The Net Net of the Net Geners

Presented by: Doug Douglas – National Engagement Manager at Stark

Text from Presentation given to, as well as the TASSCC TEC Conference in Austin, TX


Today I’m going to sharing with you information and insights regarding the 21st Century Workforce. My day to day role is to work with HR leaders and executives from organizations and agencies to address issues they are facing with regard to recruiting, recruiting technologies, strategies/processes and then offer customized solutions that will directly impact those issues in a positive way. One of those challenges that most organizations face is finding the very best talent available and then presenting their organization in a way that the best talent would be interested in joining them.

Now, if I were at a conference like this and the speaker just announced what I just announced, I would likely zone out and assume that I’ve already heard what he’s about to tell me again. But in this case, I don’t believe that would be true.

As I began to research and study and prepare for today, I fell in love with this topic and the ideas that we’ll discuss today. It was fascinating to me to consider how the things that we do TODAY to attract and retain talent, will likely not work tomorrow without some creativity, tweaking, and making solid efforts in the areas that we’ll specifically speak of. I really enjoyed this topic and I hope you will as well.



When you consider the world that all of us live in today, IT is involved in almost every aspect of it. It’s rare these days to see a room full of people pull out a notepad and pen and take notes on anything. Some will pull out their iPad, or their laptop, or they’ll have a voice recorder of some type on their mobile device. Even in the church that I attend, when the Pastor asks everyone to turn in their Bible to a passage, many of us pull out our phones or iPads and read along from them.

I am 44 years old and I think I had my first computer when I was around 20-21 years old. My Compaq Presario was something else. It was cutting edge – the monitor and the CPU all in one piece with the slot up front for the floppy drive. I miss the days of floppy disks! They were great as coasters too!

I never had any instruction on how to use my computer, I just got on it and started clicking on things and figuring out how they would work and what I could accomplish with it. I still wouldn’t consider myself an expert by any means. I heard new terms just this week that I had no idea what they were. Things like:

  • Moof Monster – vague and indefinable source of trouble for IT users
  • Jughead – tool used by researchers for searching information on gopher sites. Now, if you’re like me – I would think of gopher like a squirrel, but Gopher was actually the old information retrieval system that was the predecessor to the World Wide Web.

But now, I have a 14 year old daughter who has not known what it was like to have a single day of her life without a computer accessible to her. She is so good with figuring out the technical aspects of things because it is engrained in her DNA now – which freaks me out as a dad! There is no telling what she is doing right under my nose and I’m clueless because she has ways of hiding her tracks! She had a Facebook page for a year before she was allowed to have a Facebook page – set it up with a bogus name, location, birthdate, and email address that I knew nothing about – until I saw her picture on the People You May Know suggestions. Then, she was busted!

For most of us, we have discovered computers and various technologies throughout our lives that take care of just about everything imaginable, where earlier in our lives those same things were accomplished manually. We had to show interest in technology and go explore it, where people like my daughter just think that this is the way things have always been and if we’re not using technology when it’s available, then we’re lame.

But think with me about the past 10 years and the things that have become obsolete:

  • PDAs – who can forget the trusty stylus? The Blackberry and touch screen phones have made these extinct
  • Paid email accounts – AOL used to give you 50 hours free, then would charge you to use it
  • Dial Up – I hated those stupid sounds – static – dial tone – repeat this a few times – oh, there it is – the internet!
  • Getting film developed
  • Movie Rental Stores – Blockbuster was HUGE, now we go online
  • Maps – GPS has completely revamped our travel
  • Long Distance Charges – VOIP and cell phones changed that, and then Skype has made international calls free
  • Public Pay Phones – I haven’t seen one in years
  • VCRs
  • Fax Machines – e-fax has taken on most of these responsibilities, scanners, email (unless you need a medical file to be sent somewhere, then the trusty fax machine is the only way it will be done)
  • Phone books – I throw them away the moment the show up on my doorstep
  • Calling 411 – Google it
  • CDs – iPods and downloaded music now
  • Buttons – almost everything is turning touch screen now

Sometimes I feel like just about the time I have something figured out, it changes and is replaced with something else that’s bigger and better. I was so proud to get my iPad 2, then a few months later – here comes the 3rd version and now I feel inadequate.



The Baby Boomers have always been considered to be the largest generation, and therefore, they have impacted the American workforce more than any other. But now, we have a new generation coming that is 80 million strong – larger than the Baby Boomer generation. They are called the “Net Generation – Generation Y, Millennials.” This is the first generation to have the internet accessible to them throughout their entire life. As you look to staff your organizations in the coming years, you will not be able to ignore them.

