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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged gen y
Turning Gen Y Liabilities Into Assets

The more I speak to nonprofit groups, businesses, or associations about Millennials (also known as Generation Y), the more I hear from people who want to harness the potential of this generation. This is a good sign. On the whole, Millennials are not being written off without a fair hearing. Today's business leaders believe that the youngest generation in the workplace can do great things for companies and causes. The struggle lies in the ability of organizations to understand this generation and then use that understanding to work with them to do something meaningful.

I've found that most people get stuck when trying to get beyond Millennial stereotypes. It seems that previous generations see Generation Y as an entitled, tech-happy, group-thinking, fickle bunch that is just too hard to manage. With these four glaring strikes against them, managers and directors move on and work with someone else.

But, I believe Gen Y's liabilities can be turned into assets for any organization to use well. In fact, some of the perceived "worst" things about Millennials can actually be big upsides for your work and mission. Here's what I mean:

Generation Y is entitled.

Neil Howe took this stereotype head on when I heard him speak. Addressing the issue of this generation thinking of themselves as special when in reality everyone got a trophy or a ribbon just for participating, Howe suggests using the idea of entitlement to raise expectations. His advice? Acknowledge an entitled Millennial with, "Yes - you are special. And we expect special things from you." In other words, validate their feelings and then use it as a jumping off point to set a standard of excellence. Good Millennials - good people, really - will rise to that challenge.

Millennials are always looking at a screen.

Then who better to bring your digital marketing strategy up to date? Who else could teach other employees about texting, tweeting, or tumbling? Being digitally native has its advantages. While not true of every single Millennial, most will have an understanding of emerging technologies, like cloud storage, video conferencing, and social media. Before you shell out big bucks for someone who calls themselves a "guru" on Twitter, roam your hallways and see what ideas young people may have for understanding bits and bytes.

Gen Y always wants to do something in a group.

Gone are the days where isolation is paradise. Generation Y was raised in a group setting. Not only were they over-programmed with Scouts, Little League, and dance classes, they also went to prom as a unit, did science projects in groups of four, and grew up with multi-player video games. This generation understands teamwork. Let them work together on a problem. They'll love the camaraderie and connections developed way more than Generation X will (okay, so that's a Gen X stereotype). Set the bar high for good group work and then cut them loose to see what current issue they can address together.

Millennials have short attention spans.

First off, we all do. Secondly, you can use this to your advantage by getting new hires to focus on special, short-term projects. Many Millennials job hop, mainly because with mounting debt and high unemployment, they're looking for work anywhere. This means you may not have to commit to a long-term employee from Day One. Bring on a Gen Yer to handle a short-term need, like planning an event, running a social campaign, or lending an extra hand during a busy season. Let them know up front it's a temporary gig that could turn into something more if it works out for everyone. This gives you a chance to see if they truly play well with others and lets them work on something to completion to see how much they like what you do. Then, if they leave after eight weeks when the assignment is up, you're not left with loose ends.

Ultimately, working with Generation Y is like building the plane in midair. This generation is still being understood and defined just as they're entering the workforce in droves. Smart companies are beginning to truly take on this generation and use their chief characteristics in order to grow well.

They question isn't whether or not you'll hire, manage, and work alongside Millennials; it's when.

What about you? What other liabilities of Generation Y can be turned into assets with a little finesse?

I'd love to hear your comments below.

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Speaking Event: Daxko's Reach Conference

I'm excited to be returning to speak at Daxko's annual conference. The Reach Conference is a chance for those working with membership-based associations to learn best practices, new technologies, and big ideas in order to grow well. I'll be opening the event as the keynote speaker, helping those in attendance understand Millennials a bit better. We'll specifically be talking about how organizations can market to Generation Y and tell a compelling story to get their attention and consider membership.

I spoke at this same conference in 2010; this will be a fresh look at the next generation with updates stats and stories.

See you soon, Birmingham!

Click here to register for the Reach Conference.

Speaking Event: American Bus Association

This January, I'll be addressing the attendees at the American Bus Association Marketplace. This is a chance for people in and around the bus industry to get together for learning, networking, and dreaming. I'll have the chance to present three workshops over two days:

  • Why Gen Y? Reaching Out to Millennials in the Right Way
  • Get Smart, Get Strategic: Why You Need a Social Media Strategy Now
  • BRB, TTYL, LOL: Managing Millennials in the Workplace

I'm looking forward to meeting everyone at the event and to having deep discussions about how those in the bus world can leverage the power and possibility of technology and the next generation.

