Thursday, May 28, 2009

Generation X and Center of Gravity

Last week on the GetmeJamieNotter blog I wrote a post about the laws of attraction. In that post I expressed some frustration with what I see as a traditional mindset of associations where the association is the "center of gravity." In this worldview, we as association professionals work hard to attract people or organizations into our fold. The association is at the center of the universe, with other stakeholders, groups, etc. rotating around it. 

I offered a different view, where the association is either attractive or unattractive to groups, but lacks that real gravitational pull. I suggested we should look around at what attracts US as an association and move in that direction.

I wonder if this perspective has any generational overtones to it? Is this a typical Generation X perspective? Being in Generation X, I'm used to not having "gravitational pull." There aren't enough of me, and we're not used to being listened to, so of course we have a decentralized view of the universe. Our influence is dispersed. This in contrast to the Boomers' stereotypical focus on causes and movements, on gathering enough people together to drive the change. The force of numbers.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring to Lead 2006 - Recommendations

This is going to be my last post of the Daring to Lead 2006 study. It concludes with a list of recommendations for nonprofit executives based on their results. I think the list is worth reading and strikes me as fairly practical advice—reminders about things all nonprofit execs should do but not all find time for. They include:

1. Take responsibility for developing a strategic board.
2. Build leaders at all levels of your organization as a succession planning strategy for the day you'll no longer be in the exec position.
3. Ask for adequate salary and benefits.
4. Build a network of supportive peers and mentors to help you over difficult patches.

The report provides some more details in each of those areas. But the one I really want to zoom in on is:

5. Live in the question: Am I still the right person for this job?

How many execs ask themselves this question on a regular basis? Am I the person to manage the challenges emerging for this organization and to take it to the next level of mission achievement? The study authors argue that the number of forced resignations they encountered in the backgrounds of the study participatnts could have been successfully avoided if more execs would approach their work with this mindset—that they won't always be the solution, and that when the merry-go-round stops it's better to get off gracefully than to be asked to leave. It also reflects a level of stewardship that is still not entirely in vogue.

From a generational perspective, I think this question is more important than ever. It'd be interesting to hear the takes of Boomers, Xers and Millenials on the question. Would one group be more willing than others to ask themselves the question? Would one more easily move on if the honest answer indicated that they should?

Monday, May 18, 2009

When Gen X Runs The Show

That's the title of a (very!) brief article on that is part of 12 stories they bunched together as "The Future of Work." The title piqued my interest, of course, but I was a bit disappointed with the content. According to this five paragraph story, in 2019 Gen X will be in charge.


Yep. Magically in that year, we will suddenly be in charge. Though only some of us, because they put Gen X as people born between 1965 and 1978 (Millennials get 21 years for their generation, but we only get 13). Then the article goes on to say that Boomers, in fact, won't retire. They'll just start consulting and job-sharing (so how do we get in charge again?). It also states that we'll have a tough time being in charge because the Millennials are different: they don't want to pay their dues or work their way up the ladder in one job (umm, I think that's Gen X you're talking about).

Now I see why Scott Briscoe is anti-generations. I think articles like this make it worse. They throw around loose terms and generalizations, some of which cut across generations, with no explanation (or even links) to back it up. They found the big-name authors and got pithy quotes. The quotes themselves are fine, but stringing quotes together does not give you wisdom. 

They would have done better to take  each point and turn it into an article. How about an article on what Boomers not retiring is going to do to the workforce? Or another one on the shift in the value of "seniority" in terms of compensation and status in the workforce. And another one on the role of video games in preparing workers to better handle work situations moving into the future. Less hype, please, and better conversations about what matters.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Answers are No Solution

Scott Briscoe wrote a post on Acronym about some speakers who did a talk about what Generation Y wants in the workplace but found their message carried across generations. Scott admits he's "anti-generation," though like most instances where he and I "disagree" we really don't. Scott says:

 I absolutely think the generational stereotypes have some basis in factual research, but these stereotypes break down so seriously at the individual level, that the noise around generational differences is significantly detrimental.

