Guido Sacchi, CIO and senior vice president at CompuCredit in the US, answers questions about dealing with "clueless" new hires, using one's advanced education to good effect and becoming the boss of your old team.
I've been in IT for nearly 20 years and I'm dismayed by how clueless my company's young employees are. I've tried to reach out to them, but they act like old-timers can't tell them anything useful. Meanwhile, they are stuck on what they were taught about IT infrastructure, have no interest in ours and have nothing useful to share on how we might move to something more up to date. I want to tell them, "Welcome to the real world," but I know that wouldn't be helpful. I know I have to work with them, and I'm willing to hear what they have to say, but it's frustrating when they show no interest at all in my experience. How can I get through and develop a better relationship?
If your goal truly is to develop a better relationship with young new hires, then I would suggest you abandon all the negative assumptions you are making about them as a group. When dealing with difficult people in difficult circumstances, a good framework that I have used over the years -- with great results -- includes some steps that I recommend you try.
First, focus on what you want to achieve, not on other people's behaviors. Among other things, this will help you actually reach your goals, as opposed to increase your own levels of stress.
Second, don't start with questioning other people's legitimacy of motives. It is a good first approximation to assume that other people are rational, acting in good faith and not out to get you. We all see the world not as it is, but through the lenses of our experience, values and beliefs.
Third, explore their interests and take action accordingly. There usually is a big difference between "position," in this case, what you are hearing and seeing, and "interests," the parts of the iceberg below the water line, which require a process of exploration on your side.
Once you have done this, you may well make important discoveries and take effective actions. For example, why don't you start with one or two new hires and have a conversation with them, maybe over lunch? Find out their career objectives, what interests them in the IT field and their initial impression of the company.
During this process of discovery, you may find that you share some common interests -- for example, that they are interested in building experience in new virtualization technologies. If that's the case, you have something concrete that will help you build positive relationships.
There are also other resources you can use, from books to articles, that offer suggestions on effective ways to engage Generation Y'ers, or "millennium kids" -- oh, and remember to send them the lunch invite via Facebook, not that old e-mail tool.