And if you're in Charlotte, drop me a line so we can grab coffee!

Spring High School Speaking Roundup

In the next few months, I'll be speaking a handful of times to high school students, both at their school and at some events.  I began my speaking career long ago by speaking to high school students, so I always enjoy the opportunity to be in the middle of the energy and excitement that teenagers can bring into the room. It also gives me a chance to stay flexible, use a different style of speaking, and try out fresh content.

Here's where I'll be soon:

March 13 - Independence High School, Franklin, TN

I'll be keynoting a spring assembly for the senior class, speaking with close to 500 students about ways they can become involved in their communities over the summer and as they head off to college. I'll also discuss ways they can use their college experience to find out what excites them when it comes to community service.

May 9 - Franklin Road Academy, Nashville, TN

In May, I'm keynoting a convocation for the entire middle and high school, talking about ways students can volunteer in order to find out about their core passions. I'll also discuss how leaders tell stories and how they can begin sharing among their peers the stories of service in order to work more deeply with a particular cause.

May 18 - Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Seminar, Nashville, TN

I've spoken at this event before, which is a statewide gathering of high school sophomores who have been selected to spend a long weekend learning about leadership. We'll talk about leadership through service and why building a team of people to tackle a problem is very doable for any high school student.

As a reminder, you can view my speaking page to see where I'm speaking soon.

The Church is Scared

On Sundays, when I write, I do so at length on some topic of religion, Christianity, Jesus stuff, or faith. Beware. For some people, church is scary. Many a sitcom (and RomCom) has used a one liner to demonstrate this. Past behavior, childhood memories, and current sleeping patterns are used to get a laugh when a character thinks about or needs to set foot inside a rectangle with a steeple on top. And while disciplinary nuns, coifed pastors, and bustling megachurches can give lots of us hives, I think poking fun at the church like this only distracts us from one emerging reality: the church is scared.

All around the church, the world is changing. Society's values are changing. The look and definition of the word 'family' is evolving. Science and reason are being themselves, forcing the notion of faith to seemingly fight harder to gain relevance in political debates and classroom curriculums. Church attendance is dwindling. Baptisms are down. The church as it was when wearing seat belts wasn't a law will not survive in a world where airbags come standard.

The church knows this. Denominations and conferences and synods - if they haven't already - are waking up to a world where their individual congregations and buildings are only needed when someone wants to get married or needs to die. This is the church's chief function in the world today. It no longer shapes political agendas or even moral decisions. At least not like it used to. The church will never again gain its prominence as a third place in our lives. My daughter will not know a world where the majority of her friends regularly attend a church service.

And this is okay.

For us, not for the church.

It used to be, that if you were Christian, when you moved to a new town, you sought out the local church with your denominational name on the marquee. First Baptist Churches and Grace United Methodists and All Saints Episcopals could rely on a steady stream of new members to darken their doorways as people moved and families grew. Nowadays, when I can connect with likeminded people (spiritually speaking or not) via Meetup, or when my Facebook network can introduce me to friends of friends in a new city, the church is not needed as a tool to provide me with a support or social network.

It doesn't help that the church is a rigid, inflexible manifestation of an ever-changing God. The fact that many churches and denominations express their beliefs exactly like the first followers of Jesus did makes them increasingly irrelevant. Like the founding fathers, early disciples could never have predicted a world of seven billion people, global air travel, or anything else that makes our world markedly different from the way things were in that first century after the crucifixion. Priests can't marry? Yeah - that seems to be working well. No gay people allowed because being gay is against God's decrees? Wake up.

This inability to change and empathize is what led people like Matt Cheuvront to say goodbye to the church but lets him retain a desire to connect with something bigger than himself. He cites several reasons he left the church (but did not lose his faith in the process), namely that for him, that faith isn't exclusive. It's not meant to be owned by any one belief system, but the church will never let go of this.

There is hope for the church, though. If it's willing to lean into its fear, it will find a place of relevance once again. If the church can learn to stop being defensive when critiqued, learn to compromise on its archaic dogma, and be open to mystery, it can succeed and grow. Jo, another young person, is actively involved in a Quaker community. The emphasis on silence and meditation (good luck finding that in many churches) resonates with her as someone who was "tired of reconciling the minister's agenda with my own spiritual callings."

