April 15, 2015

Generational Shifts: Working for the Greater Cause

Last week's article on generational shifts took off across the country and was viewed by close to 4,000 people in just one day. Emails that were sent to me were very positive and requests to reprint the article in HBA publications were numerous. There were a just handful of emails that were kinda, sorta positive with a touch of reprimand because the take away from the article was my recommending the "old folks" step aside for the new group. In two months I'll be 55, old enough to move into an adult retirement community. I have begun receiving emails and snail mails for the AARP and way too many people are calling me sir. I am with you, my fellow baby boomers, and I am not ready to step aside so I know I would never ask anybody else to step aside, unless of course you are blocking progress that is beneficial to the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) welfare, stability and growth.

It's funny how an article can be read and perceived. 

I applaud the baby boomers within NAHB who stay active after 20, 30, 40 plus years of dedicated volunteerism. I just lost a very dear friend to cancer who was an NAHB leader and housing legend, nationally and at state, who was in the 55 plus range in years of extremely active volunteerism when he passed. He was a great mentor to me and others and believed that change in our NAHB, while inevitable, could and would include him because he stayed current with an eye and ear on tomorrow's advance. Yet there are some who aren't current with the ever changing, and at breath taking speeds, needs of a 21st century world and they can't see the proverbial forest for the trees. A few don't want to lose position, as if they are entitled to position and will protect it like a dog with a steak bone.  
Here's what we are all "entitled" to as building industry proponents and volunteers in NAHB; the right to help protect our industry in the present and since our present is always moving towards the future, we can confidently take pride in the fact that we are working towards a consistent, never ending vigilance to encourage the American Dream of home ownership. What we are not entitled to is holding on to positions. We are not entitled to taking care of now, however long an individual's now lasts. Our association is a great association, made great by hard working volunteers and exceptional staff. But, and I write this with utmost respect, true leaders of our association are truly protectors of the vitality of our industry. The true leaders want what's best for today but their love of home building transcends time, extending to the next guardians of NAHB. 
No, the fact is I am NOT asking anyone to step aside for the next generation. I am asking today's leaders to embrace the next generation by incorporating them on our team. I am asking today's leaders to understand that NAHB staff has many talents and is very adept at change. 100% of staff does not have to focus on one singular issue as some elder statesmen may think. My mind goes back to discussions of change during the Great Housing Depression and some would say, and I paraphrase, "we need to focus on getting housing back online. This initiative (plug in any here) should be shelved to a time certain or a certain measuring stick, say after we have hit one million starts." A sound housing industry IS NAHB's top priority but I'm amazed that anyone would think that staff could not have multiple, industry AND association, tasks on their list of action items.

Today's generation of Xs and Ys know how to multi-task and I'm quite sure that they would not want productive conversation shelved for the sake of a one track mindset. Two weeks ago I spoke to the "Young Professionals Group" at the Builders League of South Jersey. Two days ago I spoke to the "Young Guns Committee" at the Shore Builders Association of Central New Jersey. My take away from this particular meeting are echoed in the below bullet points. The group was vibrant, energized and ready to conquer the world. THEY were the ones who explained in a very firm and concise voice that they do want to volunteer but  cannot volunteer if they feel muted or pressured to back away from new visions. They are not impatient; they are business professionals who value their time.

