When Millennials Take Over: How to Prepare Your Nonprofit For the Future of Business

For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

The New GenerationEvery twenty years or so, a new generation enters the workplace, and the rest of us collectively freak out. We’ve been doing this for centuries, actually. You can go back through history and find “kids these days” quotes dating back to the Roman Empire. The most recent iteration of this pattern has been happening for the last ten years or so with regard to the Millennial generation. As they entered the workforce, we bristled at their flip-flops, texting, and sense of entitlement—born, we assumed, from all those trophies they received as kids.

But as long as we focus on that hype-filled and reactionary response to this generation, we are going to miss something much more important, because this generational transition is different. You may not have noticed, but every four generations in America, we have experienced a rather significant transition. The last one was the Depression and World War II. Before that, it was the Civil War, and before that it was the Revolutionary War. Seriously—there were exactly four generations in between each of those periods. Like clockwork. And today we are experiencing the fourth generational turning since World War II.

Each time, there was a generation that was entering adulthood that served as an anchor for the transition. These were all tough times, and that generation stood firmly and embraced the challenges they faced in starting a new era. Four generations ago that was the G.I. Generation, also known as the “Greatest” generation. Today, it’s the Millennials.

Does that mean they are the greatest? Nope (sorry, Millennials), but it does mean that they are going to serve as a bit of a “secret decoder ring” for the rest of us. They are going to show us the way to this next era, specifically when it comes to leadership and management.

In my session at NTC with Jamie Notter, we are going to talk about research from our new book, When Millennials Take Over, highlighting four key capacities that organizations need in order to thrive in this next four-generation cycle. We researched Millennials in the workplace, and we dove deep into case studies of organizations with ridiculously strong cultures and pulled out four areas of overlap: digital, clear, flat, and fast.

Consider digital, for example. As much as we all love our digital tools here within the NTEN Community, actually applying the concept of digital to management goes beyond the tools. It’s about embracing a new mindset. The digital mindset puts the users first, designing around their experience, rather than around the organization’s experience. For example, we studied a small nonprofit organization that literally designed their new workspace specifically to meet the needs of all the employees. That meant the CEO didn’t get his own office—he had a workstation out in the main room with everyone, because employees get more done when they have access to the right people quickly. The space had to have lots of different places to work, to accommodate the diversity of needs among employees, and they also invested in technology (everyone gets the laptop and the tablet of their choice) to meet the diverse needs.

As a result, they have very high engagement, and when a position opens up, they get candidates from the corporate world applying, which is not the traditional direction of the talent flow between nonprofits and the corporate world. Collaboration is easier and more frequent when people have what they need, and that has helped them innovate and serve customers in ways that outpace their much larger competitors.

This digital mindset is one of four major trends (or principles) we observed in our research. We’re excited to share the rest with you and have a robust discussion about what this all means for your workplace. Have you changed the way that your organization is managed or led in order to become more of a digital organization? Have you experienced frustration at the “bureaucracy” and red tape, or lack of transparency internally (or with constituents, for that matter)? Or your inability to be agile and nimble as an organization?  You may be a Millennial, wondering why your colleagues use email when they clearly are trying to instant message, or why strategy and planning happen behind closed doors and then you’re expected to implement without having the contextual knowledge behind the decisions that were made. These are all signals of the kinds of trends that emerged from our research—and we’re eager to hear your experiences. Join us at 15NTC for a robust discussion! All generations welcome!

Maddie Grant
Culture That Works
Maddie Grant is an expert digital strategist and culture change consultant whose superpower is skillful shepherding of organizations through cultural and digital transformation, with specific expertise in internal (staff) and external (member/customer) engagement. Alongside her consulting work at Human Workplaces, Maddie is an accomplished speaker and author and has written several books with her partner (in business and life) Jamie Notter, including Humanize: How People Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World (2011), When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business, (2015) and the Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, published in January 2019.