The millennials are coming to work! Are you ready?

They can figure it out themselves.

The first generation to grow up with the Internet is entering the workforce, and they don't want your silly training programs or manuals. If the tools you provide for work aren't intuitive, they won't want to use them - and might not want to work for you at all.

"They expect technology should work without getting trained," said Rowan Trollope, the head of Cisco's Collaboration Technology group. "You should be able to figure it out. That's the art of consumer technology, is taking the complex and making it so anyone can do it." He pointed to his iPhone. "If I can hand this to my five-year-old and he can figure it out, well then, why shouldn't this apply to my desktop phone, or a videoconferencing device?"

Trollope spoke on a panel about millennials in the workforce at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last night, alongside Todd Carlisle, director of staffing for Google, and Melissa Daimler, head of Organizational effectiveness for Twitter. In a conversation before the panel, Trollope explained how he's applying the principles of consumerization to the products he oversees at Cisco.

"I've told my team, no more manuals. If I can't figure it out, a valid excuse is not 'read the manual.'" When Trollope joined Cisco about a year ago, where he oversees all the company's videoconferencing and collaboration tools (like WebEx), one of the first things he did was test his group's own products.

"We took one of our products called Jabber and I ran through the installation process, which had 11 steps, and one of the first questions was to enter the TFTP server." This violates one of the first tenets of product design, as first expressed by Bill Gates: Never ask the user a question they can't answer. "So we've eliminated all these 11 steps in setting up Jabber and gotten it down to one: your username and your password." Doing this isn't easy, but the vendors and IT departments who don't take the trouble to simplify their products for users will lose valuable younger talent to more nimble competitors.

Trollope also said that younger workers think about status differently than their older peers. The old goal used to be to work your way up to the corner office. Now, the goal is to be able to work from anywhere, any time. "It's flipped. The dream of what it means to be successful in corporate America, the leather chairs and all that, it's gone."

That means that younger workers expect to be connected all the time, using the devices and technologies that they choose -- including their own phones. They also expect to be able to work from home.

[See also: 18 Ways To Make Sure Your Remote Workforce Doesn't End Up Like Yahoo's | The Office Is Dying - Get Ready For Bring Your Own Workplace

Cisco's IT department has embraced the BYOD trend and remote work faster than many other companies, but Trollope says that as home bandwidth grows, this style of work will become commonplace. "When I work at home, because I have all this technology at home and a lot of bandwidth, I'm not working alone. I have people around me. I'm constantly on video calls. It's like being at work.With video, and particularly with ambient video, you get to a place where being at home is just as good or better than being in the office."

Cisco recognizes that the millennial generation's expectations may lead to clashes with their managers, so the company has instituted an orientation program for new workers called "Backpacks to Briefcases" that helps them enter the workforce.

One thing to keep in mind: While younger workers don't want to be trained on technology, they do need more reassurance and kudos when they're doing something right.

Google's Carlisle told me that the stereotype of Gen X workers wanting to do things themselves, while millennials need constant pats on the back and approval, is absolutely true. Google collects lots of data about its employees -- in keeping with the company's overall approach -- so this isn't just based on the kinds of subjective impressions that annoying older newspaper columnists like to make about different generations.

Carlisle also told a story on the panel about how Google used to grant big stock awards for spectacular performance. When they asked employees their favorite thing about the awards, they were surprised to find out it wasn't the financial incentive -- rather, employees loved having their parents in attendance when they got the reward. In response, Google has instituted a regular "Take Your Parents to Work Day."

Google is an extreme example of going out of the way to please workers -- that's because Silicon Valley companies are in a crazy-competitive hiring market -- but the simple fact is that millennials will make up a quarter of the workforce in 10 years. That means all companies -- and their IT groups -- are going to have to adapt.

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
View Comments
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies