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Age is just a number in this era of innovation

 

Dr. Ritu Anand

The average age of a Facebook employee is 28, while the median ages of Apple and Microsoft staff are 31 and 33 respectively. There is a spike in job listings that explicitly state a preference for ‘digital natives’ – a term for people for whom the internet and mobile devices have been ever-present.

It is this tech-savvy generation that is often seen as holding the key to driving new age digital innovation. On the other hand, most large companies that have been around for over a decade or more have an aging workforce that is often left feeling displaced.

Today’s organizations are faced with a fundamental challenge. For the first time in history, five generations of people now work together in the average workplace. And a number of companies are finding it challenging to get such diverse teams to work closely and collaboratively. The reason – each generation brings in distinct workplace values, approaches, attitudes and styles. 
But the very differences that divide these generations are the ones that can make for a winning formula. Indeed, by using digital technologies to create engagement platforms, support continuous learning, enhance listening skills and foster team building, companies can create collaborative teams and ensure the full abundance of talent is harnessed.

Supply chain managers today, are being presented with a unique opportunity to transform their supply chain and their business as a whole. The choice is a simple one – transform today or forever disappear into oblivion.

Effective leaders have recognised the huge benefits that this generational diversity brings to the workplace and are drawing on these differences to encourage lateral thinking that can stimulate innovation.

And the rewards can be significant. Academic evidence to suggest that a mix of people makes for better teamwork and, ultimately, stronger financial gains. The theory, according to analysis in the Harvard Business Review, is that working with a variety of people sharpens the brain and challenges conventional patterns of thinking. The study also points out that diverse teams are more objective and fact-orientated, leading to better overall decision making.

Mind the generation gap

Baby boomers – now in their 50s and 60s – have to constantly battle perceptions that they require additional training, although realistically, many are proficient in the use of digital technologies. More importantly, with years of industry experience and having witnessed the growth, evolution and even elimination of businesses, this generation of workers can offer intuitive insights and rules of the game that no black and white rulebook or code can capture. Most of them have worked in different teams and challenging work environments, making them champions of communication and conflict resolution, skills that are hugely valued in leaders.

Smart companies are using these differences to their advantage, encouraging mentorship programs that allow the greater organization and not just a few team members to benefit from the expertise of senior workers.

And learning is fast becoming a two-way street. Several companies have established reverse learning programs where the younger generation is helping older workers rapidly adopt technologies and gain the new age skills required to grow in this digital age.

Never stop learning 

Companies are not the only ones that need to keep adapting. Workers and teams will also need to actively embrace continual change and an open approach to learning.

No longer is learning the ropes a one-time task. Continual learning is now critical across all levels and roles within the organization. Given the fast pace at which our world is evolving, even millennials and Generation Z workers can find that their knowledge and skills being overtaken by newer arrivals to the workforce.

Students who complete a computer science degree today, will find that their first year of study is obsolete by the third year, according to Ericsson’s Geoff Hollingworth.

Change can now happen in a matter of months, he explains, rather than over the course of many years or a lifetime. And technology-based knowledge can become almost instantly irrelevant once a newer and better technology overtakes it. 
For companies, this means creating an ecosystem that enables continued learning. With digital technologies, this is now easier than ever before. Enterprises are turning to online learning portals, virtual classrooms and employee engagement platforms to help associates stay ahead of the curve and nurture one-to-one connect with colleagues and managers.

The art of possible

Leaders are quickly recognizing that skills and capabilities within an organization can come from diverse and often unexpected sources, and are embracing an open mindset and a culture of collaborative working to drive innovation.

For the multiple generations brought together in today’s workplace, this is an exciting and challenging time. Those who seek to continuously learn through systems, tools and more importantly, from the people around them will emerge as 
the leaders of tomorrow and will continue to consign ageism to the books of history.

About the author(s)
Dr. Ritu Anand

Dr. Anand is a Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Tata Consultancy Services and is a member of the Group Diversity Council and the HR Steering Committee at the Tata Group. With her deep experience, Ritu lends her expertise to talent management and leadership development, and is recognized for workforce policy and planning. She is most passionate about people and what drives them, and is committed to identifying, mentoring and supporting women leaders, both in TCS and outside.

Her various advisory roles include: Member of Worldwide ERC Global Advisory Council and Advisory Board member of the National HRD Network in Mumbai. She is the Governing Board Member of WILL (Forum for Women in Leadership), that aims at bringing together the collective aspirations, talents, and mentoring of women across corporate India. She is on the Board of Directors at two Tata Group companies and has a doctorate in Psychology.

 

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