Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Workplace Has Been Just Another Brick in the Wall

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.   Pink Floyd, The Wall

The Short of It
  • I believe there is validity in looking at commonality of experience and attitude in generational terms
  • It is useful as an overall context, but needs to be carefully applied to our understanding of the individual
  • Most workforce changes we keep talking about as "Gen Y" inspired are actually changes we've been talking about for years
  • Gen Y is not spectacularly unique with their workforce expectations, Gen X has just been outnumbered
  • It's time to accept the changes and actually make them
  • Once we do, we can get on with the business of achieving our associations' missions
The Long of It

So, okay.  Generation X may have looked a little scary to the Boomer set as we entered the workforce.  In some ways, we still do.  (And Gen Y - stop talking about how "afraid" we are that you want our jobs - we've been waiting for you!  Your "unique" workplace demands are things we've been fighting for this entire time!)

Don't get me wrong here, I am not meaning to insult any generation in particular or paint any of us with a dismissively broad brush.  I am a sincere proponent of harnessing our cross-generational collective power, capitalizing on our individual strengths and moving forward together in our association memberships, workforce teams and familial units.  That being said I beg your indulgence for just a moment while I look at this generational topic through my particular lens.

As you know from my last blog post, I recently experienced the Groundhog Day Effect when reading about different topics in association management published in books back in 1985 but which could have been written yesterday.  This post looks at the "generations in the workforce" topic which has been all the rage recently....again....

Check out this description of an incoming generation -

"I predict the new breed will work hard, have high job expectations and want instant gratification.  They will expect early in their careers to take part in the decision making process.  They will not be afraid to state their job requirements or hesitate to let us know when they are dissatisfied with their working conditions."

Does that sound familiar?  About a thousand similar statements are regularly promulgated to describe Gen Y/Millennials.  Only this was written by Mary Ann Tuft and published in "Future Perspectives" from the Foundation of the American Society of Association Executives in 1985.  This description was targeted at "Yuppies" who were just entering the workforce but are easily applied by extension to Gen X and Gen Y as well.  (BTW - are the people who are so excited about Generation Jones actually Yuppies in disguise?  The Hourglass Blog had a good post on this recently.)

But what made me stop in my tracks was this section -

"To guard against obsolescence of ourselves and our associations, and to prepare for the last half of the twentieth century before taking on the twenty-first, we need to learn to comprehend products of this "high-tech" age - both human and electronic."

And this -

"Not only are our associations in a state of flux, so are our employment practices.  As a result of rapid technological advances, twentieth-century employment practices and expectations require reevaluation.  As we have already discovered, yesterday's guidelines fail to meet today's employment complexities."

I'm still waiting.

Why are we still having these conversations!?!?!?

Why are we still stuffing people into cubicles? Why do we accept the M-F 8:00 to 5:00 workweek in addition to all of the other hours that are required to travel to, staff and execute meetings and events?  Why are we still enforcing dress codes?  [When I was Executive Director at ASCCA I abolished the dress code and oddly enough, my employees did not lose their collective IQs or their effectiveness].  Why are we developing policy to combat employees downloading and utilizing new communication tools on the job - [yes on the job, of COURSE on the job - how else can they learn how to translate personal skill into direct business application]?  Why do we insist on annual performance reviews and not engaging in ongoing performance assessment?  Why are we killing our best and our brightest with demands for creativity and innovation and then allowing those ideas to languish in the committee structure until they lose all semblance of fire, or worse, miss their window of opportunity?

How in the world do we expect to be able to handle the wicked problems that are steaming towards us when we are still mired in management and governance practices that should have changed 25 years ago and never did?

It's time to stop arguing over the things that don't advance our mission and focus all of our energy on achieving it.

If we don't, we run the risk of someone in a quarter of a century looking back at what we're publishing right now and asking why we didn't take these issues seriously.  Why we didn't implement the required changes.  Hopefully they won't be asking us why we didn't change while we still had the opportunity, before we lost collective control of the ship. 

We don't need no education...we don't need no thought control......(this video is not for the faint of heart, it is faintly disturbing as much of what qualifies as artistic expression is.  But of all professions that should abhor the machine, the association community should be the standard bearer.....)


  1. Great posting Shelly. Anything that connects Pink Floyd to Association Management warrants a close look. You are right on the money.

  2. I love this post, Shelly!

    As a generational consultant to the association community, I am always advocating for change, and too few associations are willing to make any change.

    I'm afraid for the future of associations. Baby Boomers are more tolerent of the past than Generations X and Y, and Boomers also comprise the bulk of most associations as leaders and members. I'm afraid that once the Boomers begin to leave associations, the associations won't survive because they have done nothing to succession plan and engage the next generation.

    Boomers may have enjoyed their board seats and Robert's Rules of Order and doing things the way they've always been done, but that era is rapidly coming to an end, and so are some associations.

    Change is necessary. Just think about the change that has happened in just the past 5 years -- the election of President Obama, the start of social networking, the development of touch screens and smart phones, and so on.

    Social and technological change is occurring at an unprecedented rate, which has shaped the views and expectations of Generations X, Y, and Z. Being 10, 20, or 30 years-old today is very different than it was just ten years ago.

    Members are an association's only succession plan. Therefore, an association's failure to change to engage the next generation will be its ultimate demise.

    Sarah Sladek
    Author, The New Recruit
    Founder, The RockStars@Work Conference
    CEO, Limelight Generations

  3. @anonymous - if you like the Pink Floyd post, you just'll get weirder, I promise ;)

    @Sarah - thanks for the comment! I think you raise some valid points that must be discussed, particularly when it comes to "holistic" succession planning. Isn't it funny how things have changed? It used to be every 20 years or so, someone would panic and lament, "What do we DO about these new members?" Then it became ten years, now it's even faster. Eventually you would think someone would institutionalize the concept of "membership succession planning" not just leadership succession planning because the "new ones" are coming, always coming. ;)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.