The Connected Generation - Networking with the world’s most connected young people
By Dr Graeme Codrington, Author of “Mind the Gap”
One of the key skills needed to be a good networker is the ability to see the world through other people’s eyes. Understanding other people requires some knowledge of their personality, their gender, their culture and even religion. Knowing their interests, professional background, hobbies and habits helps too. In addition, one of the most powerful defining characteristics – one that can provide helpful clues to someone’s attitudes and actions – is a person’s generation. This is defined by the era in which they were born.
The first few years of our lives play a significant role in shaping who we become. And that is particularly true of today’s young people – the so-called ‘Generation Y’. They are the under-30s and they have been shaped in a world that is remarkably different from that of their parents. Generation Y is typically defined as the generation who graduated from High School in the new millennium (born 1984 – 2000). Maybe it’s easier to think of them as the generation that does not remember 1989.
That was a truly momentous year. In June 1989, Chinese students took over Tiananmen Square, and Iranian young people threatened another revolution as millions of them took to the streets during the Ayatollah’s funeral. In November, the Berlin wall came down, and Prague had a Velvet Revolution. On Christmas Day, Romania overthrew the dictator Ceaușescu and the next day Mikhail Gorbachev banned the Communist Party in Russia. A few weeks later, Nelson Mandela was released from jail in South Africa and Augusto Pinochet stepped down from power in Chile. And if that was not enough, 1989 was also the year in which Tim Berners-Lee created HTML, the code that makes webpages – and the Internet as we know it - possible.
But for today’s young people, all of this is just history. The Internet, email, mobile phones, online shopping, 24-hour news channels and MTV are considered just normal for them. And they’ve embraced social media, smartphones and a whole new way of interacting with the world.
A whole new world
Generation Y have grown up in a world that offers much to young people. They’ve been over-protected by “helicopter parents” most of their lives, and grown up with a sense of entitlement. They know their rights and aren’t afraid to assert them. They’re so confident they’re almost arrogant. Part of that confidence comes from the fact that they are the chief technology officers of their homes, constantly coming to their parents’ aid as the older generation struggles with new technology. They’re the first generation whose parents have consistently asked them for their help. That must influence your view of the world.
But they’ve also grown up realizing how fragile the world is. They hear constant news of global warming and climate change, pandemics, economic bubbles and bursts, soaring youth unemployment and are the product of record numbers of single parent families.
All of this is important to understand if you want to connect with them more effectively. They are not just younger versions of you. And they won’t grow up to be like today’s adults either. They were shaped and formed in a different world, and therefore have different expectations, approaches and attitudes.
Connecting with the connected
Here then are some important considerations to help you network with Generation Y:
Tech savvy – Generation Y chooses to engage using technology. They are comfortable communicating via email, instant message, texts and over social media. This is not the only way they communicate, but they will certainly expect you to be able to network with them through digital channels. You need to understand – and adhere to – the etiquettes associated with the various digital channels they might use.
Mobile – they access their digital worlds from their smartphones and want to be mobile. This allows them to be constantly connected. If you’re at a networking event and give them your details, expect them to check you out on Google then and there. Do you know what they’ll find if they search for you online from their phones? What are you doing to manage your brand online – this is a key part of your networking with this connected generation.
Immediacy and real-time interactions – if you promise to get back to them, they’re probably expecting you to do so within a few hours, if not as they’re leaving the building.
Multi-channel engagements – If you get a little lost while driving, do you need to turn down the radio while you check the directions and map? If so, you have single channel focus. There’s nothing wrong with that – you probably have a much better attention span than Generation Y. But today’s young people value their attention scope: their ability to take in information from multiple sources simultaneously and filter out what doesn’t make sense or doesn’t interest them. They can appear distracted – you should persevere. Their flitting attention can appear rude – they probably don’t mean to. They only take in information that makes sense to them – make sure you help them know how to categorise the data you’re giving them. Be clear, concise and relevant.
Work-life integration – they’re not aiming for balance in their lives - they see all the parts of their lives as fully integrated. They put family (and friends) ahead of boss and colleagues. You need to respect their desire to create new ways of living and working that are different from the older generations.
Confident and achievement-oriented – as pampered, confident and ambitious young people, they have high expectations of employers and colleagues. They’re not afraid to question authority, and won’t be intimidated when networking with anyone. They’ll probably have unrealistically high expectations of networking engagements – these will need to be managed.
Team-oriented – throughout their lives they’ve participated in team sports and all manner of group activities. They value teamwork highly and seek the input and affirmation of others. Generation Y is loyal, committed and want to be included and involved. These characteristics should ensure that they become good networkers.
Feedback – Generation Y craves attention in the forms of feedback and guidance. They want to be kept in the loop and seek frequent praise and reassurance. They will benefit from mentorship and advice. They learn best by doing. They see value in networking when the network connections provide them with feedback, personal development and support.
Networking for a new generation
Networking is relational. Generation Y is frustratingly both excellent and inhibited at relationships. They’re inhibited when they’re expected to relate to others in ways they’re not familiar with. And unfortunately this is precisely how many companies engage with them. They’re excellent when they’re allowed to network and connect on their own terms, using the technologies they’re so familiar with, and done in more relaxed and informal ways than older generations are used to.
If you want to be successful at networking with Generation Y, you’ll need to adapt your own networking style, provide more support and feedback than you’re used to, become more tech-literate and really work hard to see the world through their eyes. It will take some effort, but it will be worth it. This is a powerful generation that is destined to change the world as they grow older.
Dr Graeme Codrington is a futurist, presenter, author and expert on the new world of work. He is author of the best-selling book on different generations, “Mind the Gap” published by Penguin. He writes regularly at his blog at www.newworldofwork.co.uk and can be contacted at - firstname.lastname@example.org
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