Innovation Against All Odds (1988)
If you read the GeneXus company bio, you’ll notice right away that founders, Nicolás Jodal and Breogán Gonda, stress the excellent team of people who helped them achieve their goal of building a successful organization 30 years ago. The group was extremely knowledgeable and gratified to be doing what they were doing, all working towards one common objective: to create something that would change the lives of people around the world.
There is some wisdom to be garnered today from the story behind the company’s early beginnings. It wasn’t easy. Trying to introduce new technology that asked executives in established enterprise companies to rethink how they developed software when, at that time, GeneXus was barely a scrappy startup, created frustrating road blocks and serious doubts in the minds of prospective customers. The founders ultimately realized that by asking customers key questions about their pain-points, they would be able to deliver the best end product. They learned that it was the answers they received from customers that shaped the company’s path forward. This set them up for great success with the launch of the company and gave them a meaningful purpose which is still their primary purpost to this day: Simplifying software development,
automating everything that can be automated.
But most importantly, Jodal and Gonda realized that the ability to listen to Customers’ questions and concerns changed the dynamic of their conversation and goals entirely.
Engaging the New Workforce
The importance of Jodal and Gonda’s lesson of listening still rings true today. What must be understood in the current corporate environment is that many voices are not being heard and those are of certain groups like Millennials, women, and minorities. The truth is that everyone wants to be heard – and everyone should have the chance to be heard. Companies facing foundational changes to their organizations as a result of implementing game-changing, emerging technologies will only succeed if they understand, value and manage the talents and contributions of everyone across the organization.
In the case of Millennials, perhaps this failure to be heard stems, partially, from executives not understanding how to engage with them. Management gets pulled in every direction by exhaustive research regarding the “right” way to handle the newly minted workers. However, just as executives might not know how to engage Millennials, so too do Millennials struggle to understand how to engage Executives who are primarily Baby Boomers. Engagement is a two-way street. And it is this mutual lack of understanding where a breakdown happens in communication and the feeling of voicelessness arises, poisening the organization and its ambitious initiatives.
There has to be a reciprocal trust and desire to understand each other’s “cultures” in order to form a collaborative environment and ecosystem. As The Pew Research Center explains, life cycle and cohort effects are largely the cause of generational differences in mindset and opinion. I would argue, though, that these differences can act as a strength, rather than a hindrance, to change our organizations.
The life cycle effect is a reaction brought about by changes based on the age in which we are experiencing events. These tend to be similar to those of previous generations when other generations were the same age. This effect can be positive for workplace advancement. It can add diversity in digital strategies, for example, as companies look to Millennials for guidance with digital transformation, since they’re digital natives. Executives can look to Millennials for fresh perspectives and I am sure they will find that Gen-Y would be happy to provide their viewpoint on whatever matter is being discussed. But Millennials must also recognize that they do not have the decades of valuable experience that Executives have. Therefore, they should look to Senior Management for inspiration and guidance in the workplace as well. This provides an opportunity for older generations to engage Millennials by offering traditional mentoring to help them advance their careers.
The Desire to be Heard and Empowered in Today’s Corporate Environment
How do you engage an entire generation? Engagement starts with empowerment.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the launch event for the Enterprise Digital Transformation Meetup hosted by GeneXus USA speaking to The Sacrifices Executives & Employees Need to Make for Digital Transformation. Truthfully, I went not knowing what to expect, but I certainly walked into the fireside chat-styled event with the desire to learn something new.
The reality of what I garnered that evening was more than I could have ever anticipated. I was given so much more than knowledge that evening. I was also given a platform and a voice.
I also realized that evening that, as a Millennial, I had a deep-seated resentment towards society due to my generation’s apparent lack of voice. The harder we try to be heard, the softer our voices become, washed away by media stories claiming one thing or another. Or so I thought before the event.
