Purdue CIO Gerry MecCartney advises constant feedback, questioning old nnrules and framing responsibility and mission for Millennial IT staff
By CIO Executive Council
As CIOs, how should we connect with our youngest team members?
My generation—the Baby Boomers—really like being liked as bosses. That is important to
us. But that mentality is not helping our Gen Y employees. For CIOs to lead younger
people and bring them into line, everything turns to managing expectations.
A winning tactic I’ve found useful is to constantly state flat out that if they do these
certain things, they are going to be successful. Then when they do those things, you must
give them immediate feedback and, if you can, reward and salute them then and there.
Feedback isn’t an annual review.
The immediacy of the feedback is the key. What doesn’t work well is having the view that
you come in and work hard every day, and knowing that you’ve done hard work should be a
sufficient reward. The younger generations need to be told that they’ve done well. The
quiet hero is not part of their world view. Quiet is translated as passive or uncaring.
Likewise, the old model of one performance review a year is not going to get the response
you want. Constant feedback will. That feedback has got to be thoughtful, and it’s
important to explain the “why” of things. If done well, this can even serve as formal
There is something to the idea that this generation has a sense of entitlement, but that
can be a good thing as long as it comes with a sense of responsibility.
Why get up in the morning?
The question for us is whether the discipline of coming into the office for specific
hours is a necessary artifact of the workplace or some hangover from the factory model.
We were taught to come in, wear this kind of uniform, do this kind of work. Maybe that’s
the wrong model now, and maybe Gen Y is an agent of that change. It’s something for each
CIO to weigh; we must strike a balance that fits our organizations.
Discipline aside, instilling responsibility is part of a CIO’s job as the leader. Give
them projects with goals, even if it’s maintenance work framed as a project. At Purdue, I
also reinforce that after protecting borders and saving lives, ours is the third most
important job in this country—educating people. On a wet Tuesday, that’s a worthy job to
get up to. Every CIO should identify that driver for their own organization and
communicate it to raise their employees’ sense of purpose and pride in what they do.
McCartney is CIO and VP of IT at Purdue University and a Council member. E-mail topics or questions for mentors to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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