Here's what I'm reasonably sure of;
  • We won't have a great pool of future national leaders until, and unless, we get over the fear of being "aged out" of volunteerism. Aging does not diminish your volunteerism, your leadership or your value to the association. UNLESS, of course, you feel entitled to stay in place which takes aging in place to a whole new level.
  • You know, I'm sure, the saying "we've beat this horse to death." If we continue to have meetings where we beat a horse to death, resuscitate the horse and then beat it to death again, we will lose any desire from the next generation to volunteer. Discuss an initiative, identify the outcome you would hope for and then build strategies around the end result. Move forward and make sure WE dictate the course of action not the financial environment. 
  • The next generation wants to stop being viewed as "the next generation." They are building industry professionals. They are here, now, engaged in home building. They are going to move forward, with or without the boomers. 
  • Stop the "remember when" conversations and "we've always done things this way" mindset. Oh yes, and the "we tried that ten years ago and it didn't work" answer that will kill any good mood. While it's a great history lesson it will damper the enthusiasm of the next generation because they won't know what you're talking about.
I also believe that;
  • The next generation has family and work time commitments, just like we did at that age. They have families; some are just staring while others are progressing through grade school and into high school. The next generation is coaching their children in soccer, little league or youth football. They are committed to being there for their children through school plays, boy scouts and girl scouts, proms and dances. 
  • Unless the next generation is either a) independently wealthy or  b) not interested in being in our industry for more than a few years, they will need NAHB because NAHB is the ONLY association that has THEIR best interests at heart. Making the correlation between personal life and financial wherewithal is vital in gaining their undivided attention and igniting an association passion. Their family's well being, supporting outside of school activities, family vacations, college funding and, as important if not more, having a decent roof over their heads. This is all obtained by having finances that can meet the needs of the next generation's familial needs. The next generation of home building professionals will need the continued victories of NAHB to keep their respective lifestyles intact, or improved. Do they know this undisputed fact?
  • You want them to take time and volunteer at the HBA? Do not squander their time. Embrace it by having efficient meetings that have a clear cut reason for taking place with a firm grasp on the desired outcome. Think of the next generation's time as an ATM card. Instead of dollars, hours. Most people do not have an infinite amount of dollars in their ATM. You choose withdrawals wisely and when absolutely needed.. This should be the strategy for asking for someone's time; it's not infinite, choose and withdraw my time wisely and with meaning. They should leave each meeting better educated and with a sense that their time is truly aiding the cause.
It really is that simple. Embrace, enlighten and engage the next generation. Like I wrote above, I am an aging boomer that, due to the housing crisis that recently passed, doesn't have retirement in my short range plans. I need NAHB because I need to maintain my lifestyle and prepare for that unforeseen retirement. I will remain active in NAHB, local, state and national. Why? If I fail, it won't be from the comfort of my couch. It will be from doing everything I can to succeed. If I am successful, I will take great pride in knowing I was not on that couch letting others do for me and by being involved as an NAHB volunteer, I helped. I need the next generation because they will help ensure my future, their future, our future, IF we can bring to them VALUE and a sense of OWNERSHIP while volunteering. 

We all see our younger selves in the mirror. There is nothing wrong with that image. As long as we can all understand that the association is for our industry, we as impassioned volunteer boomers will embrace the next generation, both X and Y, just like they will have to embrace the Millennials in the next "how do we bring in the next generation" discussions in 2030, which is in a blink of an eye.  Maybe, just maybe, with the help of the next generation of today, I will be retired by then.

P.S. I received two emails since my Young Guns meeting, on from a third generation builder member and one from a third generation associate member. What is eye opening here, for me anyway, is that I knew and worked with both their GRANDFATHERS!

Here is an excerpt from the builder, Michael Kokes, Kokes Organization:

"Our Young Guns’s meeting was an opportunity for you to peer into what we have been organically growing and cultivating at the Shore Builders Young Professionals committee for the past year or so. 
As a side note, one misconception I want to get out of the way, is of our name. Although we are younger in relativity to the rest of our industry, I don’t want people to think of us as “kids” who are wildly pontificating about unrealistic expectations. Furthermore, I encourage anyone to attend our meetings, as we enjoy the perspectives of everyone, regardless of where they are in their careers. We like to think of our committee as more of a think tank, then a youth oriented “club.”

With that, our committee embodies a few things. First, that the youth of our industry have a lot of great ideas and passion for what we are doing. Second, that for any youth to be in this industry right now, you have to be either a legacy person or extremely ambitious, as there are much more “trendy” industries to be involved in. Finally, that our perception of our industry is untarnished from the history of the past few market cycles. To elaborate, we are unhindered by previous failures or experiences, which allow us to explore all ideas to the fullest.

Another great aspect of our group has been the social component. Despite what many “experts” say about us, we do still enjoy meeting face-to-face to discuss ideas. We actually tried to implement an online forum for our group, which ultimately was not successful as people preferred discussing topics face-to-face. Sure, we utilize technology to stay in touch, but the bulk of what I feel we have accomplished has been in a face-to-face group setting"

Here is an excerpt from the associate, Rich Robinson, Member Rebate Program;

You are a wealth of knowledge offering insight on the Local, State, and NAHB levels that every member should find valuable. Your guidance, leadership, and advice to our Local HBA Young Professionals Committee is extremely welcomed and appreciated. You helped to energize our group and we'll all be better from it. As a 3rd generation Associate member, I’ve known you as a colleague and friend for many years and I always make it a priority to listen intently to what you have to say about the HBA. Whether it’s in person or through your outstanding blog, Association Maximization, you continually help members of the HBA gain a better understanding of their HBA investment and how to maximize the return."



Toy Wood said...

Mike I love your stuff and you really hit the nail on the head AGAIN! I hope young and old alike read and understand this article. I am sharing with my TEAM, our YPs and the entire membership! Thanks for keeping us informed and on our toes.

Michael Kurpiel said...

Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad I could help a little.