The Impact of Younger Staff on Technology – An Update

By: Wes Trochlil

This article was originally published in FORUM on June 20, 2014. Given that it has been almost six years since its publishing date, we went back to Wes to ask him to provide an update for 2020. The following is the original article in its entirety, with updates for 2020 added to the list in red. Please note that the original article refers to “Millennials” throughout but this can be taken to mean the younger generation who is now working in the association sector for the purposes of the 2020 update.

As the Millennials make their mark on the business world, I’m seeing how “the younger generation” is having an impact on how organizations select, implement, and use technology. Here are four significant factors being driven by younger staff:

  1. They grew up on the web, so they expect everything to be simple, intuitive, and often wizard-driven. – This applies to essentially all technology in use in the office, but especially to the database, the website content management system, and email communication tools. For example, many Millennials I’ve worked with cannot understand why the event registration process for their AMS is so convoluted. They’ve grown up on websites that walked them through all kinds of buying processes for all types of different products and services, and they expect their AMS to do the same thing.
    2020 Update: This continues to be true and increasingly important. For associations this means your online processes need to be as simple and intuitive as possible.

  2. They expect the interface to be clean, elegant, and attractive.  I recently had a client choosing a new AMS product and they had narrowed their choices down to two. Staff voted, and my client pointed out that the younger staff had all voted for Product X and the older staff had all voted for Product Y. The difference? Product X was fully web based (and looked like it) while Product Y was a much more traditional database interface. (I’ve written about the importance of the user interface here [] and here [] and here. [])
    2020 Update: The user interface, whether on the staff side or the customer side, continues to be critical. On the staff side, a better UI means higher adoption by staff. On the customer side, a better UI means more engagement and more sales.

  3. They expect to be able to problem-solve using Google. When younger staff use technology and run into a problem, the first thing most will do is check Google to see if they can find someone else who has encountered the problem and provided a solution. Got a problem with your iPhone? Google it. Someone will have solved that problem. They expect to be able to do the same thing with their AMS, their CMS, or any other technology they are using.
    2020 Update: Truer than ever. And now users will be looking for help inline, meaning within the system user interface itself, including online chat. This is also true for your customers/members – increasingly they  expect to be able to access help online when dealing with your website, whether that be for issues with event registration or  membership renewal. Members may also be looking to access help through different channels than in the past (for example by text instead of by phone call).

  4. They expect to be able to easily query anything and everything (thanks to Google). The single biggest complaint I get from clients about their databases is that, even if they can get all the data they want IN to the system, they can’t get it out. And very often, younger staff will ask, “Why can’t the vendors create a search tool like Google that I can use for my database?” It may not be fair to the vendors, but life’s not fair.
    2020 Update: Still true, and still a challenge. Artificial intelligence (AI) will start to make this easier, with things like natural language search, but we’re still probably years away from that.
    Again, this trend also has an impact on your external users, they expect to be able to search your website in increasingly sophisticated ways to access the information they need.

So what can associations do to address these issues? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Let younger staff choose the technology they want to use to do their jobs. There are literally hundreds of free or near-free apps (both online and local software) that can be used in all types of business settings. Younger staff are used to customizing their experience, and this is one way you can let them do that at sometimes literally no cost to the organization. (Managers should be aware that downloading apps carries with it the risk of malware and other security issues. Be sure that you have a clear policy on how downloaded software should be managed within your organization and computer network.)
    2020 Update: And now these apps are getting better at connecting to each other (e.g., Zapier moves info between your web apps automatically) so that users can create an entire ecosystem of downloaded apps.

  2. Don’t shut them down when they do use technology. I once worked for an association with about 25 staff, 90% of whom were women under the age of 28. Their primary means of communication was instant messenger (this was just before the explosion of text as a primary communication method). The CEO of the organization thought that instant messaging was a waste of time and a distraction, and thus issued a ban on its use in the office. For this age cohort, it’s the equivalent of banning phones from the office. Just because the CEO couldn’t see the value of the medium doesn’t mean it didn’t have value.
    2020 Update: The dramatic rise of inline communication tools like Slack and Yammer demonstrate how important this technology has become.

  3. Make sure your hardware is as up-to-date as you can afford it to be. Every organization competes with the technology that its staff has at home. Millennials are especially attuned to having the latest and greatest “toys,” and your organization needs to do its best to keep up with that expectation. Yes, it’s not cheap, but keeping the best talent never is. All of these factors have serious implications for those of us who manage Millennials. We need to be able to provide tools that meet these expectations — or we’ll lose staff to companies that DO provide these kinds of tools.
    2020 Update: The good news is, with the rise of cloud computing and cloud apps, for most jobs, a well-powered Chromebook might be sufficient for most staff (an exception might be for desktop design/photo/video editing). Hardware continues to get cheaper while also getting more powerful.
    © 2020 Effective Database Management