Cultivating New Leadership.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that what they want is not all that different from what you would prefer. They are generations X and Y, your younger members or members-yet-to-be. You are the established association leader (typically considered a baby boomer or a member of the "mature" generational category), concerned about your organization's future leadership pool.
While addressing this issue is critical, the task can often seem daunting. However, imagine what progress you might make if as chief elected officer you called one new or younger member daily during this year, asked them about their perceptions of the association, and invited them to become involved in a leadership position or project. All it would take would be 5--10 minutes a day, and at year's end you could have 200-300 new members involved.
This article highlights the rhetoric and the reality about generational differences, offers compelling questions for engaging younger generations in your association's leadership, and reviews some typical association operating practices that frustrate the very members you seek to involve in your association's activities. Several easy-to-implement steps also are offered.
Generational differences: the rhetoric and the reality
Sophisticated technology has made marketing research and demographic classifications relatively routine for most organizations. Those who do not possess the wherewithal in their own organizations can turn to several popular books or magazines, as well as wholesale data brokers for such information. Although each individual ultimately possesses a unique "marketing DNA," the end result of all this data collection has been to form some generally accepted generational classifications or categories.
So what is the rhetoric and the reality of generational differences? The rhetoric is that we are living during a time with more generational categories alive simultaneously than we have previously experienced. The generally accepted prediction is that the large cohort of aging baby boomers will continue to transform all elements of our society. Given that this group is presently serving in or moving into most associations' leadership ranks, the effects of such transformation are on our immediate horizon.
Baby boomers and the generation preceding them, matures, are said to differ greatly in their outlook on the world from the two subsequent generations, generation X and generation Y, or the millennialists. While these generational groupings share some common values, the manner in which they exemplify those values in their daily decision making is significantly different. The sidebar, "Generational Categories," briefly highlights some of the characteristics associated with each grouping.
A shorthand theme that captures the essence of these different periods is that matures and baby boomers represent periods of stability, incremental change, and general social order. Generations X and Y represent periods characterized by dramatic increases in choices, greater flexibility, and more revolutionary change. It is this fundamental difference in orientation to the world that calls on older association leaders (matures and boomers) to rethink their strategies for engaging younger generations in the membership rolls and volunteer ranks of their associations.
Keep in mind that even the most cursory review of generational information will reveal trends and statistics that seem to make sense and others that clearly suggest a great amount of room for exceptions or individual differences. For association leaders looking to use such data to inform their volunteer recruitment and retention efforts, it is important to remember that such data need to be personalized and interpreted within the context of the association's own membership first, and the individual member second. Failure to do so could result in developing strategies based on the broadest themes or marketing classifications, some of which will have little use in your own association context.
What might not work anymore
For years, the staple of many associations' membership recruitment campaigns has been the annual member-get-a-member initiative. Such an appeal rests on the assumption that individual members see it as their responsibility to grow the association and expand its network.
To generations X and Y, however, member-get-a-member is more often heard as member-get-more-dues-for-mother-association. Needless to say, this staple of association membership recruitment efforts has significantly less cache with younger generations, who frequently regard it as an intentional ploy to persuade members to do the recruitment work of the association overall.
This simple example is illustrative of broader themes that reflect some of the generational differences between current association leaders and the leaders of the future. Several of these themes were identified in the ASAE Foundation's 1998 Environmental Scan. Participants in the scan research indicated that their associations were affected by generational differences, as indicated by members having different perceptions of the association's responsiveness and the value of membership.
This should come as no surprise to anyone monitoring generational trends. Generations X and Y have far more options available to them in terms of potential service providers that can meet their educational, networking, and information needs. While boomers and matures joined associations out of a sense of organizational commitment or loyalty, younger generations are more likely to join and become involved based on their personal perceptions of the value of such membership or involvement. This "loyalty decision" is made on an ongoing basis rather than once a year when the annual membership dues renewal arrives.
