared with their immediate predecessors. CIOs are hiring again, and the labor market is relatively favorable even for job seekers without very much experience. Yet the future is anything but certain. When huge and unanticipated events like the pandemic have become the norm, any outlook could change quickly. However, CIOs are bullish about the long-term prospects for this class of graduates and about the impact these young people will likely have on the workforce. The reason that CIOs feel this ways is because of how much of their lives they have spent involved in digital networks like Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube.

This generation of workers is called “Generation Z”. Gen Z’s lifelong immersion in social media is often thought of as a parade of very bad experiences. The narrative has implied that social media has been pressuring them to live up to impossible lifestyle ideals. In the case that they do manage to live up to those ideals, it can turn them into entitled narcissists, hopelessly distracted by superficial and trivial concerns. CIOs want to believe that they are not too emotionally fragile to handle themselves with strength as they move through the worlds of both online and off.

When CIOs ask members of this generation themselves how they think about social media they find that they see things differently. The overwhelming majority of respondents to a survey described social media as a “key tool for connecting and maintaining relationships, being creative, and learning more about the world.” They said that it keeps them “in touch with their friends’ feelings.” Social media connects them with “people who will support them through tough times” and gives them “a place to show their creative side.” It was also viewed as exposing them to “new types of people” and helps them “find different points of view.”

What Makes The Network Generation Different

CIOs need to understand that unlike the Millennials who preceded them, members of Gen Z aren’t just digital natives. Instead, they are “network natives” who get, implicitly and explicitly, the power of connection. Instead of being passive and isolated, they know how to lead lives characterized by participation and community. They realize that social media lets them share their voices directly with the world even as it situates them in vast but tightly woven networks of their peers.

Today the idea that everyone has public professional identities is commonplace. And the people who really understand networks recognize that even with social media’s seeming emphasis on the self, our identities aren’t just our own but are explicitly connected to and shaped by the networks that we build. These days, who you know can be what you know, how you’re known, and who you become. CIOs have to understand that Gen Z gets this with a facility that is hard to approximate for anyone who is old enough to remember when every cellphone came with a push-button keypad, or those who can still recall what a dial-up modem sounds like. New network-driven concepts like crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, the sharing economy, and collaborative workflow apps like Slack and Figma aren’t major paradigm shifts for this generation. Instead, they are just how the world works.

Gen Z also knows, from long hands-on experience, how fast the networked world moves and how competitive it can be. But even as change accelerates, workers continue to crave stability and familiarity. People want traditions and familiar patterns of living that they can count on. CIOs believe that adaptability is the new stability, and that personal and professional networks are the key to adaptability. CIOs believe that if a worker has a diverse team of trusted peers and mentors they regularly share information with and learn from, then they’ve got stability. If they’ve got loyal allies to reach out to when a crisis hits, they’ve got stability. Because Gen Z has already experienced this dynamic and understands it intuitively, CIOs believe that great things are in store for these new workers. They will pioneer new ways to tap the full power of networks and network thinking in the world of work.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs have to understand who will be joining their workforce going forward. It turns out that the most recent graduates will be member of Generation Z, or the networked generation. These workers will be unlike any workers who came before them. What this means for CIOs is that we have to take the time to understand who these people are and how they will fit into our workplaces.

This year’s graduates have experienced many changes in their lives. They have also grown up using many different online social media platforms. Often people think that how involved this generation has been in social media is a bad thing. However, this is not how they choose to view themselves. Instead, they view social media as being a communication tool that they can use to stay in contact with others. They understand how connections work and they know how to make sure that they are not isolated. They understand all of the new social network concepts like crowdfunding and the shared economy. This generation is ready for the world to change. With their well-established sets of networks, they will be ready when change comes.

CIOs need to be ready to welcome the Gen Z workers into the workplace. We need to understand that these workers will be unlike any that we have had before. They will be ready to deal with our highly connected workplaces and they will be well equipped to deal with all of the change that will undoubtedly come. These workers are exactly the ones that we are going to want to have on our team.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What unique workplace needs will the Gen Z workers have that CIOs will have to deal with?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As though CIOs didn’t already have enough to deal with, it turns out that the rules are changing on us. Cybersecurity has always been a big deal for our firms; however, the U.S. government is starting to understand just how big of a deal it is. It turns out that if your company suffers a cybersecurity attack, it could have an impact on your company’s ability to stay in business. This could have a dramatic impact on the value of your company. Because of this, the government wants to know more about what is going on at your company in terms of cybersecurity. This means that the CIO has one more job to do.