Effective Change Management for a Multi-Generational Workforce

March 16, 2016

Technographic Segmentation is a Better Way to Plan Change

There are many excellent models for the Change Management process, and most can be boiled down to these steps:

  1. Know why a change is needed
  2. Clarify leadership
  3. Have a good plan
  4. Carry out the plan
  5. Adjust

Duh. Also, there are lots of great guiding principles in how to do it effectively. They look something like this:

  1. Understand human behavior and culture
  2. Gain leadership support
  3. Engage ownership at all levels
  4. Convey a vision
  5. Be transparent about the process
  6. Target communications
  7. Gather feedback
  8. Plan for the unexpected

Not easy to do, but still pretty obvious.

It’s unlikely that any of these principles change with today’s multi-generational workforce, even though exactly how to carry out the steps will vary. Different types of people will respond in different ways. So, if you’re leading any changes, then it’s a good idea to think about how particular groups will respond.

As you know, today’s workforce includes:

  • Traditionalists (Born 1925-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)
  • Generation X (Born 1965-1976)
  • Millennials (Born 1977-1994)

Studies have shown that there are some common trends within these populations regarding attitudes, values, expectations, and behaviors. These folks are naturally at different phases of their careers, and their life experiences have shaped their personalities. For instance, Traditionalists value “loyalty”, Boomers value “competition”, Gen X’ers value “balance”, and Millennials value “flexibility.” Of course, there are individuals within these groups that differ, but the overall trends are valid.

Regarding preferences, there are some significant differences for things like communication style and technology usage. For instance, Gen X’ers hate “spin” and Millennials are often described as “Digital Natives” because most have never lived in a world without computers as part of their daily lives.

So much has been written about these groups’ overall style, that I wanted for focus on just one particular topic: technology preferences. It’s an area that is not as well understood and it can have a huge impact on a change initiative. This is especially true when a change initiative involves a new set of technologies, which is very common. How many companies are changing the HRMS solutions each year?

As a HR professional, you probably have some limited influence over rewards, recognition, and work policy in your organization. Maybe you can even convince your leaders to make strategic changes. Sadly, making broad changes to company culture is a very long process and is probably outside your control.   Fortunately, for a change initiative a few of the things in your control are how you communicate with people and what you ask people to do. Technology is a huge part of this.

The concept of Technographic Segmentation was first introduced for a study of VCR users in 1985. It was later adopted and expanded by Forrester Research at the beginning of the internet boom in 2000. At that time, I read (actually, I listened to) a book called “Now or Never” that described this interesting way to segment people by their technology preferences. I loved the ideas that were presented in the book and ever since then I’ve been quietly observing that the framework makes a lot of sense. Let me quickly describe it.

There are two main dimensions. First is that people have a primary life motivation from this set:

  • Career
  • Family
  • Entertainment

This dimension rings true and I’m sure you can imagine how different people you know fit in these categories. I suppose that that there are some trends among generations, but it’s not that cut and dry. Each generation has people in each of these categories.

The second dimension is around technology orientation. It’s a measure of technology openness that falls into two categories:

  • Technology Optimist
  • Technology Pessimist

Basically, technology optimists believe that new technologies can make their lives better and are willing to invest time to figure things out. Change is good to them. In contrast, a technology pessimist is annoyed by new technologies and only adopts them when forced to do so. They like when things stay the same, and prefer face-to-face interactions.

When you cross these dimensions you get a bunch of “technographic” segments that have very different behaviors. For instance, someone who is both career-motivated and a technology optimist looks for new technologies to help them advance. They don’t do it for fun. The modern implications are that a group like this probably won’t respond well to “gamification” in a change campaign. You just need to explain how it will save them time. For pessimists, you need to make it “easy,” and tell them that you did it.

So here’s an idea: why not assess your plan from the perspective of the six combinations of these factors? It’s not really that hard to do. What messages will resonate best with family-oriented pessimists? How can they be accommodated? How can entertainment-oriented optimists be engaged in the process? Work to have an answer for each segment. Not everyone is going to be happy, but at least you’ll know where they stand.

Among the four (and soon) five generations, you’re always going to have a mix of people. Despite common belief, not all Millennials are technology optimists. Even though someone may have learned to text with their friends, they may still be unmotivated to use online team recognition software at work.

Isn’t it better to drop the labeling based on when a person was born and instead focus on their actual values and attitudes? It is quite possible to run a multi-channel change campaign that includes targeted messages. You will find that people will actually pick out the message that speaks to them.

Give it a try!