While the impact of greater choices and flexibility may be most apparent in younger members, it certainly is not absent from matures and boomers. They, too, are seeking greater responsiveness from the association and its leaders. They're also more carefully considering the return on investment from their membership, volunteer involvement, attendance at conferences, purchase of resources, and so forth.
In short, the association is, for most members, just one of the many choices available to them--a choice that is competing for their time, attention, involvement, and fiscal resources. This is as true for attracting members to positions of leadership as it is for attracting members to join the association.
To remain viable and attractive, associations must rethink many of their current operating practices and procedures, because younger generations may see several of them as impediments to membership or involvement. See the sidebar, "The Dirty Dozen," for the frustrations expressed by a variety of young association leaders. These comments provide further illustration of the challenges awaiting you as an association leader.
Questions you need to consider
While the challenges are obvious, the solutions are not. No one-size-fits-all solutions can be offered that will meet the unique needs of all associations. Associations need to not only seek answers to current dilemmas, but also to live longer with the core questions associated with recruiting, retaining, and rewarding membership involvement in leadership. Here are a few sample compelling questions that, through consideration, an association could always benefit.
* What has caused your current pool of volunteer leaders to become in-involved? Stay involved? If your association does not periodically conduct a simple needs assessment and volunteer satisfaction survey, you may wish to do so. An easy-to-administer Web survey can be created. Offer 5-10 statements about why people choose to get involved, then allow them to rank order those statements that pertain to personal choices. The results may assist you in structuring meaningful involvement opportunities for your members.
* What barriers (real or perceived) are associated with involvement in association leadership activities? How can those barriers be removed or modified? A valuable tool to explore this question can be periodic short phone interviews with a random sample of your volunteers. Send your board members to the phones for one hour as part of a board meeting, or have a pool of volunteers or staff members conduct calls from member lists during a given week. Themes from the conversations can then be summarized, and their implications discussed by your association's leadership.
* Who among your membership is least likely to be represented in your volunteer ranks, and how can we tap into their talents? When you examine the demographics profile of your involved members, what demographics from your overall membership are not present? Examine for differences in gender, race, age, professional background, and so forth.
* What mechanisms do you have to continually assess members' potential involvement and present them with customized involvement opportunities they may find desirable? The annual "Get Involved" brochure is no longer an effective tool for tapping into the talents of your members. Consider creating a special section of your Web site that offers real-time involvement opportunities and an easy-to-complete interest survey for members to volunteer. Good models for this type of site content can be found on those sites engaged in ongoing job recruiting, as they are always seeking to match openings with potential applicants.
* Where may you need to rethink your leadership and governance efforts so that they are relevant and desirable for members of all generational periods, even if this may mean less consistency in our practices or procedures?
* How do you modify your practices to remain contemporary without alienating older generations of members who served under different arrangements? If you have conducted a volunteer satisfaction survey, you should possess the necessary data to identify generational themes about what individuals most value in their volunteer opportunities. Such themes can then influence your communication, recognition vehicles, and so forth, as you reach out to members of specific generational categories.
* What new pathways might you need to create to encourage people into more significant positions of leadership in your association?
* What mechanisms do you have for providing timely and meaningful feedback and appreciation to individuals volunteering their time and talents?
* What are you doing to engage your newest members in association activities beyond just joining the association? Consider adding to your new-member follow-up a phone call from an involved member who can personally attest to the value of doing more than joining. Personal outreach is more likely to result in broadening your volunteer pool than any attractively designed brochure you send to welcome new members. Customize such an effort further by having the call to the new member be completed by a volunteer of similar age and interests.
* What staff or technology requirements are necessary to help your volunteers complete their involvement responsibilities given the demands on their personal time? If you informally talk to most professional Web designers, they will tell you that the most underdeveloped and underused Web resource of most organizations is their membership database. Examine your own database for unused data that could inform your volunteer recruitment efforts. Be sure, however, to determine what data you are lacking that could significantly enhance your future outreach efforts so that you can begin collecting such information.
Enhance this list of questions with ones unique to your environment. Then engage a diverse cross-section of staff, leaders, and members in meaningful discussion on an ongoing basis--at least once a year. Such ongoing consideration of the varying needs of members could increase the likelihood of members (and specifically younger members) becoming more involved in the leadership of the association.
