BRIDGING THE GENERATION GAP.
EVERY GENERATION HAS ITS BELIEFS AND AUTHORITY challenged by the generation that follows. It's particularly difficult for members of the baby boom generation to deal with this phenomenon because they believe that they were the true carriers of the rebellious youth torch.
What was left of society's institutions after the baby boomers got through with them is now under attack by Generation Next, and baby boomers don't much like it. Interestingly, although it seems rather old-fashioned, baby boomers did embrace involvement in voluntary organizations. Maybe it started when they joined together in protests, or perhaps it grew out of the need to affiliate with people with shared beliefs.
Whatever the underlying reason, baby boomers carried their need to network into the mainstream of membership organizations in every industry, profession, and community. As Generation Next questions the value of participation in association leadership, the generation that gets credit for the whole concept of challenging values is now having its own values challenged.
Virtually every trade association, professional society, social service organization, and community group is seeing a (sometimes dramatic) reduction in the involvement of young people. There are fewer volunteers to fill leadership roles, fewer workers to staff committees and task forces, and fewer new people around the board table.
The cry that an organization needs new blood in leadership positions no longer simply means finding new faces. Rotating experienced volunteers around the organization can sustain it for only so long before a crisis occurs. The aging of America's volunteers is not a worry for the future. It's reality of the present.
What's the problem?
Older generations will say that today's young people aren't as committed to the profession. Many of today's young professionals don't feel they owe anything to their community, they're not loyal to their employers, and they lack a sense of tradition and dedication, according to older generations. This new generation is only concerned about personal success and getting to do what they want to do, according to some baby boomers.
Yet there is nothing in any research that supports this claim. Most research indicates that young people do value concepts such as volunteerism, putting something back into their community or profession, and doing their fair share of the work.
The problem--the disconnect between these generations--is not one of different values but of different currencies. To baby boomers the currency was money-what do things cost? To the generation that immediately followed- Generation X-the currency was information-where can I get the information I need, regardless of the cost? For Generation Next the currency is time- where will I possibly find the time? To sell members of Generation Next on the value of leadership participation, we must deal in the right currency, and the chief elected officer must play a role in involving incoming members.
Are people any busier now than they were just a few decades ago? They have the same 24 hours each day, don't they? Technology has created the potential for a 24-hour workday- computers, the Internet, wireless communication, and global travel have combined to shrink the world and increase the pressure to get things done. It's into this environment that the association comes, asking members for the one thing they can't or won't give up-their time.
If the root cause of the lack of young people's participation is easy to identify, the solution is not quite that simple. Organizations obviously can't give their members any more time, so how do they reconcile the organization's need to get these younger members in leadership roles with the members' need to spend their time wisely?
Here are 10 suggestions that organizations can consider when determining how to bridge this leadership gap.
1. Give potential leaders more options. Avoid giving young people a lot of yes or no choices. Too often the structure of an organization dictates the approach to involve people in leadership roles. Bylaws or organizational charts outline parameters of leadership that date back to a different workplace and social environment.
When a current leader approaches a prospective leader and asks him or her to be the new membership chair or serve on the board, the prospective leader gets an image in his or her mind. That image can often be the black hole of association leadership. The prospective leader is thinking, "If I say yes I'll never see my family or my laptop computer again."
Instead of asking, "Do you want to be our new committee chair?" a better approach is to go to a prospective leader and say something like, "We'd really like to use your talents to help our organization move forward. There are several ways that we think you could make a real impact. We're looking for a new board member, our membership efforts could use someone like you, and several of our task forces need help. Given your work and time situation, which of these would be a good fit for you?"
This scenario assumes that the member would like to help (which is probably the case), and you're just trying to figure out the best way to get that person involved. It then becomes a question of how, not if.