  • The oldest of them are currently around 33-34 years old
  • Educated
  • A little bit of work experience under their belts
  • Ambitious and innovative
  • Enjoy teamwork
  • They really understand technology

nGenera conducted 1,750 interviews back in 2006  with Net Geners. Out of this study came the “Eight Norms of the Net Generation.” This refers to patterns of behavior, which if you handle correctly, could dramatically revitalize and provide an innovative work culture that would benefit both younger and older employees. (Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscot - more info on these 8 norms)


So what are they? What are these Eight Norms?

Freedom                            Collaboration

Customization                  Entertainment

Scrutinizers                       Speed

Integrity                             Innovation


  1. Freedom – They place a high priority on their social time with friends and family. This is a major consideration for them when looking for employment. Many of us looked at this like this– “How will my social life fit in to this job?” Net Geners look at it from the other direction though - “How will this job fit in to my social life?” If you are serious about adding Net Geners to your team, you may have to be willing to let them work at their own pace, which might mean they will work remotely at 2:00 a.m. on your project instead of 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. in the office.
  2. Customization – Think about the customization options that all of us have available to us right now. If we want to buy a new Dell computer, you can decide if you want it in black, white, lime green, hot pink, blue, grey, etc. We customize how we get our news through RSS feeds and what sources we go to on the web or mobile device. We even get to pick the picture we put on the credit card that pays for everything. Net Geners will want to customize their jobs as well – spending more time doing the things they really enjoy. That might be difficult to do within a highly regulated or manufacturing workspace, but consider allowing them to design and improve work processes and see if that pays dividends to your organization.
  3. Scrutinizers – This generation are pros at doing online comparative analysis. When they are searching for a job, they will carefully consider which ones meet their professional goals, work style preferences, and they will look at every aspect of your organization like work culture, benefits, and how they can advance in their careers. After you have hired them, they will demand trusting and transparent relationships with their organization. With this in mind, your website matters! It needs to be well designed with easily understandable job announcements as initial marketing efforts to future employees. You will have advantage if you use both high-tech and high-touch human interaction about your opportunities.

When Net Geners were asked about the sector they are drawn to the most:

Interest in   Sectors as “Ideal Employers” Ages 13-30
Public Sector


Non-Profit Organizations


Private Sector


Notice their interest in the Public Sector is the lowest of all, but the research did show that this generation would more strongly consider the Public Sector if someone they highly respected asked them to consider it – like a parent or a teacher.

Let me stop for a second here. Why do you think that the Public Sector is the least desirable? I don’t have the answer written up here – this isn’t a game of gotcha. I’d like to hear from you why you think they answered that way. Was this surprising to you?

  1. Integrity – This generation will be seeking to uncover the record or reputation of potential employers with respect to their commitment to integrity and ethical practices. They will not follow questionable leadership. If your organization has a cause that it supports, or takes a bold stand in a mission statement, your organization better put action behind its words.
  2. Collaboration – The Net Generation has grown up in an interactive world. They are used to working their social networks and working collaboratively on tasks. Organizations are having to identify and acquire technical and non-technical solutions for enhancing communication because of this generation’s preference for things like Facebook, text messaging, and wikis. Focusing on collaboration will put you in the ballgame quicker than anything else.
  3. Entertainment – They want to enjoy their work. They want to learn new things and be a part of the action. They want variety in their tasks. They tend to work hard at tasks and then want to decompress. Some organizations have chosen to block social networking sites and discouraging any non-work internet usage. This basically prevents them from taking a break on their own terms, whether it be for gaming, blogging, surfing, or chatting. Consider giving them outlets to get some of their stress out, relax for a bit, and then get back to work.
  4. Speed – This generation tends not to use more traditional methods such as the telephone and email in their personal communications. They are too slow. They prefer the speed of instant messaging and text messaging. They constantly look for ways to speed up productivity and response time. This includes the rate of professional growth within an organization. They desperately seek timely feedback.
  5. Innovation – Technology is second nature to them. They desire to work hard to provide solutions to things that suit their own needs. They want to be challenged and feel like they are involved in “the next big thing.” The future doesn’t scare them, it excites them!


The Net Generation could be described as the most demanding generation in history, some might even go so far as to say “needy” – demanding challenge, meaningful work with impact, committed co-workers, and the ability to reach personal and financial goals. They have a strong sense of self-entitlement and self-confidence, and the need to be recognized.

Back in the 90’s, do you remember what people started doing in an effort to build the self-esteem of kids? This is when we started awarding every child with a trophy and certificate regardless of their contribution or skill. I’ll let you decide if that impacted how this generation sees things now – and if it was a good thing or not.

