The world loves delineation as much as buzzwords, writes Chris Buchanan, client solutions director of Dell South Africa, so we often fall over ourselves to define generational differences with talk of “Millennials”, “gen-z”, “gen-x” and so on. Reality is never that cleanly cut, but I can definitely say this: There is something interesting about the new employees entering today’s workforce.

A recent conversation with a retail executive brought this home to me again. Having hired a gen-z employee, he ran into her on her first day. She said she was bored, so he decided to teach her a lesson. Go document the asset tracking and disposal process for the company and suggest improvements, he told her. The employee disappeared for three days, then emerged with the best presentation he’d seen in his career.

Today’s employees are driven and focused. This may be due to generational factors, but I can see the new views of employment across staff from their twenties to nearing retirement age. I suspect there is a lot of credit due to how we work with each other today, supported by new technologies and working methodologies. But are employers paying attention?

Problems occur when leaders assume they know what employees want. According to PWC, 90% of C-suite executives say their company pays attention to people’s needs when introducing new technology – yet only 53% of employees agreed. In the same vein, 93% of the C-suite felt satisfied with the technology experiences they have, contrasted to only 68% of staff.

Why the disconnect?

Why is there such a disconnect? One theory is that the C-suite delegates specific tasks. They don’t spend enough time at the coalface to really see if the technology does what it promised. Employees, on the other hand, are very attuned to this: 73% of employees surveyed by PWC said they know of technologies that would produce higher-quality work.

None of this should be sobering, because we already know it’s true. The greatest and grandest technology projects have failed because employees shunned it, returning to tried-and-tested methods rather than wrestle with systems not aligned to them. Change management projects fall short by an overwhelming number, usually because employees were treated as an afterthought.

You could skirt that problem in the past with ‘do as I say’ attitudes. But as my retail acquaintance’s experience shows, the rules of engagement are changing. Skilled and driven employees know their worth and they have expectations. Some things the executive heard during his interview of the candidate: She was deciding if she wanted to work for them (not the other way around), she placed a high premium on access to effective devices (not hand-me-downs), she wanted to travel and not be fixed to one location, and she expected flexible work hours.

That takes a lot of moxy, yet when the executive put her to the test, she came out shining. Not all employees will have the same desires, but they know their expectations matter. Modern workplace cultures are attuned to this, creating a virtuous cycle between ambitious employees and vibrant employment.

It may be about a grand technology service for your business or it can be as simple as putting the right devices and peripherals in the right hands. But are you asking what your employees want and are you listening? That may be the most important skill a business leader should have today…

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