When my colleagues and I at Like Minded People have conducted such focus groups or informal conversations on our association clients' behalf, they almost always have yielded rich and useful insights for the association's leadership to consider. Too often, however, it seems that association leaders "own" these issues and problems exclusively, failing to tap into the ideas and suggestions from the very audience they are trying to serve and involve.
What may work in the future
The irony of the generational differences currently being confronted in associations is that, when pressed, boomers and matures often indicate that they want the same things associated with generations X and Y: flexible involvement options, meaningful projects or leadership positions that tap into their talents, timely and constructive feedback, opportunities to enhance their skills, well-managed activities and meetings that do not waste time, and a sense of community with other volunteers that makes their involvement spirited and fun.
While some boomers and matures see the questioning of association traditions and practices by generations X and Y as disrespectful, more possibilities for involving younger people in association activities become available if their attitudes are considered reflective of the context and society in which your association operates. If you can acknowledge this fact, we may have greater common ground on which members of all generations can stand together. Failure to do so, however, often leaves boomers and matures lamenting the loss of the "good old days" and viewing generations X and Y with disdain.
This fundamental lack of respect for the younger generations will undermine and negate any outreach efforts that might be created to involve younger members in the association's governance. If your association lacks respect for young people, you're likely to face significant challenges. Whether you like this reality or not, the marketplace for time and talent offers far greater options to the younger generations than may have been experienced by matures and boomers. In that crowded marketplace, your association needs to have a brand integrity and involvement opportunities that speak to the values, needs, and aspirations of these younger generations.
The failure to remain competitive is the failure to ensure good stewardship for future generations of your associations' members. Do not let that be your legacy of leadership. Instead seize the opportunities to take small but doable steps that can begin to yield meaningful results, both short and long term, for engaging a more inclusive range of your members in the leadership and governance activities of your association.
Do seek answers to the questions contained in and generated by this article. Perhaps more importantly, however, be willing to live with the questions a bit longer, always seeking new and fresh answers, always striving to involve others in their consideration, always taking the steps that will ensure today's best practices do not become tomorrow's worst problems. That ongoing assessment is a legacy of leadership that will serve your association well.
Jeffrey B. Cufaude is a founder and principal of Like Minded People, Indianapolis, a national creative coalition providing educational and strategic services for the association community.
If you are looking for consistent definitions of various generational periods, you are unlikely to find true consensus. The categories listed below, however, represent the frequently used descriptors for the various generational periods. They are drawn primarily from Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing.
* Born 1909-1945
* Cohort size: 61.8 million
* Key characteristics or values: teamwork, commitment, sacrifice, discipline, financial and social conservatism
* Markers: Great Depression, The New Deal, Gl Bill of Rights
* Born 1946-1964
* Cohort size: 76.8 million
* Key characteristics or values: idealism, individualism, self-improvement, high expectations
* Markers: Vietnam; Woodstock; television; The Great Society; Watergate; sex, drugs, and rock and roll
* Born 1965-1978
* Cohort size: 52.4 million
* Key characteristics or values: pragmatism, diversity, entrepreneurial spirit, quality of life, savvyness
* Markers: AIDS, MTV, PCs, Desert Storm, Internet, divorce
Generation Y (also called "millennialists" or "echo boomers")
* Born after 1979
* Cohort size: 77.6 million
* Key characteristics or values: neotraditionalism, ritual, optimism, technological adeptness, compartmentalized work and life
* Markers: Challenger, OJ, Monica Lewinsky, Free Agency and The Brand You, multiculturalism
The Dirty Dozen
What frustrates younger association leaders about association involvement? Informal conversations with a variety of young association members, including participants in the 1998 and 1999 ASAE Future Leaders Conference, yielded the following themes.
