Love Your Customers and Members but Ignore Your Employees?

I listened to a virtual seminar last week that ASAE & The Center put on about engaging members and staff of younger generations. Since I have a book on the topic, I was interested to hear how this author, Michael Muetzel, tackled the subject. I am pleased to report that at least this guy is toning the hype down. He warned everyone about generalizations, he acknowledged that there are differing interpretations of start and end years, and that it should be based on generational attitudes/values rather than demographic statistics. And he never mocked any of the generations. If anything, he apologized too much when he thought he might be saying something negative. All that was refreshing.

After the overview, he focused mostly on how to engage younger people in the workforce, and he made a provocative point: if the younger generation feels entitled and doesn’t want to "pay their dues," then…okay. Don’t make them pay their dues. That’s the way they are, so deal with it.

This is not a typical reaction! The typical reaction is to tell these kids to grow up, to explain that they don’t understand the work world yet, and, if you’re lucky, you might even hear the story about how I had to walk to school in the snow when I was a kid! I believe it was uphill both ways, too.

Here’s the root of his point, though. In doing his research, he came across companies that were very proud of the fact that they were always a step ahead of their customers in terms of identifying and satisfying customer needs. In other words, if you give the customers what they want, then you’ll be more successful (duh). Obviously this applies to associations as well, in terms of members. You try to understand them, anticipate their needs, wow them, impress them, satisfy them.

But when it comes to your younger employees, you usually just scratch your head and tell them they need to grow up and change (and be more like you). I’m exaggerating a bit, but there is an element of truth here. In general, employees are not given the same "status" that customers or members are given. We just don"t have to care about them as much, satisfy them as much, or respect their needs, wishes, or desires as much.

Why is that? There are lots of studies about how disengaged the workforce is. During the seminar I tweeted some of the stats that he gave us: according to a Gallup survey, 71% of employees are not particularly engaged at work. A Careerbuilder survey suggested that something like 84% of people hate their jobs (although they have an interest in saying that, I think).

So everyone hates their job and isn’t engaged. And we don’t think that’s a problem? Do you think your organization would perform at the exact same level if everyone there were engaged and excited about their work? I tend to think your performance would improve (and honestly I’m kind of surprised I have to spell this argument out). Muetzel showed a statistic at one organization where they saw a 3.44% increase in net margin as a result of increased employee engagement.

So if your younger employees are suggesting that they are not willing to wait ten years before seeing an increase in their job responsibilities, what will you tell them? To keep quiet and get back in line? That in your day everyone had to wait ten years? To stop bothering you because you have important emails to answer?

Or would you view that as important data? Would that be on your radar screen as something that this generation of employees is concerned about, and you’d start to look at your organization and your systems so that you could better serve this important constituency? If you manage people, how much of your time is deovted to figuring out how th make THEM happy in their jobs? I’m not saying you have to do everything your employees say. But the power of engagement is an untapped resource in an era when we’ve squeezed the efficiencies out of almost everything else. This is also what Lencioni’s most recent book is about. More on that later this week.


  1. 26.04.2008 at 5:11 pm

    Jamie — I agree we should treat staffers as internal customers (because they are), but I’m not sure I buy fully into the “if that’s what they want, that’s what they should get” philosophy.
    Example: we had a young part-timer with more than a semester left to complete for her undergraduate degree who became very upset because she wasn’t interviewed for a director-level position. She believed because she reported to the position that she knew it (she didn’t). If she had been a firecracker of an employee, someone who demonstrated strong skills, she would have at least been able to interview. But her work was error-filled, she lacked patience, and when the position was filled she posted instant messages to all of her friends with derogatory remarks about the “old woman” we hired.
    Here’s my point: I’ll treat anyone (regardless of age) like a professional as long as they act the part. If they don’t, they don’t deserve the treatment.
    No matter how much they think they do.
    Otherwise, we’re not doing anyone any good.
    So saith this old fogey. 🙂