Get Ready for the Net Generation - Canadian Government Executive
Renewal
July 22, 2014

Get Ready for the Net Generation

Originally published in the December 2008 edition.

 

In the recent U.S. presidential campaign, we saw a remarkable display of the power of young people and their gift for using digital tools creatively. Young adults overwhelmingly favored Senator Barack Obama and were critical to his election.

They used social networks to pump up enthusiasm for their candidate: Facebook to share information at Internet speed, raise money, and set up rallies; YouTube to reach millions of potential voters through music; their Twitters transformed the old-style news cycle. Their gadgets made campaigning easier than ever – like the iPhone application that acted like a campaign in your pocket and even kept track of campaign events nearby.

I call today’s youth the Net Generation. Born between 1977 and 1997, these teenagers and young adults are the children of the baby boomers, and they have grown up surrounded by digital devices and media. In 2008, the eldest of the generation turned 31. The youngest turned 12. There are more N-Geners in Canada than there are baby boomers.

Around the world this generation is flooding into the workplace, marketplace, and every niche of society. These youth are bringing their demographic muscle, media smarts, purchasing power, new models of collaborating and partnering, entrepreneurship, and political power into the world.

They multitask, performing five activities at once. To them, e-mail is old school. They use the phone to text incessantly, surf the Web, find directions, take pictures and make videos, and collaborate. They seem to be on Facebook every chance they get, including at work. Instant messaging or Skype is always running in the background. The typical boomer grew up watching more than 22 hours of TV a week. They just watched, zoned out. When the Net Generation watches TV, they treat it as background Muzak while they hunt for information, play games and chat with friends online.

I recently led a $4 million research project that studied this generation in depth, and eight characteristics, or norms, describe the typical Net Gener and differentiate them from their Boomer parents.

1. They prize freedom, and freedom of choice
2. They want to customize things, make them their own
3. They’re natural collaborators, who enjoy a conversation, not a lecture
4. They’ll scrutinize you, and your organization
5. They insist on integrity – being honest, considerate, and transparent, and living up to your commitments
6. They want to have fun – even at work and at school
7. Speed is just normal
8. Innovation is part of life.

For government, N-Geners pose a challenge on three fronts. As employees, their instincts run counter to many traditional public sector workplace practices. As consumers, they are accustomed to and want fast, personalized service. And as citizens, they want a much more participatory democracy.

As employees
Net Geners are savvy, confident, upbeat, open-minded, creative and independent, but they can be challenging to manage. To meet their demand for more learning opportunities, frequent feedback, greater work/life balance and stronger workplace relationships, organizations must alter their culture and management approaches, while continuing to respect the needs of older employees.

Compared to their parents at the same age, N-Geners have a much stronger sense of employee entitlement. A large number of N-Geners feel the job should be customized to fit their needs rather than the other way around. More than half, for example, say they want to work in places other than in an office. The perfect world for many N-Geners: replace job descriptions with work goals and give them the tools, latitude and guidance to get the job done.

N-Geners don’t distinguish between being entertained, learning or working. Indeed, some 67 percent of N-Geners we surveyed agreed that “working and having fun can and should be the same thing.” Making a workplace more attractive to the N-Gener means making it more fun. The old paradigm was that there was a time of day when one worked and a time of day when one had leisure and fun. But these two things have become the same activity because N-Geners believe in enjoying what they do for a living.

N-Geners also entertain themselves at work to re-charge or eliminate boredom. Fun tool of choice: the Internet. Most catch up on news headlines, Google, IM with friends or watch videos on YouTube several times a day. Many perceive taking a “virtual coffee break” for 10 minutes allows them to return to their work even more focused; they don’t view such activity as abusing the system.

As consumers
In recent years, western economies have seen an explosion in merchandising techniques and product variety, giving consumers unprecedented freedom of choice. While older generations marvel or feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of sales channels, product types and brands, the N-Gen revels in it.

Governments offer thousands of services to citizens of different backgrounds, different ages, and with differing expectations, yet most services are delivered on a one-size-fits-all basis. Web services, widgets, RSS and other Web 2.0 technologies could enable service providers to satisfy expectations for customizable or personalized interactions with their government.

Imagine, for example, that every citizen was granted their own MyGovernment page from birth – an interactive space through which they channeled all of their interactions with government, whether renewing a driver’s license, filing taxes, finding a new doctor or registering a business. The service would actively anticipate their needs and deliver information to their platform of choice, including their desktops, mobiles or perhaps their favorite social-media sites.