In managing this generation, we must understand that they expect to receive challenging work shortly after joining your organization. They want to be recognized for the work they have done. They want to be paid for their performance. They know how to maximize their time. I mean, have you seen the amount of homework and extra-curricular activities that kids are dealing with today? And they can do it while listening to their iPod, have the TV on in the room, a screen pulled up on Facebook, and still write a killer research paper. I volunteer with teenagers every week and it’s not uncommon for me to hear them talking about a full day of school, athletic practice or game after school, and then go home to go 6-7 hours of homework – leaving just a few hours for dinner, showers, and sleep.

In their journey to succeed, they will be looking for mentoring. They do not underplay the skill sets that older generations have. The challenge for coaching this generation will be to know when they need supervision and when they need growing room and to make time to help them improve. They want to be heard. They will want to share their ideas with senior leaders and decision makers. The balancing of protocol, while not snuffing out creativity and energy might be a challenge. They likely will have no concept of “chain of command” and will need some direction in this area.

Net-Gen World

They don’t want to be labeled.
They want   continuous feedback and recognition.
They value   genuine mentoring.
They want   autonomy, responsibility, and challenges.
They need   structured accountability.
They’re not   interested in “paying their dues.”
They’re used   to having their opinions heard.
They’re used   to group/team problem solving.
They expect   high tech/constant stimulation.
They’re used   to living in a 24/7 environment.


With all of these things in mind, consider that when Net Geners were asked, “If you could pick any company in the world to work for, where would it be?”, 25% of all young professionals would love to work at Google. That’s more than twice as much as the second and third place finishers – Facebook and Apple. The research was done by Universum, a consulting firm that helps companies improve their attractiveness to prospective employees.

This is where it really gets interesting. Keep in mind the 8 Norms as we go through this and see if you find any parallels.

Google regularly hosts open houses and tech-related talks in areas where it wants to recruit. This helps the candidate to imagine themselves working there. Google also runs blogs, Twitter feeds and YouTube channels. (Notice I didn’t say anything about placing an ad on Linked In or CareerBuilder?)

The following paragraphs were taken from the About Google section of their website:

The Google culture

Though Google has grown a lot since it opened in 1998, we still maintain a small company feel.

At lunchtime, almost everyone eats in the office café, sitting at whatever table has an opening and enjoying conversations with Googlers from different teams. Our commitment to innovation depends on everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. Every employee is a hands-on contributor, and everyone wears several hats. Because we believe that each Googler is an equally important part of our success, no one hesitates to pose questions directly to Larry or Sergey in our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings – or spike a volleyball across the net at a corporate officer.

We are aggressively inclusive in our hiring, and we favor ability over experience. We have offices around the world and dozens of languages are spoken by Google staffers, from Turkish to Telugu. The result is a team that reflects the global audience Google serves. When not at work, Googlers pursue interests from cross-country cycling to wine tasting, from flying to frisbee.

As we continue to grow, we are always looking for those who share a commitment to creating search perfection and having a great time doing it.

About our offices

Our corporate headquarters, fondly nicknamed the Googleplex, is located in Mountain View, California. Today it’s one of our many offices around the globe. While our offices are not identical, they tend to share some essential elements. Here are a few things you might see in a Google workspace:

  • Local expressions of each location, from a mural in Buenos Aires to ski gondolas in Zurich, showcasing each office’s region and personality.
  • Bicycles or scooters for efficient travel between meetings; dogs; lava lamps; massage chairs; large inflatable balls.
  • Googlers sharing cubes, yurts and huddle rooms – and very few solo offices.
  • Laptops everywhere – standard issue for mobile coding, email on the go and note-taking.
  • Foosball, pool tables, volleyball courts, assorted video games, pianos, ping pong tables, and gyms that offer yoga and dance classes.
  • Grassroots employee groups for all interests, like meditation, film, wine tasting and salsa dancing.
  • Healthy lunches and dinners for all staff at a variety of cafés.
  • Break rooms packed with a variety of snacks and drinks to keep Googlers going.

Now think back to the 8 things that Net Geners value in their career and see if they are emphasized.

Is there any doubt why young professionals go crazy at the thought of working for Google?

Once you join Google though, that’s where the perks kick in:

  • The headquarters has 11 gourmet cafeterias and the meals are free for Google employees.
  • They also have snack rooms with cereals, candy, nuts, yogurt, fruit and dozens of different drink options.
  • They offer free Wi-Fi enabled shuttle buses to get employees to their public transportation stops.
  • For those that drive in to work, Google offers car washes and oil changes.
  • If you want to buy a Hybrid car, Google will give you $5000 towards the purchase of it.
  • How about a free haircut onsite?
  • Refer a friend to work at Google and you’ll get a $2,000 reward.
  • Just had a new baby? They’ll reimburse you up to $500 for the takeout food you had to get in those first few weeks.
  • You can work out in their gym or attend exercise classes, get a massage.
  • You can even study a foreign language.
  • Trying to balance work/life and don’t have time to do your laundry? Google offers free washers/dryers onsite so you can do your laundry.
  • All of this and you can also feel free to bring your dog to work with you.



