Thought Leadership: 'The Gen Y Guy®' Discusses How the Mainframe Can Appeal to Millennials

Jason DorseyBehind the desk, in the office and when meeting with important executives and decision makers, Jason Dorsey is the chief strategy officer for The Center for Generational Kinetics. But when recognized in restaurants, at airports and by passersby on the street, he is The Gen Y Guy®! No, seriously. That's his officially trademarked brand name, and it's what he has been referred to on such popular TV programs as "60 Minutes," "20/20," "The Today Show" and as the subject of feature articles in everything from the New York Times to Fortune magazine.

He has made a career traveling the world and teaching companies and organizations ready-to-use strategies aimed at increasing cross-generational performance. So, how does one get the moniker "Gen Y Guy?" In a recent interview with SHARE'd Intelligence, he was quick to respond. "First, you have to be in Gen Y, which I am!" he laughed. "I had been out speaking on Generation Y and Millennials all over the country and around the world, and somebody came up to me and said, 'Hey, you're him. You're that Gen Y Guy!' I was, like, 'Aha. Yes, I am.' And that's literally how it came about. It really just summed me up, so I went with it. We got the name trademarked and started to build our business around it. In our line of work, it's really helpful for people to be able to associate a name or a position with a problem they have. With so many people struggling with Gen Y — and our strength is consulting on Gen Y challenges — we were able to quickly stand out."

Dorsey's clients range from global Fortune 100 companies with tens and hundreds of thousands of employees all the way down to fast-growth tech companies with 30 or fewer employees. The Center and its services have been in high demand, considering that Millennials this year became the largest generation in the workforce.

IBM is very much looking to appeal to this demographic. One of the challenges the company faces is getting Millennials to recognize that mainframes do not represent a technology that has already had its day. Dorsey believes there are some things “Big Blue” can do to increase its appeal and outreach. "First, you have to tell the story of IBM and Big Blue in a more visual way," he said. "Remember that Millennials have been taught in terms of videos and photos. You not only have to tell the story of where the company has been, but more importantly, the big problems and challenges the technology is solving,” he said. “Yes, the technology may not be associated with 'the cutting edge.' But it really does solve some of the biggest problems in the world, and Millennials and Gen Y will be excited once they understand that.”

In his seminars, Dorsey talks about how cross-generational problems surface when Gen Y and Millennials see certain technology as outdated or irrelevant. But, Dorsey explains, using visual storytelling to showcase the technology and how it impacts the world is a powerful tool for engaging younger generations. “The message you have to play up is: 'When you work with us, you get to impact people around the globe. You get to solve the biggest challenges. And isn't it great to be doing something that other people don't have the opportunity to do?'" he said.

Dorsey also believes the company must do a better job of humanizing the experience around using the technology. That means bringing to life the people they'll get to work with if hired. "At the end of the day," Dorsey remarked, "even in the technology business, it's still about people and relationships. It's about being able to develop talent."

Finally, Dorsey thinks it's important that IBM management talks about the specific challenges each new hire will face and overcome within their first six months or a year on the job. "This is important, because Millennials are very challenge driven and very outcome driven," he stated. "If you can say, 'Here are three challenges you'll likely face in the first six or 12 months that you'll have to overcome using your talent and abilities and our technology,' it will be really interesting and exciting to them. You have to position the job in a way that really works for what they're looking for."

With regard to Millennials seeing the mainframe as an old and outdated technology, Dorsey urged tackling that perception head-on. His reasoning is if it is indeed the proverbial "elephant in the room" and everybody sees it, you don't want to be the one who is not talking about it. "What you do is you get other Millennials and young professionals who are already in the space to talk about the future and talk about the companies that are relying on this technology," he advised. "Tell them that they are overlooking mainframe technology because they don't understand how it is powering the business of today and will power the business of tomorrow. Show them. That is the solution."

Dorsey believes that upward mobility and stability are priorities for Gen Y and Millennials. "In other aspects of the technology industry, sometimes you're not seeing the job creation or the turnover because the companies are still so young. To be able to enter a field where you can have increasing opportunities possibly very quickly, you are 'de-risking' your career path by choosing it. I think that's a really powerful selling point,” he said. With more and more students graduating with mountains of debt and even greater aspirations, the goal for Gen Y and Millennials is to find a career with competitive pay, but also with the opportunity for growth and mobility.

Another way to appeal to Gen Y is through innovative incentive programs. While steady compensation and regular performance bonuses are always nice, raises and cash rewards don't hold the same sway with this younger demographic as they did with previous generations. Dorsey remarked, "What we're seeing with Gen Y is that they really want talent development programs, because all Gen Yers think they are talented! They want to know that there is an actual pathway that will develop their talent, help them learn new skill sets, meet other people, hang out with executives and solve interesting problems. That's extremely attractive for Gen Y and Millennials right now, but a lot of companies just don't think to do it.”

Dorsey noted that research has shown that more Millennials look for stability with an employer, which is contrary to popular belief of the job-hopping generation. As Millennials and Gen Y’ers get older, they take on more responsibilities, like building a family, buying a home, and so on. As a result of the increased pressure of adulthood, the stability of the employer becomes increasingly important. “That's where a company like IBM really does provide a great opportunity that Gen Y may not be able to find at other places, and I think it should be played up," he said.

Dorsey speaks from experience, having published his first book about Gen Y when he was 18 and charting impressive sales for his latest book, "Y-Size Your Business," featuring more than 50 ways to increase Millennials' on-the-job performance from day one. He also spearheads Millennials' research and strategy for clients around the globe, including for such big-name firms as Mercedes-Benz and Wells Fargo.

What matters, Dorsey believes, is what companies are going to do to win Millennials over and how companies can get those employees excited and engaged in their work. Perceptions can be hardwired and difficult to change, but once you engage and interact with someone, those perceptions — especially those of Millennials and Gen Y — are absolutely up for discussion. “You might think that Millennials have blue hair, live with three people in a cool city and do not drive cars, but that's not the reality. There are 80 million Millennials. They're the most diverse generation in history. We have more college degrees than any previous generation. And they're older than people think. They're about 20 to 37 now. I bet there are actually a lot of Millennials already working in this space, and you need to shine a spotlight on them and position IBM and its technology in a way that Millennials will want to work with it."

— Information Inc.

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