Even in the shift to e-government, many agencies have largely replicated physical-world distribution systems on the Web, thus ignoring one of its most powerful implications – the ability to create new forms of value by focusing on and transforming core competencies while creating partnerships for non-core activities. By assembling networks of citizens, private firms, non-profit organizations and other agencies on a Web-based platform, for instance, governments can offer greater innovation, choice and variety to their service customers.

As citizens
They’ve shaken up the traditions of campaigning. Now Net Geners will try to sweep away the conventional model of politics with its “you vote, we rule” style of operating. In the old system, citizens listen to speeches, debates and television ads. They give money and vote. But when it comes to having input into policy and real decisions, they are relegated to the sidelines, while the real powers – the politicians, their financial supporters, and the lobbyists – make all the decisions, often according to their own interests.

Having grown up digital, N-Geners expect to collaborate with politicians – not just to listen to their speeches. They want to be involved directly: to interact with them, contribute ideas and scrutinize their actions, not just during elections but as they govern.

Digital Brainstorms offer a compelling model for how this may be possible. A Digital Brainstorm describes an online facilitated discussion, typically involving many thousands of partici¬pants engaging on an important topic of interest. The most well known and tested model of Digital Brainstorming is the Jam, invented by IBM, which involves intensive seventy-two hour online interactions.

To date, Digital Brainstorms using the Jam model have been used by large corporations such as IBM, Nokia, as well as the automotive industry, and inter¬national organizations like UN Habitat. The idea of government-led Digital Brainstorms is compelling. Engaging regular people using this new technology seems a straightforward way to both promote democratic engagement and draw in expertise and new ideas to public policy.

The UN Habitat’s “Habitat Jam” drew on the expertise of 40,000 people from over 130 countries to develop a list of 600 actionable ideas to promote urban sustainability. Nokia’s Way Jam engaged over 13,000 employees from front offices in Helsinki to manufacturing facilities in Asia to develop the values and ideas that form the company’s mission.

How might governments harness this concept to create a call for action around key topics such as the environment, climate change, or the future of our economies? Digital Brainstorming – now possible on a scale that was previously impossible – offers the alluring possi¬bility that political agendas could be set in closer consul¬tation with a larger proportion of a nation’s citizens. This could lead to greater legitimacy. Intractable problems could be solved when the collective ingenuity of a more diverse set of participants is brought to bear. Important organizational decisions – like setting values or strategic priorities – could be made with broader and deeper citizen input, leading to better ideas and faster adoption.

Get ready for the Net Generation. They will be an unstoppable and overwhelmingly positive force for change within the public sector.

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CGE Vol.13 No.5 May 2007 Karen Ellis is Vice-President of the Public Service Renewal and Diversity Branch at the Public Service Hu...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 What exactly do federal public servants want? The message from the 3rd Public Service Employee Survey...
 
Renewal is an ongoing process demanding hands-on commitment across a broad front. While centrally-driven efforts are important, they must be reinforced and complemented by concerted and sustained action at the "grass roots&quot...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.6 June 2007 Public service renewal has become a major priority of the federal government and many provincial governm...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.3 March 2007 Kevin Lynch is Clerk of the Privy Council and head of the federal public service. An economist and career public s...
 
In the April edition, the Federal Youth Network wrote a memo begging national managers to challenge them. Here is their response....
 
When I was hired into the federal government in 2003, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into....
 
Un demi-millénaire après le premier contact entre les Autochtones et les explorateurs d’Europe, 141 ans après l’adoption de l’Acte de l’Amérique du Nord britannique et un quart de siècle après le r...
 
En Nouvelle-Zélande, la fonction publique représente 31 % du PIB....
 
Pour concrétiser tout véritable effort de renouvellement, la fonction publique devra inévitablement recruter et mobiliser de jeunes employés....
 
New Zealand’s State Services comprise 31 percent of GDP. State servants play a critical role in delivering frontline services to New Zealanders and play an important role in delivering sustainable social and economic benefits to the long-term future of the country....
 
Any truly meaningful renewal of the public service will, by necessity, involve recruiting and engaging younger populations. To do so will require a deeper understanding of young people, not only by generation, but also by their life-stage....
 
CGE Vol.13 No.10 December 2007 Public servants are used to secretaries of cabinet promoting projects to renew, reinvent or reinvi...
 
Treasury Board President Tony Clement is leading the federal government”s Strategic and Operating Review of departments and agencies....
 
Allan Seckel joined the British Columbia public service in 2003 after a career in civil litigation and class action practice and was recently named Deputy Minister to the Premier and Cabinet Secretary after serving as Deputy Attorney General....
 
In November, Canadians came face to face with the reality of life in some of northern Ontario’s most isolated communities....
 
On March 22, Federal Budget Day, the Harper government authorized the release of three reports that directly touch on the current status of the Canadian public service....
 
As promised, the advisory group on the future of the Australian Public Service (APS) delivered its report to Prime Minister Rudd on March 2, 2010....
 
While the Canadian approach has been piecemeal and incremental, some countries have initiated government-wide reform efforts that are designed to rethink the role of government and the way it relates to citizens....
 
On March 31, the Clerk of the Privy Council Office submitted his most recent annual report to the Prime Minister on the state of the public service in Canada....
 
An interview with Deputy Minister Cassie Doyle....
 
Une entrevue avec le vice-ministre Cassie Doyle....
 
In October 2012, the Commonwealth Ministers Forum on Public Sector Development will meet in India....
 
Is there reason to hope? Once again, the federal government has pledged to empower staff and simplify rules in search of a more innovative public service....
 
Chairing two national networks from Prince Edward Island can be challenging. Thankfully, with the help of collaborative tools and social media, I have been able to successfully strengthen them both....
 
Recently I had the opportunity to be part of a panel discussion at the Collaborative Culture Camp (C3) in Ottawa on the topic of working collaboratively: what it means, and what the challenges and opportunities are for government....
 
Over the next five to ten years, the private and public sectors will compete for talent like they never have before....
 
Recognizing that the federal public service must evolve to keep pace with change, canada@150 was an innovative project launched to explore the challenges facing Canada and their implications for the public sector....
 
With cuts anticipated in the upcoming budget, many public servants are wondering which programs, services and operating budgets will be affected....
 
The Canada School of Public Service is playing a significant role in the Government of Canada’s public service renewal initiative through its Public Servant-in-Residence (PSIR) program....
 
As canada@150 approaches the one-year anniversary of its final report, we are exploring how to live the canada@150 vision....
 
Wicked issues? What does that mean? It means that traditional solutions – divide and conquer, going it alone, or letting highly intelligent people tackle them in isolation – won’t work....
 
We would like to share with you our ideas on how to make the public service a better place to work, allowing us to unleash our talents, enthusiasm and energy and become change agents for the good of the public service and Canada as a whole....
 
The economic meltdown has crippled governments already challenged by global warming, health care crises, collapsing social structures, and growing public safety concerns....
 
Join us on a trip around our planet as we explore the twelve wicked issues that will likely be big in 2012 and beyond....
 
The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was created by the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, often referred to as the ‘whistle-blower’ legislation, which came into force in April 2007....
 
Many young Canadians have joined the public service to serve their fellow citizens and one is struck by the fact that these new professionals are keenly interested in renewal, a topic that public administrators have been tackling for over four decades....
 
Best practices are a way of accomplishing a business function that is considered to be superior to other known methods....
 
The public service today has been enduring a barrage of criticism far greater than at any point in recent memory, and it is “taking a toll on the morale, expectations, and career prospects…”...
 
Thanks to demographic shifts, climate change, energy shortages, global economic meltdowns and local economic booms, more is being asked of governments than at anytime in a generation. Are they ready?...
 
À cause de l’évolution démographique, du changement climatique, des pénuries d’énergie, de la crise économique mondiale et des boums économiques localisés, les gouvernements n’ont jamais été autant sollicités....
 
Dans son quinzième rapport annuel au Premier ministre sur la fonction publique du Canada (2008), le greffier du Conseil privé et secrétaire du Cabinet mentionne ce qui suit...
 
In the fifteenth annual report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada (2008), the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet stated: “Renewal is about making sure that the federal public service preserves and strengthens its capacity…”...
 
Mes amis, vous avez fait un bon choix. En entrant dans la fonction publique, vous vous retrouvez en plein cœur de l’action....
 
La Direction de la conservation et de la protection (C&P) est chargée de l’exécution des lois touchant Pêches et Océans Canada dans la région du Pacifique....
 
Conservation and Protection (C&P) is the enforcement arm of Fisheries and Oceans Canada....
 
When the National Managers’ Community gathers in Montreal in March for their annual professional development forum, it will present the Mike Nurse Leadership Award…...
 
When someone I meet for the first time asks me the usual question: “So, what do you do?” I like to answer that I have two full-time jobs...
 
Although the value of Canada’s professional and non-partisan public services is widely acknowledged, the need for deep-rooted and comprehensive re-branding of the public service is critical....
 
As a new public servant, I sometimes think about the future social and economic issues that will be front and centre during the tenure of my career....
 
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In this issue of Canadian Government Executive, our lead story is on how to bring about real cultural change in the public service. Gilles Paquet, Professor Emeritus at the Telfer School of Management talks about the new governance system that requires a thorough renewal of our way of selecting, evaluating and coaching executives. Other stories:...