Last week I did a webinar for the Higher Logic Learning Series (with my co-author, Jamie Notter) that talked about some of the research and findings in our new book, When Millennials Take Over. You can watch the whole webinar via the embedded video below:
I know this post goes a little bit beyond the scope of online communities and community management, but I think it's important to not lose sight of the big picture changes happening here. In the webinar, we talked about four key capacities organizations need to succeed in this new, emerging era, and in this blog post, I wanted to expand the conversation and try to answer some of the questions that participants raised, which we didn't have time to answer.
During the webinar, we did a few polls with the 300+ participants. For one poll question, we asked them why the Millennial issue really matters, and the number one answer was engagement (of both younger members, and Millennials' employers). More than 30 percent cited the answer (plus the 25 percent who answered "all of the above"). It shouldn't be news that engagement matters to organizations, but it is concerning that we are still unsure about how to engage Millennials. They have been on our membership rolls and part of our staff for at least a decade (the oldest Millennials turn 33 this year). And given the size of this generation (they are bigger than the boomers), we'd better start adjusting to their perspectives quickly.
Of course the attendees were right on this with their questions and comments. The first was about the difference between life stages and generational issues:
I've heard that 'place in career' (versus generation) is actually more telling in terms of engaging a distinct group of people.
This is critical and often overlooked in generational conversations. Sometimes the trouble you're having engaging a particular generation is tied more to where they are in their careers and lives, then what their generational preferences are. Gen X was labeled early on as "not joiners" because membership numbers were down compared to Boomers, but when one researcher adjusted for life stages and the differences in size between the two generations, the research actually showed Gen X joining at a higher rate than Boomers for that stage in their careers. Remember that generational differences will stay with a generation throughout different life stages. Generation X's independence, for example, has been consistent and not just limited to one life stage.
The next question was building off of our point that the Millennial generation expects things to be fast:
Is there a downside to the Millennials' capacity for leaping ahead and constantly improving/upgrading, in that they won't have the patience or focus to stare at a problem long enough to grasp the best solution?
The answer to that one is sort of tricky. Yes, there is a downside - every generation's approach has both upsides and downsides, and we all need to manage that. But the idea that Millennials "don't have the patience to grasp the best solution" is a little more problematic. That assumes the best solution develops by staring at something long enough, and it is an assumption that should be challenged. There are certainly circumstances where that's true. We absolutely need the capacity to work through problems without rushing to premature solutions. But that, too, can have a downside, where we miss opportunities for learning by not experimenting and trying things. Remember, no generation ever has the single, "right" answer.
In fact, sometimes the role of a generation specifically can be to bridge the gap between others, as was raised by this question:
What research is there on using the Gen X'ers to bridge the generational conflict between those groups that come before and after Gen X?
I think that is an excellent role for many Gen X'ers. Don't expect every individual Gen X'er to embrace this role, and even though Gen X is known for independence, they are also known as pragmatists and are less tied to being the ones at the front, leading the charge. If they can facilitate their way to a win for everyone, they will. That being said, it shouldn't only be X'ers who do the bridging. One of the basic lessons of generational differences is that we all should be understanding more about how other generations see things, in order to facilitate better problem solving all around.
BONUS: This week is the official launch of When Millennials Take Over at SxSW in Austin, TX! For a very limited time the eBook version is available for 99 cents on Amazon.
This post is part of a series about Millennials and Online Community. Join us in the conversation! Whatever generation you're in, what can YOU do to bridge the generational differences that you're seeing in your workplace (or online community)?