Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Millennials are Clueless...and How Can We Attract Them?

I attended another event sponsored by the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) yesterday and today. Click here for a report on my last trip to Madison for a WSAE event.

This time I wasn't part of any panel—just an attendee. Last night was more informal—a gathering of twenty or so members, some of whom had attended the latest ASAE meeting in Toronto, most of which hadn't. The networking topic was "What I Learned at ASAE" and it was a great opportunity to hear what those who could attend the national conference this year thought about it and took away from it.

Today it was a more formal session with an expert panel, an engaging facilitator, and a hundred or so attendees—"Future Trends and Forecasting in Hospitality."

Generations and social media got heavy emphasis in both sessions, and in a lot of the hallway conversation I had with my fellow attendees. (That seems to be the case, lately, doesn't it? Even in sessions not ostensibly about either, generations and social media just keep coming up again and again.)

Anyway, I'm blogging about it because I heard two distinct and I think strangely juxtaposed narratives about Millennials—very few of whom were in attendance. Allow me to paraphrase them:

1. Those Millennials sure are clueless, aren't they? Have they never had a job before? They sure don't act like it. It's like they're doing you the favor—coming to work for you. They expect outrageous compensation, benefits, and flexible hours, and refuse to do any work they consider beneath them. They blog, they Facebook, they tweet—and none of what they're doing online is appropriate for the workplace—or the professional image of my association. And they don't seem to care! You're just supposed to accept them as they are—their online as well as their offline selves. Don't they realize they're supposed to keep those things separate? I wouldn't hire any of them if I didn't have to.

2. Does anyone have any ideas on how we can connect with more Millennials? You know, it's starting to get a little scary. I look around and I see my association membership and my meeting attendees just getting older and older. The younger generation doesn't seem to be engaged and they don't respond when I try to reach out to them. What's wrong with them? Can they not see the value my association offers? Did they not read that brochure I sent them? Did they not get my email? I'm really starting to get worried. We've got to find a way get them engaged or someday I'm afraid we're going to be irrelevant. How are you supposed to get through to these knuckleheads? Don't they know what's at stake?

There was no one person at the WSAE event who actually said all of these words, but I could imagine some of them were thinking them based on the tenor of all the discussions I heard. Here's a quick word of advice to anyone who might be struggling with both these narratives. You're not going to solve the problems inherent in narrative #2 until you give up on narrative #1.


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