Whether we like it or not, we are living in the digital age where new rules are made and changed by those who have grown up in this era.

Digital natives, otherwise known as the Net Generation (Net Gen), are no longer satisfied with the old human resource model of recruiting, training, supervising and retaining. Companies should adopt a new model in acquiring and retaining them, that is, initiate, engage, collaborate and evolve.

Net Gen employees are ideally suited for the current working conditions. They are savvy, confident, upbeat, open-minded, creative and independent. This can also make it a challenge to manage them.

To meet their demands for more learning opportunities and responsibilities, ownership, instant feedback, greater work-life balance and stronger workplace relationships, companies must alter their culture and management approaches.

Properly cultivated, this generation’s attributes will be a critical source of innovation and competitive advantage to the organisation.

Thus, employers have two options. They can refuse to adapt to this group, stick to their old hierarchies, and reinforce the generational firewall that separates the managers from the newly hired.  But if they do, they will forfeit the chance to learn from the Net Gen employees — to absorb both their mindset and their tools of collaboration.

Companies in the corporate world that choose to embrace the Net Gen employees’ collaborative ways will emerge winners. 

Research shows that companies that selectively and effectively embrace Net Gen norms perform better than those who don’t.

There is a difference between those who have grown up digital and those who are introduced to technologies in later stages of life. While these digital immigrants (those over 30) can become very good at using technology, few achieve the ease and comfort of a member of the Net Gen, to whom technology is as natural as breathing.

How then can employers on these two generations to produce a more productive organisation?

Learn to adapt

For a start, design work systems according to the Net Gen norms. Look to the Net Gen culture and behaviour as the new culture of work and the new enterprise.

Re-think authority

Be a good leader, coach, mentor, facilitator or enabler, but understand that in some areas, you will be the student and the Net Gen employee will be the teacher. Net Geners need plenty of feedback, but recognition must be authentic. False praise doesn’t work.

Lifelong learning

Rethink training and engage them for lifelong learning. Rather than traditional training programmes that are separate from work, look to strengthen the learning component of all jobs. To achieve this, encourage employees to blog.

Harness social networks

Don’t ban Facebook or other social networks. Figure out how to harness them. New tools like wikis, blogs, social networks, jams, telepresence, tags, collaborative filtering and RSS feeds can be the heart of the new high performance workplace.

Encourage collaboration

Rethink management processes and design jobs and work for collaboration. Give the Net Gen staff a chance to put collaborative tools to good use — for example, by joining one of the company’s volunteering efforts.

Listen to them

Unleash the power of Net Gen capital in your organisation. Listen to the young people. Put them in the driver’s seat alongside you when designing work spaces, processes, management systems and collaborative working models.

The Net Gen youngsters should also do their bit. They should:

Go to college

It’s more interesting than high school and you will need more than a high school diploma to succeed in a knowledge economy.

Be patient

Keep calm, especially when you see old, outdated technology and bureaucratic ways of doing things. Your knowledge about collaboration will drive innovation and success this century. Boomers might be your best allies. They have kids like you and are more likely to understand you and your use of technologies.

Value experience

You are an authority on something important — but you are not an authority on everything. As you enter adult institutions, you have much to teach, but you also have much to learn. If it doesn’t work out, your experience will make you a better entrepreneur, activist, teacher or whatever you choose.

Don’t give up

When adults criticise your generation, don’t take it personally. You are the smartest generation — really. You are the first global generation. You have a better world within your grasp. Reach out, hold on and make it happen.