There are many myths surrounding the needs of digital natives in the workplace. Cara Brigman is a digital native who works for Accenture. She is a Biomedical Engineering Graduate from Marquette University. I recently sat down to talk to her about Digital and what it means to her. You’ll be surprised to read about what makes her “tick”. This interview is part of an ongoing series that offers real perspectives from real leaders on the ubiquitous topic of Digital.
Audrey McGuckin (AM) – Cara tell me about the trends you’re seeing in Digital?
Cara Brigman (CB) – One area that is fascinating for me right now is “cloud based everything”. You can now share and easily save everything and millennials are prolific over-sharers. We’re willing to pay a monthly fee to be able to safely and easily access our information, without much consideration for our privacy. It’s worth the convenience when I get a new phone to not have to wait hours for data to transfer, but have the new device automatically configured to the settings and content of my old device. As the trend moves from cloud to networks, millennials will make the leap without thinking because our priority is convenience. We’ll all easily transition to the most cost effective digital trend that big companies push.
AM – Cara, you’re a millennial managing other millennials. Tell me about the dynamics of that.
CB – Yeah, I’m 27 years old and managing a team of 6 millennials. It’s really a tough job. It takes a lot of time, energy, commitment and authenticity. People really care about their work and with the amount of time we spend at the office, they want to also feel cared for personally. To manage the work while ensuring that everyone feels a sense of pride in their tasks and a vision for their career path is a challenging balance to maintain as a leader.
AM – What’s been most effective way you’ve learned about leadership?
CB – I’m a triplet who grew up in a family home with 2 other siblings – that bring a lot of leadership lessons in and of itself. I’ve mostly learned about leadership from my parents. My mom is a Leadership Coach, so we had some serious advantages growing up. We’ve all received coaching from her our entire life – from a very young age my siblings and friends have all benefited from her work. Not every kid starts getting Harvard Business Review articles sent to them at 15 years of age! She has always coached us based on our individual styles and I try to do this with my own team. She knows that the most impactful ways to give me feedback is to write to me. It sometimes stings when she delivers tough criticism or feedback through a letter/email, but it allows me to step away and re-read with an open heart once I have a different perspective. The individualized coaching / mentorship that I learned from my mom is something I try to bring to my management style for my team.
AM – Tell me about one of your leadership habits.
CB – I write a letter every day, the clear majority of the time a handwritten note. In direct contrast to my digital native status, I find a deeper connection with people – colleagues, team members, family & friends – through hand-written notes. This practice was also taught to me by my mom; when she went on business trips when we were little, she’d always leave a note for each of us under our pillow. I still have every single one of those today. The act of writing to people on a regular basis to tell them how much you love them or value them has huge impact. I’ve carried this perspective into my own leadership journey. It’s the smallest gestures that have the biggest impact.
AM – Tell me more about your leadership style:
CB – I’ve been taught all through school to create logic and decision trees. I transitioned this approach to my leadership style. I’m constantly thinking about the spiders’ web of leadership and pushing myself to see how I can have impact broader and deeper than just my direct reports. It’s just how it works in organizations today. It’s all about teams, networks and collaboration.
AM – Tell me about digital and learning.
CB – The problem I face is how to get my team up the learning curve quickly enough. The rate of change of technology is massive. It’s tough for organizations and individuals to keep pace. I feel this urgency daily. The expectation to just leap into a new role or be given a new tool and learn it on the fly can be fun, but we’re missing an opportunity for millennials to learn from their more experienced counterparts. We have a lot of millennials working with millennials, but it’d be great to see more emphasis placed on the transfer of knowledge and experience from the veterans running our projects.
Digital natives have had new applications and technology thrown at them for their entire lives, so we expect to be constantly learning. Beyond the demand to be continuously challenged, millennials expect their engagement at work to be compensated not just with their pay, but also with sincere investment from managers in their career. There’s a demand for personal, authentic leadership to help map out career goals and present new opportunities for growth.
AM – That’s interesting Cara. Presenting that authenticity in the workplace can be tough in a digital era. Tell me about how you overcome this.
CB – For me, the challenge of authenticity isn’t in the message but how to deliver the message. We ping and email and text constantly, but those forms of communication do not create real connections. It takes real effort to step through the computer and communicate more personally/live.
On the one hand technology allows us to be productive and move with speed, but on the other hand we must find a way to reconnect on a personal level to have impact with our teams. A great example of the paradox here is, when we have virtual team meetings, my team is generally reluctant to get on video conferences – where millennials are looking for authenticity in the workplace and yet video calls seem too intense and in-your-face.
According to USA today, the top 10 companies that made the 2017 top 10 are focussed on creating an environment where new entrants, millennials and digital natives are able to flourish. How is your environment lending itself to a multi-generational workforce?
Audrey McGuckin consults with top CEO’s and HR Executives to solve their toughest and most complex talent and people challenges. To find out more about Audrey and how she can assist you and your organization, contact Audrey at email@example.com or message her directly on LinkedIn.