You may be thinking, “Wow! Those Net Geners seem difficult and needy. Are they worth all of the trouble of making so many changes to corporate policies, procedures, management style, recruiting, etc.?”

78 million Baby Boomers are retiring – and soon. Who will take their place? America is already planning for workforce shortages in the Public Sector in the not too distant future. The Private Sector will no doubt struggle as well.

So, why does the Net Generation matter? According to human resource data from the Office of Personnel Management, approximately 60% of the 1.9 million employees of federal agencies will reach retirement age by 2017. And what year is this??? Professional and administrative staff make up the largest portion of these numbers and will likely be the most difficult to replace. 62% of them will be retiring in the next 5 years.

Net Geners will be their replacements and there will be stiff competition for their services. If you want to win the battle for the best talent, you will need to be creative in the ways that you attract and recruit them. You will need to use the insight gained from the Eight Norms.

I thought you might want to hear what a few Net Geners have to say about the types of jobs that interest them:

Susan, 23 - “I want to work at an agency where I’m not only given a lot of responsibility, but where there’s a great office culture both in and out of work.”

John, 24 – “I love playful, open, creative cultures – the type of places where you can really express yourself through your work.”

Tanya, 24 – “I’m the only graphic designer at a professional services firm and the reason I’m very happy in my job is that my opinions are valued. They constantly ask me for input, don’t micromanage and look to me to help provide the design solutions the company needs to better market itself. That means a lot to me.”

Rasha, 25 – “I’m looking to work at a company that helps its employees grow creatively through coaching and teambuilding. Money is great, but the ability to have a job where I’m happy and always learning means a lot more.”



OK, I get it. Most of us don’t work at Google and we don’t have the kind of resources available to offer all of those perks. And you’re wondering, “How do I stand a chance in getting these younger workers to come join me when I’m competing with the likes of Google, Facebook, and Apple?”

Your organization likely won’t be able to offer $5000 for each employee to go get a hybrid car, or free gourmet lunches every day, or be inclined to let them bring their dog with them to work – BUT – there are some things that you can do to make sure you are competitive in the marketplace. Not all of these will cost you money, some will just cost you some time, collaboration, and sweat equity. Here are a few suggestions that would likely appeal to Net Geners:

  • Recruitment, relocation and retention incentives – stagger these incentives so that they won’t hit you all at one time, and it gives them a reason to stay committed to you
  • Merit based pay and pay for performance – these are emerging in both the public and private sectors – reward top performers as this will accomplish a couple of the things we discussed (recognition and financial rewards)
  • Student Loan repayment programs (usually with a length of service requirement) – be creative here but make it worthwhile for that new employee to stay with you to their 3rd or 5th anniversary
  • Tuition reimbursement policies for continuing education – shows that you are interested in their future personally and that you are open to having them do a variety of things
  • Opportunities for professional and leadership development, and then have assignments where employees can use those skills – this will take planning and follow through
  • Opportunities to take on additional responsibilities, such as leadership responsibilities for non-supervisory positions
  • Opportunities to connect and network with peers – collaboration, access to leadership, building relationships outside of the walls of the office too
  • Mentoring programs – this can be beneficial to your more experienced workers, not just the one being mentored
  • Increased access and transparency – all hands meetings, Happy Hours, team building activities
  • Broader varieties of work
  • Work/Life Balance – options for flextime schedules, working remotely, child care benefits or elder care benefits – investing in the personal aspects of a worker’s life, it will build trust and loyalty

I hope you can see that continuing to recruit the same ways that are traditional may not be effective in the very near future. When you look at the 8 Norms and then look at what Google is doing RIGHT NOW, you can see that this is real. I would encourage you to start thinking these things through, collaborate with younger workers who already work for you and get their thoughts, maybe speak with others who have some knowledge in this area and bring them in to consult with your organization, and then get your plan together. The sooner you do this, the more effective you will be in winning the war for the best talent available.

Check your strategies.

Your processes.

Your website and communications.

The amount of time for a candidate to receive feedback.

Make sure everything lines up.

Let me ask you, is it better to be prepared for this now, or wait until you are in crisis mode to try to implement a plan? Obviously it’s better to prepare ahead of time. I know this may not be easy to do – change is sometimes hard. Finding the time and energy to do it is difficult. But I would encourage you to have a bigger perspective – don’t think of how this will impact you in the short term, but how will this impact my organization in the long run?

For more information, please feel free to contact me. If your organization would like for me to come and speak on this topic, I'd love to try to work that out.

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