All stereotypes--or better, all generalizations break down at the individual level. The trick is in using them effectively. Think back to my post about micromanaging. I personally fit the stereotype of Gen X (was a latch-key kid, took care of myself, then in the workplace liked to be left alone and do things myself). As a manager, I got some feedback that I was "absent" from my younger direct reports. Now, if I had gone to the session that Scott described, I might have thought "Hmm, I'm not providing my younger employees with enough feedback, and I need to do that." Or, as I did in this case, I thought "Hmm, I'm Generation X and didn't like micromanaging so I might be over-reacting in assuming my younger employees want to be left alone as much." Either one is fine, because neither one actually gives me an answer and tells me what to do (answers are no solution). I have to have a conversation with my employees about it and together we will figure it out.

But knowing about generations can help me see what's happening, ask better questions, and have better conversations.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Daring to Lead 2006 - Finding 5

The authors of Daring to Lead 2006 saved the best for last—at least as far as The Hourglass Blog is concerned. Their fifth and final finding—that bench strength, diversity, and competitive compensation are critical factors in finding future leaders—cuts right to the heart of the generational shift coming to the leadership of nonprofit organizations. Here's a quick excerpt:

Because the majority of current nonprofit executives are baby boomers, anticipation of wide scale retirement has intensified the anxiety around leadership transition across the sector. This research suggests that many older executives are not on a traditional retirement trajectory; nearly half of executives older than 60 say that something other than retirement is what they will do next. Still, the nonprofit sector—like the other sectors—will most certainly have a market response to the talent supply available as the generational handoff unfolds. Our data suggest several points of concern. First, only half of executives at mid-sized organizations (5-20 staff) are actively developing future executives. Second, the sector does not appear to be achieving greater diversity in its newer and younger executives. And third, executives believe that the next cohort of leaders will require higher salaries and more work-life balance, things that small and min-sized nonprofits may struggle to provide.

What I really want to focus on is their third point of concern, that executives believe that the next cohort of leaders will require higher salaries and more work-life balance. The study cites that 61% of executives surveyed believe that if they left, their organizations would have to pay the next executive more than they are currently making. The amount of increased compensation perceived to be needed varies by organization size, but the majority in all size catergories seemed to think it would require 11-20% more.

The study authors conducted focus groups in additional to the survey, and some of the quotes from those focus groups are priceless.

Some participants believe that younger executives will expect to be paid more than baby boomers have accepted and that further, they will want work life balance to an extent the founders never expected from the nonprofit executive role. One executive commented, "The young people who come in want balance tomorrow." Another said, "Young people have a lot of high expectations about salary and benefits and they actually read the employee handbook and want everything they are entitled to."

To me, this is more than just reflective of a changing priorities of one generation versus another. I think it also reflects the growing establishment of nonprofit management as a profession—now with business literature, certification programs, degree programs, and a growing cohort of professionally-trained practitioners all its own. Yes, GenX wants more work-life balance than Baby Boomers, and is more concerned with being compensated for its talents, but some of that perceived demand for higher salaries goes with the development of that professional cohort.

Please don't misinterpret. I am not suggesting that Baby Boomer executives are not professional. But it would also not surprise me if a greater number of them are not in nonprofit management for the money or for the career development opportunities it can present. One focus group participant said:

People that do nonprofit work, that came out of the activism of the '60s, have a really different view: that somehow money is bad, or it's a shameful thing to expect to be paid well.

The survey also cites that 21% of its reponders are the founders of their organizations. I thought that was a surprisingly high number, but it seems to support this point. It would be interesting to see how that statistic changes over the next couple of decades.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Daring to Lead 2006 - Finding 4

Finding 4 of the Daring to Lead 2006 study states that, concerned with organizational sustainability, executives are seeking new skills and strategies. And the new skills and strategies they are seeking are, overwhelmingly, those related to fundraising and finance. The study cites the following percentages when executives were asked to identify the two skills they most need to build:

Fundraising = 49%
Finance = 30%
Networking/Partnerships = 26%
Strategy/Vision = 23%
Managing Staff = 18%
Working with Board = 17%
Advocacy = 14%
Public Speaking = 8%
Writing = 5%

I question how much of this, however, is due to their interest in organizational sustainability. If so many of them are planning to leave their jobs in the next five years (see Finding 1), couldn't this also mean that they are focused on their own professional development, and are simply trying to improve themselves in the areas they perceive themselves to be weak?

Indeed, this section of the survey also tracks the executives use of professional development. Depending on the size of the organization 87-89% of them attend workshops and conferences, 51-66% of them belong to professional associations, 19-33% use professional coaching, and 16-19% of them have some kind of nonprofit management certification or degree.

In my experience, association management is a sector that heavily invests in professional development, and these statistics may just be reflective of that trend.