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People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
- The Who, 1967
There is no generation that has felt understood by the generation that came before. We make a mistake, however, when we assume we "know what they feel like" simply because we went through our own generational awakening. On some level, we can relate, but on others - we really don't. Each generational cohort experiences things in its own way, and the vast cultural landscape in which it navigates does lead to a certain sense that "nobody but us will ever really get this." In many cases, they may be right.
I find generational studies fascinating. There is always a danger of stereotyping, but also a sense of shared understanding with some generalizations that appear to play out consistently over time. Carefully done, enhancing your understanding of generational temperament and personality will help your association deal with the influxes of new talent.
I find workforce studies that focus on generations VERY helpful in terms of understanding membership in general, such as "Gen Y on the Job," a study Payscale published recently.
There are lots of interesting facts in it to take into account but I want to focus on one important statistic: We have all known that "tenure" at an employer took a downturn in the 1990s after the layoffs of the 1980s and Generation Xers began to place more faith in their "portability" than in their corporate employers. Turns out, that trend has only accelerated. Gen Y spends a median of two years with any one company.
We have known for years that the idea of a "lifetime" member has been slipping into legend. So, what now? If Gen Y workers are spending fewer than two years with any given employer, then your ability to reach them with "15 marketing messages over two years" is just simply irrelevant. They will change jobs before your marketing plan even gets going. If a Gen Y individual is seeking a leg up on a career and moving faster than ever, then maybe (like I've written about before) your strategy needs to be less dialed in to "specific member value" and dialed out to, "springboard capability to address wider needs." Maybe instead of a "home" your association is a "springboard" to what's next. Why not?
How does that idea change your mission or your vision? How many facts, in what order and delivered in what way will help that member do his or her job if he or she will only be in it for five years tops? Can you supply what members need with four quarterly regional professional development opportunities and a conference per year? No, you can't. Your professional development has to be faster, cheaper and more robust than it ever has been. I'm not saying some Gen Y members won't dive into a career and spend a lifetime with an association. I'm just saying that this segment of the population is smaller and smaller. It's an unsustainable membership philosophy with which we finally have to come to grips.
You used to have an average of 10 years to deliver a "lifetime" member experience. What has to change, and change now, for you to deliver the entire package in less than half of that time?
I believe the associations that continue to deal in reality, will have a bright future ahead of them. Membership isn't irrelevant - it's just different. Nobody can do it as well as you can, you just need to change your thinking and make appropriate levels of investment around the concept of "speed."
Take what you know and...ready, set, go!
Things they do look awful c-c-cold... hope I die before I get old...
Alcorn is principal of Alcorn Associates Management Consulting, Sacramento CA. She writes the "Association Subculture" blog. Contact her at email@example.com.