And this, again, is why the church is scared. Authority can no longer rest in a man (usually) who fumes and stammers and waxes religiously from a pulpit in a way that seems like he (usually) is setting God's agenda. Ministers are reluctant to embrace ambiguity, gray areas, or mysteries for some misguided notion that doing so allows people to question everything. But this would be a good thing. A church that does not allow or embrace questions is one that is not fit to also embrace love and all of its messiness, community and all of its accidents, and growth and all of its pains. 

(Answering questions with "Well, that's what God says," is not an answer, either. What you think God says is merely a book that some really old guys thought was what God said a long time ago. God, in my opinion, is not done talking.)

The church can stick around for another millenium if it's willing to embrace its fear and messy community and stop its judgmental habits. Because with every fear there is hope. If there is no hope in the face of fear, then there will be no moving beyond that fear. In fact, hope is often the only thing that shows up when the night is darkest, providing a warm, thick blanket to get you through those pitch black hours of doubt, anxiety, and desperation. The church can cling to hope - and openly give it to others - in this, its scariest hour.

People are leaving in droves. Families are being raised outside of church walls. Pastors and priests no longer have the community relevance or prominence they once did. And while the church will not (and should not) reclaim the previous stature it enjoyed during the good times, it can still be useful and purposeful during these bad times.

Shanley Knox is writing some of the most thoughtful and beautiful things on the Internet right now, including a post about turning 23. She describes in detail her transformation over the past year of her life, from traveling to Africa to starting a business to chasing love to failing in a few areas. And throughout, I'm drawn to the fact that in the face of her own fear, she found hope while sitting on a pew at a church:

Alone in Portland, I started sitting in the back of a church off Burnside in NE Portland. I doodled quotes on bulletins – things like: “Just when others look and think you’re a person to be pitied is when you – as a person God loves – can know that He is beginning to move for you.”


I became the prophet of all things Jesus, because I was pretty sure most people hadn’t met Him like I did. The Jesus I was told about didn’t like cigarettes, and He didn’t talk about sex. He didn’t like stilettos, and it was for damn sure that He didn’t like me. But, in my corner of Portland, He did. Suddenly, He had saved me from an oppressive situation I couldn’t even see myself. Suddenly, it mattered to Him that a mother in law didn’t take over my life, that the whims of an emotionally abusive partner didn’t throw me off course – and it mattered to Him that I went back to Africa. This time, not running.

I started an anthem – “God sees me. And, He hears me.” Over beers, halfway through a cigarette, on the porch in my sweats trying to sift through my broken pieces – “I know this is crazy. But I think God sees me. And, I think He likes me. I have this feeling that there’s something bigger going on than everything falling apart.”


I hung on through months of silence from someone who I thought I’d make a life with. I hung on through having no idea what it was I was doing. I brought home the gospel of God’s love for the hot mess because I believed it. I figure Jesus loves a good porter just as much as I do, and that He doesn’t so much mind if I smoke while I’m sitting beside Him on my parent’s porch steps.

I figure if He loved me that day, sneaking out of an apartment, barefoot, on the way to discuss my birthday disaster, surely He loves me now. But, I don’t even think it works that way – I think He felt the same way about me then as He does now because it was then, just when I was about to become the train wreck of the century, that God gave me Nakate.

Dear church, I know you are scared. Do not mask this fear with shouting and fake pity. Rather, embrace your uncertainly and offer the hope your founder provided to so many who were never allowed participation in the religious habits of his day. Instead, face your fears of being irrelevant by opening yourself to change in the biggest way, emerging from this dark cloak different than you were in order to find a place in a world that is always different than it was.

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Weekly Roundup - 11.4.11

What I was for Halloween: I was Mr. Noodle. Click on that link to learn more about him, unless you have a toddler and you're already well-versed in Elmo. I didn't care much for Halloween until I became a dad. Now, my goal is for each year's costume to outdo the previous one.

Where I have been speaking:

I had a great time last Friday keynoting the FiftyForward annual staff retreat. We discussed the idea of simplicity, both in your personal and professional lives. I get excited to talk more and more about this topic. Writing Simplify Your Life was just the beginning. Clearly, something about living simpler, more meaningful lives resonates with a lot of people, and I'm going to enjoy this journey.

Great stuff I found online this week: