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Changing Dynamics in the Board Room

When it comes to attracting young people to leadership positions, associations have got their work cut out for them.  As of the first quarter of 2015, the Millennial generation is the largest portion of the U.S. workforce and your association’s market of members and leaders.  Did you also know that 80% of the workforce of an organization is comprised of volunteers? Attracting newer generations of volunteers is important not only due to the fact that they provide critical human resources but also this pool has been steadily shrinking. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteerism is at the lowest level since 2002.

U.S. Workforce by Generation

GenerationNumber in WorkforceBirth YearsAge Range
Millennials53.5 Million1981-199718-34
Generation Xers52.7 Million1965-198035-50
Baby Boomers44.6 Million1946-196451-65
Silents3.7 Million1928-194570-84

These younger members view desired governance structures very differently than their older counterparts who are likely to be your Board members now.  Millennials:

  • Highly value work/life balance
  • Are multi-taskers that are used to instant information
  • Question everything
  • Like connecting and seek input from everyone through social online networks
  • Are astoundingly diverse
  • Leave work when tasks are completed
  • Are technologically sophisticated
  • Will demonstrate respect only after being treated with it
  • Technology is not just a device or a tool but an extension of their being

Does this sound like your board?  Probably not.  In the majority of associations today, Baby Boomers dominate leadership positions. Being representative of the membership is the purpose of an association board. Evaluating this makeup is critical to the relevance and value of the association as a whole now and into the future.

Millennials are busy and they are focused on working smarter, not harder.  Unlike Boomers, work ethic to them does to equate to the number of hours worked.  They are fast-paced and don’t want to waste time.

If your association is going to survive in this environment, things need to change in your boardroom. Do you know what the average attention span is of a Millennial?  8 seconds according to  Millennials have been trained to digest a great deal of information but volume must be condensed.  With platforms like Twitter that limit the character count, Millennials are used to getting information quickly and to the point. They are easily bored.  

Although Millennials are not usually big fans of face-to-face meetings, they will tolerate such meetings if they are fast-paced, purposeful and give them a sense that they are contributing to the whole.  That means they don’t want to hear boring verbal reports giving updates when this information can be posted in different ways. Ask these questions after everyboard meeting to determine if it was effective:

1) Was I able to effectively contribute during this board meeting? If not, why?

2) Did we start and end on time? If not, why?

3) Was it a good use of my time and talents? If not, why

4) What would I change for the next board meeting?

It’s critical to engage Millennials in your association now and move them into Board positions as soon as possible.  You need them involved, discussing strategic initiatives and helping them to think about where their industry is going to be in 10-15 years. It is important to break down the barriers to board services where in some instances it might take 6-10 years to get on the board itself. If we are looking for guidance now on the industry or profession we serve, then we missed a huge window of opportunity if someone has to wait that long to contribute meaningfully.

Ways to Engage Millennials

  • Start a free young leaders academy and train your future leaders in topics such as generational differences, behavioral differences and emotional intelligence.
  • Create one-on-one mentoring and reverse-mentoring opportunities.
  • Create micro-volunteering opportunities, which will help you to determine who stands out as a leader.
  • Determine what Millennials are passionate about in your industry.
  • Keep in mind their preferred methods of communication.  Texting them or creating an online community they can identify with is helpful.
  • Engage in a cause-related activity as it is more about the cause than just joining your association

We have a great opportunity to engage with a new workforce that will bring exciting change. As we all know, change is hard and can be difficult but if we embrace it through all generations, we will make a difference. President Ronald Reagan once said, “Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You will have opportunities beyond anything we’ve ever known.” There is a great opportunity for associations to move beyond anything we have ever known for our associations.