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Beyond X & Y

Generation 2020: Using Social Media in Kindergarten

Related Topics: Strategy and Management
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Workplace culture evolves with each generation. Today’s hires have demands and needs quite different from what their hiring managers are used to. Members of Generation 2020, born after 1997 are using social media in kindergarten and bringing new demands to the workplace.

This class of future workers who are now mastering the alphabet will bring new cultural attitudes to the workplace. As just one astounding sign of what's to come, some kindergartners are already more familiar with Twitter than many adults. Five-year-olds are condensing into 140 characters what they learn each day and working with other students in parts of the world from Egypt to Indonesia

"They're connected kids. They view the world differently," says Heidi Echternacht, a Princeton, N.J., teacher who tweets with her kindergartners. Her class communicates and collaborates regularly with its "play partners" in Cairo on such topics as their classroom pets, local wildlife and time differences.

Her colleague, Amy Night, uses Twitter conversations with an Indonesian class to spark her students’ interest in cartography and weather patterns. “Every time we log on, we learn,” Night said in a recent blog post.

These kindergarten teachers communicate through an online group called #Kinderchat and they are all committed to encouraging their students to build a global mindset at an early age. This helps foster the emotional and cultural intelligence needed to thrive in the future workplace.

If students are learning to work in global virtual teams as early as kindergarten, what will they expect of their employers when they enter the workplace in 2030? Here are three ways the workplace needs to change to meet the expectations of this new generation

1) Build A Global Mindset

A key skill needed in the future workplace is the ability to work with individuals, teams and organizations of diverse cultures. We know our world is increasingly becoming global as work is performed across time and geographical boundaries.  According to Mansour Javidan of Thunderbird Global School of Management, successful executives possess intellectual, psychological and social attributes that enable them to influence organizations, groups, individuals and systems that are unlike their own. Together these attributes form the basis of a a new skill known as possessing a global mindset or a type of cultural intelligence IQ.

Organizations are increasingly looking for ways to build global mindsets in formal training programs, as well as informal ones such as using twitter hashtags; #global mindset, #globaled and #china, to learn from a diverse network of colleagues around the world on the topic of building a global mindset.

Think of the expectations these kindergarten children will have when they enter the future workplace and start engaging with employees, customers and partners around the globe.

2) Provide Immediate and Continuous Feedback

If kindergartners are using twitter to reflect on what they have learned each day, think of their reaction to the corporate annual performance review!

This is just one example of a human resource practice in need of re-imagination. This is already happening at companies such as Facebook and Panera Bread which use an online mentoring tool such as Rypple to give employees immediate feedback known as micro-feedback from peers, managers and customers. Seventy-three percent of millennials prefer continuous feedback from their managers, according to a 2011 study commissioned by the Career Advisory Board. They're used to hearing regularly how they're doing from parents and teachers, and they expect that type of immediate feedback to continue on the job.

But beware: this is a double-edged sword. Just examine how easy it is today to provide feedback on sites such as Glassdoor.com, Vault.com and Ratemyemployer.ca where individuals rate products, service levels, customer experience, and even the employee brand of a company in seconds. When these kindergartners enter the workforce, they’ll expect the opportunity to give feedback as well as take it.

3) Nurture Agility

As Echternacht says of her kindergartners' training on Twitter, "its not the technology that matters, it’s the flexibility of mind."  That flexibility is a skill that will be crucial to thrive in the workplace of the future. Learning and working are becoming one and the same, and agility has become a major competitive advantage for companies. "You have to be able to say, “well OK, that didn't work, let me try this," Echternacht says.  "Kids are by nature that way, but this needs to be fostered."

Agility will be the new normal in the workplace of the future. Employees will increasingly need to work in small, self-organized teams demonstrating skills in agile management, critical thinking and virtual teaming. The ability to work in a small, self-managed team and have control over one's budget and operations is now becoming a selection criterion for millennials aspiring to successful careers. A recent survey by GigaOM Pro Research found that most 20- to 29-year-olds prefer to work in agile organizations where they can learn to solve their own technical problems and troubleshoot  independently. Only 39 percent of them turn first to company support upon encountering a technical problem; 61 percent start elsewhere first.

Nearly two-thirds of millennials told GigaOM Pro they were interested in learning about and troubleshooting their technology, and close to three-quarters said they like to observe the support team's fixes so they can fix the problem themselves in the future.

When it comes to kindergarten tweeters, what functions as a stimulating "play" classroom activity is indicative of how this uniquely hyper-connected generation is learning and communicating. Growing up with the Internet means that global awareness is in these kids' blood, as is the sense of possibility that comes with unlimited access to information. Interacting with technology at such a young age is preparing the class of 2030 to develop global mindset, agility and flexibility in their thinking, and to value self-reflection and continuous feedback.

So are you ready for the class of 2030? Any company hoping to snag the most promising minds of the coming generations will have to be.

This post is an edited version that originally appeared on the Forbes.com blog.

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