That night, as I shyly took the microphone to ask my question of the panel (consisting of baby boomers and Gen-Xers) regarding the implications of technology on our future kids’ education, I realized I was not only being listened to, I was being heard. I was welcomed as a young, curious, eager-to-learn professional woman by a diverse community of experienced professionals who were excited for me to be there, sharing my experience.
I felt like a barrier had been broken.
Isaac Sacolick, one of the panelists that evening and author of Driving Digital: The Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology, recently wrote a blog post on cio.com about three pertinent issues that every company encounters while going through Digital transformation: (1) how to answer the question of whether or not automation will take jobs, (2) how workers who are new to the workforce can get involved in the transformation of their companies, and (3) how companies can keep up with emerging technologies.
The biggest takeaway for me, however, was making sure that leaders are able to answer employees’ questions when an organization is going through major changes like Digital Transformation initiatives. It is here where the experience of Jodal and Brogan comes to mind. They challenged themselves and their early clients to ask and answer hard questions that led to breakthrough innovation for GeneXus as a startup and for its clients. And to this day, when working with their programs geared towards the Millennials and Gen-Z they train, the team at GeneXus teaches the importance of being challenged and asking the right questions.
In his blog post, Isaac mentions, “In transformation programs, leaders should be seeking individuals that are asking questions and are ready to challenge the status quo.” He goes on to say that leaders should also acknowledge those who are asking questions, listen to those questions, and give those who are asking them the opportunity to grow and participate within the organization. If leaders follow this advice they will find a large group ready, willing, and able employees very much excited to challenge that status quo.
Antonio Julio, Head of Business Development, North America, at GeneXus USA, and one of the enlightening panelists, recently wrote about what a people-centric approach to Digital Transformation looks like (Digital Transformation Is the People’s Revolution). As we move forward into a more digitized world, this idea will be crucial for Management to remember in order to soothe employees’ fears about technological displacement and to minimize confusion, high turnover, and other digitally-stimulated sensitive issues. But this people-centric concept can also be applied more broadly to cover all company operations.
If we focus on people as the change agents within organizations and ensure that every single individual has a voice and an opportunity to succeed, then surely the result will be a significant company transformation.
The Road to a Cohesive, Enjoyable Culture of Innovation for All
Moving beyond our differences in age, culture, and economic backgrounds, being capable of listening to each other will do great things for a company. Ageism and rankism, contrarily, hinder positive change and transformation and can be detrimental to any company’s moral and economic well-being.
Continuous conversation is the key to avoiding these hindrances. We must constantly ask: “How can we challenge each other to make the best end product for our Customer?” And, “How can we best support each other?” All employees must embrace an ethose bigger than themselves: “I hear you and I will do my best for the betterment of this company and our Customer.”
The GeneXus Digital Transformation event was a perfect example of how engaging conversation on digital transformation, across demographics, can happen to benefit all ages and all levels of the workforce, and to empower and give voice to those who seek it.
The Big Takeaways
I have learned within the past few weeks some essential life lessons and takeaways that I believe are important for everyone within an organization to understand:
- There is a lot of confusion across all generations as to how best to communicate, engage, and interact with one another.
- Engagement, empowerment, and purpose go hand-in-hand.
- And perhaps most importantly: If there’s a failure in communication and we feel we’re not being listened to, don’t shut down, listen harder.
Listening has the potential to rectify any confusion, to provide a mutual understanding, and to empower those who need empowering.
In the “About Us” section on the GeneXus website, you will find the line: “We are BUILDERS. We are ENTHUSIASTS. We are OPTIMISTS. We are PROFESSIONALS.” It is with this positivity that we must move forward into the future as one group, regardless of age, gender, or background, giving every single person the voice to be heard.
With optimism, enthusiasm, and professionalism, and most of all with an open ear, we will be able to build an unbreakable bond and a strong culture of hard working, satisfied employees who have purpose and who are empowered to do what is best for the business and for the Customer. This is where true Digital Transformation begins.
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”. – Aristotle
Thank you for giving me this voice,
Your Friendly Resident Millennial