Breaking Paradigms Print E-mail
Friday, 30 March 2012 10:34

Multi-generational teams can ensure new technology is properly vetted.

One of the challenges in today’s workplace is the culture clash between generations. The pace of technological change over the past three decades hasn't helped that because at the top end of the spectrum are workers who learned computers as adults, and at the bottom end of the spectrum are folks who have had electronic gadgets enhancing their lives since birth.

The younger generation sees itself as more technology savvy and open-minded, and considers the older generation technology-challenged and slow to embrace new ideas. The older generation feels its experience offers better judgment on how to integrate new tools, and sees the younger generation as undisciplined and too willing to make changes without understanding the tradeoffs. Both sides have valid points and misperceptions. The pace of technological change requires faster adoption, but faster adoption requires expert judgment in how to leverage new technology to improve the bottom line.

The “tech knowledge” gap was driven home to me when I recently bought hearing aids. I’m loathe to admit that I’m aging, and even though I knew my hearing was deteriorating, resisted getting devices I felt only old people needed. When I finally explored the option, I discovered that today’s hearing aids are about as similar to ones my grandfather wore as Atari is to Xbox 360. Digital hearing aids use DSP technology to not only amplify what you want to hear, but also to screen out noises you’d rather not hear. Best of all, they can be programmed with different channels for noise venues. One channel gives me near-normal hearing; one optimizes TV and phone conversation via a Bluetooth connection; another screens out screaming kids and jet engines, and one is optimized for listening to rock music. (Yes, I know listening to loud music causes hearing loss.) In this process I learned that my hearing loss was much worse than I had perceived, and that the technology was far better than I had assumed.

These issues are at the root of most generationally-driven technology use conflicts. Both ends of the spectrum tend to overestimate their skills, expertise and knowledge of new technology benefits/weaknesses. However, when generations team (as I suspect was done in developing digital DSP hearing aids), paradigms can be broken and better solutions developed. The question is, how can organizations best motivate that process? Here are three key areas:

Create an environment that fosters information sharing. Younger employees have a better understanding of new technology applications than most of their older peers. The best way to bridge that gap is to find ways to share information. For example, define a list of key organizational challenges and, once a quarter, have a tech-savvy younger staffer discuss potential solutions. Then pair that staffer with an older team member for a follow-up presentation on pros and cons of the likely choice. Once the decision is made, create a multi-generational implementation team, with the goal to tap the open-mindedness and tech knowledge of younger workers and the solution mapping experience of older workers.

Focus on problem solving. New technology should improve efficiency or add capability. Therefore, the focus on new technology should be on the improvements it generates, rather than simply embracing the next new thing. Questions to ask include:

  • Will it streamline or significantly modify a process?
  • Are customers asking for this capability?
  • Does it reduce existing costs?
  • Will it reduce workload?
  • Does it differentiate us from the competition?
  • How will it integrate into existing systems?
  • What systems/equipment does it replace?
  • Does it increase capabilities?
  • How do we share this information with the group it will benefit?

Again, assigning a multi-generational team to answer these questions may broaden the solution provided. For example, if your company is switching from laptops to tablets, how will that change the activities of users? If the change is happening in sales, does that change the formatting for marketing materials, require additional peripherals or drive a faster migration to cloud computing solutions? Since tablets are also driving easy access to tech publications, should there be a standardized list of publications added to each tablet so that the sales team can keep up with trends? What apps do team members need? Will current customer/prospect information organization strategies work well with tablets, or should they be modified for easier viewing/updates? Will formalized training in best practices be needed for the team?

Review existing processes. While a good due diligence process during the upgrade may identify the most immediate process change requirements, it is important to periodically review the impact of new technology to determine its overall impact on organizational processes once users have become familiar with the technology and incorporated it into their activities. For example, if more employees have tablets, has that reduced the demand for paper, printers and copiers over time? Are information backup processes adequate for this paperless environment? Is there a standardized process for file organization and sharing, or are all users doing their own thing? Can meetings be streamlined by sharing information ahead of time?

The strength of multi-generational teams is that each of these areas will be more fully explored from both the perspective of the tech-savvy younger worker looking for the next new thing and the old schooler looking for the flaws in the next new thing. Done well, this builds respect among all team members, plus transfers knowledge and processes from the old guard to the new guard.

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (, and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 April 2012 08:34


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