1. Bureaucracy and red tape. Too often, involvement seems clouded by association bureaucracy and red tape. This includes barriers to getting involved, as well as approval or other "hoops" that individuals or ideas have to jump through prior to being approved. While the need for some oversight and review is acknowledged, it often becomes excessive or unnecessary, impeding the ability of volunteer leaders to make a difference.
2. No clear vision; lack of focus. When committee efforts or volunteer projects lack clear focus or direction, they immediately appear less attractive. "Why should I spin my wheels on this if I don't know it will ever be used?" is a cry often uttered by young association leaders. They have little interest in or patience for "going through the motions" of volunteer service.
3. Not fun. While it is understood that fun is not the primary reason for getting involved in association leadership, young leaders are not looking to have their involvement be a painful experience or negative drain on their energy and passion. When the involvement is seen as drudgery or the committee has a reputation for being formal, dry, or a bit stuffy, these leaders experience a significant disconnect with the opportunity.
4. No end to commitment. So-called permanent appointments hold little appeal for the younger movers and shakers. Typically they are more attracted to shorter-term, project-specific involvement opportunities--those with a clear focus, beginning, and end.
5. Not open to innovation and creativity. Minds closed to creativity seem to be one of the greatest frustrations of this potential pool of association leaders. They often seek involvement opportunities that allow them to apply creativity that their work positions may not allow for. If their involvement efforts are predetermined to allow only for "same old, same old," young people will most likely seek other opportunities.
6. Bad meetings or bad planning. Young leaders have little patience for lack of organization or poorly run meetings. They are eager to spend their time making a difference, not sitting around with others trying to figure out how to get a project started. Leaders who fail to manage meetings or projects well are major sources of frustration.
7. Patronizing attitudes. Being patronized or treated with paternal or maternal attitudes makes these leaders angry. They want to be judged on their contributions without having them filtered through the lens of their number of years of experience or their age. What matters most to them is the quality of their contribution; individuals who fail to acknowledge that are seen as real challenges.
8. Fear of change. They have little patience for more established leaders who are fearful of change. While they acknowledge "don't fix what isn't broken," they often find themselves in meetings with people they believe are denying the reality of the true conditions of an initiative or the organization. Young people are willing to take risks and expect others to feel the same.
9. Lack of appreciation. Despite their seemingly strong self-confidence, this generation of leaders still wants to feel appreciated for their efforts. Failing to provide ongoing feedback (right in the moment) or acknowledge or recognize their contributions is a major turnoff for these individuals. When they don't feel appreciated for their efforts, they are quick to move on to a different involvement opportunity where they are acknowledged more.
10. No sense of community and spirit. Little patience is held for traditional "old boys networks" or other cliques in the ranks of the association. Diversity and inclusivity are key for young leaders, and they don't see themselves involved where those core values aren't being implemented. Having a sense of connection to others involved in the organization is important to them.
11. "Pay your dues" mentality. One of the greatest sources of frustration for these leaders is what they see as outdated leadership tracks, which require specific years of service or time spent climbing the ladder of association leadership positions. They may not be at all interested in climbing to the top, but instead want to make a difference from day one. Failure to create new avenues for engaging volunteer experiences early on in their tenure with the association is likely to cause these individuals to lose interest in any involvement later on.
12. Talents not taken advantage of; perspectives not respected. A theme of "don't waste my time" runs through several of these frustrations, but that was most apparent in situations where these leaders felt their significant talents weren't tapped. They feel they had the skill and knowledge to make meaningful contributions but were never provided the chance to do so. Worse yet, in some cases, they were snubbed or ignored after offering to do so.
* American Generations: Who They Are, How They Live, What They Think, by Susan Miller (1998, New Strategist Publications, 2nd edition)
* Embracing the Future and Facing the Future, by Rhea Blanken and Allen Liff (1999, ASAE Foundation)
* Generations at Work: Managing the Class of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace, by Rob Zemke, Claire Raines, and Bob Filipczak (1999, AMACOM)
* Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing, by J. Walker Smith and Ann Clurman (1997, HarperCollins)
* American Demographics, www.americandemographics.com
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|Author:||CUFAUDE, JEFFREY B.|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2000|
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