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Culture Shocks

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 12-12-2007 Print

Carnival, with nearly 40 ships that frequently travel to areas with spotty voice communications, was quick to grasp the benefits of IM via Blackberry handheld devices. It's an effective way to communicate across a highly distributed environment, but it breeds challenges of its own. "Our messages can get very cryptic," says CIO Sutten. "They might lack verbs and context. I haven't capitalized a word in years. It's another way of speech." And it's a way of speech that is commonly used among young people who grew up on IM and texting, which have their own patois and grammar.

It's an efficient way to communicate if you understand it, but, says Sutten, 49, "It still annoys some people from my generation." To overcome the communication gap, Sutten has hired portfolio managers to translate techspeak and millennial-speak into proper English, even if it takes extra time. "They take our stuff and put it into prose and business context," he says.

Video games are on the agenda for this year's holiday party at Carnival. "Our staff runs the gamut— we have some older folks, but we've acclimated to the younger style," says Sutten. "It's OK to be techie in our culture." Spreading the youthful, techie culture across the company is something IT departments might do to ease the generation gap. Says Cornelio, "There are cultural distinctions between parts of organizations, and many times you will see one group draw the rest of the company along with them. We have a lot of people in IT, and we can make a difference."

In many ways, younger workers are ahead of the curve. Schneider points to a general comfort among Generation Y with diversity that is critical in the global economy. And in VF's highly globalized industry, he says, "When a designer in New York needs the same information as a sourcing office in Asia, and they both need it in real time, the demands are similar to those of workers who expect to be able to work when they want, where they want."

For a millennial like Shell, that kind of schedule just makes sense. "Back in the day, everybody was 8:30 to 5:30," he says. "That's on the way out. Now you have a BlackBerry on your hip, and you are going to work on your personal time every day. You need to be at meetings on time, but otherwise you can be flexible."

Still, Schneider acknowledges that shift is not always easy for others. "For a baby boomer like myself, it's more of a burden to work at home, to get on that conference call at 8 p.m. We may have to sell that softly to older workers, while younger workers are more accepting of it."

But regardless of age, he says, that's the way we work now.


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