A local organization recently asked me to give a speech on the topic of drawing in younger audiences to their group. I think what I had to say surprised them.
Of course, any time I am hired as a speaker to talk about generational issues, I start with a brief overview of the four age groups in the workforce today. (For more information, see my book on this topic.) Usually this prompts a discussion about important events in people’s lives, i.e., “where were you when it happened?” Individuals bring up famous events in history, especially political events or natural disasters.
The other common topic of discussion is about “kids these days.” According to some members of some audiences, young people spend too much time in front of screens and don’t have the knowledge, manners, worldliness, or sense of reverence that they should.
Although these conversations are interesting, they usually aren’t all that productive. Instead, organizations today have a more dire question: how do we attract younger people to join our cause? I say “dire” because this issue threatens the existence of these groups. If they don’t add fresh faces to their ranks, they won’t survive in the years ahead.
Changing the behavior of others is an common theme here on The Methodology Blog. The usual approach is to try bribe others by using incentives and gimmicks. But we’ve known for ages that the best way to inspire change is focusing on the motivations of others, and sharing the “why” of what we want.
For that reason, it’s essential to understand why young people don’t want to be involved in your operation. Do they see it as stuffy or closed-off? Do they feel it is backwards or out-of-touch? Do they disagree with your politics or your ethics? The first step in solving any problem is to ask good questions.
A key question to ask is what makes the world different for younger and older people? Of all of the possible answers, perhaps the most useful to consider the role of speed:
- Information flows more quickly, more freely, and is easier to find
- People are more mobile and travel more readily
- Technology is at our fingertips and can be accessed instantly
- Opportunity is more apparent and people are more willing to make life changes
These insights can help you design your organization to be more attractive to younger people. Don’t require them to do things which might seem inefficient in the 21st century. Don’t expect them to conform to old standards that aren’t relevant with the advent of new technologies and current social values. Instead, run quicker meetings, reduce paperwork, laser-target tasks to match people’s skills and interests, and respect boundaries.
The way we used to do it often won’t be the way we do it in the future. Now is the time to adapt. If you don’t, you may not get to participate tomorrow.