2. Break down the big jobs. Despite the impression that some young people give about their willingness to accept leadership roles, many younger individuals actually want to help their organization but can't justify the time it entails to take on a big volunteer job. So give them a smaller one. Break some of the responsibilities of committee chairs or board members down into smaller, more manageable responsibilities.
For example, while only a few members are going to jump at the chance to become chair of a legislative committee, others may still want to be involved in your organization's legislative activities. Is there a way for them to doso without having to attend committee meetings and write reports? Sure there is. They can help draft a position paper; monitor one piece of legislation; review and comment on position papers drafted by others; host a meeting with an elected official; visit their representative on behalf of the organization; assist with fundraising activities; or call or e-mail representatives.
All of these activities get the member involved but don't require as much time as committee work. These smaller jobs can turn into a positive leadership experience and encourage someone to move into a larger role. Because these activities affect the operations of the association, talk with the chief staff executive about staffing implications from changing operations as needed to draw young people into volunteer roles.
3. Use individuals' talents, not just their time. If you were to ask young workers what they really want from their jobs, a majority of them would respond by saying that they want employers to "make use of my abilities."
Instead of asking young people to give up their time, ask them to lend the organization their talent. This can't be a generic appeal; it has to be a personalized approach. Organizations need to ask specific people to use specific talents. To accomplish this, ask the chief staff executive to initiate the creation of a human resource database. When you approach members, ask them what skills they have rather than how much time they have. Don't limit questions to work-related skills. Try to find out what members do outside of work.
For example, association staff can ask members questions such as: Have you ever worked on a congressional campaign? Have you ever raised money for a charity? Do you speak any languages other than English? Have you ever been a leader in a service organization? Are you good with computers? Have you served in the military? Have you ever been paid to teach something?
These questions focus on the individual, not the organization. They go to the basic question of what members can do outside of their trade or profession. This emphasis on talent, not just time, lets the member work up to his or her capacity and creates a greater feeling of achievement.
4. Try job sharing. It may seem to some of the more traditional-thinking leaders that job sharing is a last-ditch effort to get the work done and an admission that no one person would accept the job. To some extent, this is true. Getting a single individual to take on a large leadership role is definitely getting harder, but offering a job sharing option is not a sign of failure on the part of the recruiter. It's a sign that the organization is sympathetic to the needs of its members and is making an effort to offer alternatives to the traditional involvement opportunities.
5. Do away with leadership ladders. Perhaps the first thing going through the minds of young people when considering a leadership role is, "How long is this going to take?" If the young person truly aspires to top levels of leadership--and many do--the easiest way to discourage them is to tell them it will take several years before they will reach a position of true responsibility in the organization.
Too many volunteer groups still require everyone to pay their dues to work their way up the leadership ladder. Few busy young people will look at a multiyear commitment and say, "That's for me."
Organizations need to prevent their structure and traditions from discouraging leadership involvement rather than encouraging it. This doesn't mean that members can go from no involvement at all to being the chief elected officer, but it does mean that organizations need to be more flexible if they want to attract these young leaders.
6. Identify what people can expect to accomplish, not just what you want them to do. Younger people are concerned about the larger picture--what the ultimate outcome of their involvement will be. They want to make a contribution, not just do a job. It's important when approaching young people about participating to explain how their work will fit into the achievement of the organization's goals and objectives. If members are proud of the work they do, they will have a sense of accomplishment when the work is complete.
7. Reward people for their involvement. Recognition has always been known as the volunteer's paycheck. There is a misconception that young people don't care about pats on the back and that they do things they believe in without regard for the rewards. That's just not true. Every survey of younger people indicates that they do want some recognition for their efforts. That recognition doesn't necessarily have to be a certificate or a plaque at an awards banquet, but there does need to be some acknowledgement of their contribution.
Make sure recognition is timely and appropriate. Consider these methods of saying thanks to younger leaders.
* Recognize members immediately. Don't wait for the next newsletter to come out or for the next time you see them. Send an e-mail immediately to say thank you; then send a follow-up note.
