The Digital Generation

Welcome Y’s!

“I thought it was a good idea for my mom to come to this interview with me.”

The Netherlands, 2009. The recruitment manager in this large organization can’t believe his ears. The candidate who was just introduced into his office for an interview has not come alone. His mother is with him! “Well, I thought it would be nice for my mom to come with me” He says. “She knows me so well. You can ask her questions about me and she’ll answer straight off. This isn’t a problem for you, is it?”

After a moment of stunned silence, the recruiter has to make a call. Does he nicely ask Mom to leave, at the risk of upsetting this candidate who looks very good—at least on paper? Or does he go ahead with the interview as though this were perfectly normal and so get into a totally new recruitment interview scenario with no safety net. He decides to go for this second option and pursues the conversation with them both.

Does this sound like a bit of a caricature? It probably doesn’t happen often. But it illustrates the surprises that await those who will be integrating a new generation into the workplace. We’re talking about Generation Y, born between 1977 and 1997. In 2015, they’ll be 40% of the workforce.

How will large organizations, with leaders who come from earlier, very different generations, manage to transform themselves at a time when the competition for talent will be one of the major challenges for development and performance?

Reference points

Generation Y, a digital life

Americans also call them “ Digital Natives”. At 4 they’re playing their first video games. At 6 they have their first cellphone. At 9 they’ve put their first blog on line. At 13 they have 587 Friends on Facebook. And at 17 they’re a 7th Grade Dwarf who’s respected in the World Of Warcraft, that on-line game played by millions of players across the world. They live “connected” in a digital, virtual space, whose enormous potential and frightening aspects even experts are only beginning to understand.

My Apple, your Apple

Their colleagues fit in the years “From Apple to Apple”. First the Boomers, born between ’46 and ’64, who have their apple: The Beatles. They are the dreamers, idealists and demonstrators of the mid sixties. Today they’re leading the big companies and they’re in no hurry to leave. The Y’s also have their apple. It’s on their iPod, iPhone, iMac, etc. And between these two generations is the smaller generation X, born somewhere between ‘68 and ’76. They are a smaller group. It is the generation of unemployment, AIDS, crises and stress.

What do we know about these Y’s?

Hardly a day goes by without five books published on Generation Y; without four new presentations about them on YouTube; without thirty new articles in the press. This is the Generation Y craze. And it’s happening probably because Boomers (who represent 25% of the population) are suddenly stunned to see that Y’s, their kids (approximately 30% of the population) are no longer kids but have turned professional and have surprising mindsets and expectations. No doubt about it. These kids have hardly left home that their parents have to live and work with them in the office. Culture shock!

Integrating – a word already passé – Y’s into companies won’t be simple. Their digital life has led them to develop new traits Boomers and X’s know nothing about. As they know nothing about the environment in which Y’s grew up. The research that has been done on Generation Y in developed countries systematically identifies a number of traits they all share. Let’s identify these and then see how some of them will undoubtedly clash with traditional ways of working. Finally, we’ll suggest what companies can do to welcome this new generation and develop the potential it offers.

Y’s are:


Y’s do five things at once. While previous generations valued concentration (doing one thing at a time) Y’s are simultaneously on their screen and their iPod while answering their phone and flipping through a catalog.


Y’s don’t work “for” anyone. They work “with.” They’ve been connected with their network of friends and contacts their whole life and can easily access them all whenever they feel like it. What inspires them are relationships – far more than big speeches.


Y’s have learned to make quick decisions, in their social lives and in the video games they play. “I’m going out tonight. For the moment I don’t know where I’m going. But in a few clicks my evening will be all set it, in real time. Play it as it goes.”
Why plan? The Future is out of style!


The virtual world is a world of invention and innovation. Ideas and things get worn out faster and faster.

In flux

Y’s develop themselves on the net. On the other hand, they expect their company – and life in general – to offer them a journey, opportunities to evolve. With no time to lose.

Careful observers and researchers

Y’s are constantly scanning on the net, rating and comparing people and things. You and your company will be no exception and comments and ratings will circulate on the net about you all, just like about everything else.


Partying and having fun is part of Y’s life and permeates all parts of life. Business Schools have caught on to the need for party space. What makes companies think it will be any different in “company space”?

Five Keys for the Transformation

While earlier generations, the Boomers and X, stand for development, globalization and the technological breakthrough, Y’s stand for the future. In the next 15 years they’ll be coming into companies in big enough numbers to have a profound impact on corporate cultures. At ICM we believe that big companies will have to rethink some of their cultural basics. In particular:

Rethink hierarchy
Y’s are the first generation to be “more competent than their parents” when it comes to a major part of family life: digital equipment. As a result, Y’s acceptance of traditional hierarchy has been strongly affected from the start. For Y’s hierarchy is about expertise. It’s not an inherent value.

Put an end to silos
Do you know a single company where managers don’t complain about how hard it is to get different entities and people to cooperate? We don’t. But Y’s come into organizations with a natural inclination for collaboration and teamwork. Don’t disappoint them! They offer a real opportunity to develop new attitudes and behaviors.

Open up communications
Y’s are used to having information circulate freely and in real time. They won’t tolerate people who hold on to information for political reasons. By the same token they’ll have to understand a few things about the limits of transparency when confidentiality is required.

Speed up
Y’s are fast. Other generations might feel they’re impatient. And they are. Companies can learn from these people, who are used to reacting and deciding in a click, to accelerate their own tempo and respond to market needs better and faster.

Question the status quo
Fast and innovative as they are, Y’s see themselves as constantly changing and innovating. Companies can gain a lot by building on this mindset and learning how to continuously reinvent themselves!

What ICM brings our clients

  • A revised Leadership and Management profile adapted to the challenges posed by Generation “Y” and tools for deployment (360° feedback, Leadership development)
  • Support for Human Resources to help anticipate how to evolve and adapt their tools to the new profiles
  • Increased awareness of these challenges through presentations and information on cutting edge research in this area
  • Consulting in how to develop a communications policy that integrates Web 2.0, 3.0




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