To some degree, every generation is maligned by those that came before. While not universal, today’s (and yesterday’s) youth are often sidelined, minimized by descriptors like “lazy” and “entitled.” Depending on your perspective and, maybe more importantly, your age, you either entirely agree or are completely offended.
While few would argue that the Greatest Generation, having endured both the Great Depression and the second World War, are deserving of their moniker, millennials often aren’t given the same respect. But is there something to this? A great deal has been written advancing both viewpoints, but much of it seems to poke substantial holes in the idea that the workforce’s largest cohort (more than one in three people in the American workforce is now a millennial, according to Pew Research) isn’t living up to its potential.
Millennials think entrepreneurially, and they’re not afraid to fail. Millennial Magazine says 60 percent of this generation — roughly defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 — consider themselves to be entrepreneurs. They’re less inclined to crave stability than their predecessors and therefore more likely to be turned off by the prospect of a 30-year gig with one employer. They are more diverse than ever before, and though they may not be at one job for long, they want to make an impact and feel their work has made a difference at the end of the day.
What goes without saying of millennials is their status as digital natives, which offers all kinds of advantages to today’s public-sector IT shop. Even those without an IT-centered education can be valuable assets on technology projects.
Sanjeev Agrawal, founder and chief executive of Collegefeed and former global head of product marketing at Google, summed it up this way, writing for Forbes: “It’s the way millennials think about technology, and their relationship with it, that is changing everything.”
As you’ll see in the pages that follow, public CIOs are embracing the fact that their workforce is starting to transform, and millennials are a big part of that. While government isn’t traditionally known for flexibility, the silver tsunami and changing demographics are forcing the issue. We’ve talked to several technology chiefs in this issue who are planning smartly and staffing for the future, today.
Austin, Texas, CIO Stephen Elkins sees flexible sourcing as part of the solution. A workforce split between full-time, temporary and contract employees better prepares the city for the normal ebbs and flows of its workload. A background outside of pure IT is increasingly attractive in a prospective employee too. Minnesota CIO Tom Baden explains that cloud solutions offer business-minded employees a chance to make an impact in IT.
The Washington state technology office is experimenting with a more horizontally oriented workplace structure called Holacracy. Implemented at Zappos by CEO Tony Hsieh, it breaks down traditional organizational boundaries, and advocates say it fosters greater adaptability in the face of change.
The common denominator running through these approaches is an openness to considering something new — new ideas from new people. The leaders in these pages show that adopting that mentality can position their agencies for success.