* Use technology to give recognition. Have staff create a recognition section or page on your organization's Web site and update it frequently.
* Be specific when offering praise. Let the member know exactly what he or she did that merits the recognition. Instead of "Thanks for helping out at the career day program," say, "Thanks for the great job you did handling the registration for us at career day."
8. Use testimonials from current and former leaders. Most young people are reluctant to take that first step into leadership unless they see some return on their time investment. Ask someone who is respected in the field to contact these people to encourage them to take on a leadership role. This can really make a difference in their final decision to get involved or stay on the sidelines.
In many cases, these experienced leaders will have accomplished a lot in their trade or profession. Rather than having this level of achievement be an intimidating factor, the experienced leader can emphasize that some (perhaps much) of his or her success in the professional world is because of involvement in organizational leadership.
9. Invest in leadership training and development. One of the greatest incentives organizations can offer to attract young people to leadership is the ability to use in their personal and professional lives the skills developed as a volunteer leader. This approach can turn the perceived burden of leadership (a lot of precious time spent as a volunteer) into a gift (what leadership can add to a person's career).
It's important to institutionalize the concept of leadership training at all levels for several reasons. Leadership training
* enhances a leader's ability to carry out his or her duties efficiently and to help the organization (and the young leader) achieve goals;
* develops transferable skills for participants to use in other parts of their lives;
* facilitates the identification of possible future leaders for the organization;
* raises the stature and reputation of the organization, which will be judged, at least in part, by the caliber of its leaders; and
* helps solidify support from employers who might question the value of the time their employees dedicate to the organization.
10. Don't give up the fight. As frustrating as it is to have young people turn down leadership opportunities, it's important to work to develop a continuing flow of capable volunteer leaders to ensure the organization's viability.
It's easy to attribute the seeming reluctance by young members to accept leadership roles to age, lack of respect for institutions, or some other generational factor. In truth, these young people want to serve, even if it's not in the same way that previous leadership generations did.
Convincing new people to do things the old way for the sake of tradition or convenience is, in the long run, counterproductive. Better to ask new people to become the next generation of leaders in a more flexible, results-oriented environment. That way the organization gets what it needs--more leadership input--and the young leader gets what he or she needs--a sense of accomplishment.
Mark Levin, CAE, is president of BAI, Inc., Columbia, Maryland, and executive vice president of The Chain Link Fence Manufacturers Institute, Washington,
FRESH FACES ON BOARD
How are organizations attracting younger leaders? Here are some examples.
THE NATIONAL STONE ASSOCIATION, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, sponsors a Young Leaders Council that targets members younger than 40 years old. The program concentrates on skills training with an emphasis on how involvement in NSA leadership will give the participants a chance to put these skills to work.
THE NEW JERSEY BUILDERS ASSOCIATION, ROBBINSVILLE, and its local affiliates host young/new leader functions, such as dinners and receptions. Current and past leaders describe what jobs need to be done and discuss the personal and professional value of leadership.
THE ILLINOIS FARM BUREAU, BLOOMINGTON, has a leadership program called the Agricultural Leaders of Tomorrow Program, which highlights the parallels between industry leadership and farm bureau leadership. The current program encourages young leaders to use various technologies as communication options.
THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS, RESTON, VIRGINIA, promotes leadership opportunities and has a permanent committee on younger members. "Our younger members have helped us identify what skills they need to be successful leaders, says Tom Mawson, CAE, who heads ASCE's newly created leadership development program. "We use this skill development as the basis for the programs at our four regional leadership conferences.
"We begin targeting these future leaders when they are students," he explains. "We keep this focus on younger leaders going during our programs by arranging breakout sessions specifically for younger members."
THE AMERICAN STAFFING ASSOCIATION, ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA, tracks attendance at functions by demographic breakdowns. "We use that information to target our recruitment of younger members into leadership roles," says Tracy Rettie, director of chapter relations.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
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