Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Dell Jacoby of BridgeWorks Answers Your Questions

Our Thanks to Dell Jacoby of BridgeWorks for taking the time to answer questions that we did not have time to cover during our panel discussion.

Why is there a disproportionate number of GenXers? Why so few?

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the zero growth population movement began to influence birthrates in the United States. Since the introduction of the birth control pill, many women and families had the option of choosing the number of children they would have. Then, in 1973, Roe v. Wade became law and also influenced the choice in number of children. These changes in choices, coupled with the zero growth movement and the fact that many Xers are children of the trailing edge of the Boomer generation, when population numbers began to drop off, is reflective of the lower demographic for GenXers.

How do you suggest GenXers approach Baby Boomer management with their “why” questions so that they are seen as valid contributions to the organization? How do we get the Boomers to give the freedom to implement some of the changes the GenXers suggest?

First be clear on why you are asking “why.” Is the “why” question being asked to understand processes or the underlying reason behind these processes? If so, then be sure to articulate that intent. If the question being asked is a challenge to the way things “have always been done” then you have some homework to do!

To begin your homework, you must understand that all functions of organizations, whether libraries or not, must be directly tied to the mission and goals of the organization. In order to be an effective change agent, you must understand the mission and goals first and be able to articulate how your proposed changes support those mission and goals. Starting with this in mind, you may find a willing ear, regardless of the generation you are interacting with! A challenge that is not grounded in need and/or mission is often perceived by all generations as aggressive.

If you do your homework and are able to articulate the need for the change in relation to mission and goals, you will have a better chance to get your point across. Your argument is not based on generations, but on service delivery and mission and goals.

Having said that, let’s look at the generational issue. Boomers are primed to begin leaving a legacy and are looking for mentoring opportunities. This is a generation of change agents, a generation who sought to affect change on all levels of society. This is also a generation with a competitive nature and one suffering from burnout both in their careers and at home. Knowing this, how can you build a bridge between your desired change and the person who is the gatekeeper? Again, is your question a challenge to the status quo without an answer or a possible solution to a problem that could lead to the opportunity to take on a project under mentorship? If you wish to succeed, try approaching the Boomer with the desire to learn and the willingness to be mentored on your project. If you are a Boomer, use this opportunity to guide someone else in doing the project you do not have the time to do. This is a great opportunity to guide the future of your library, mentor an enthusiastic change agent and keep tabs on a change project that could get our to hand without your guidance.

Many of the Xer generation are perceived as impatient and unwilling to accept direction. This is in direct conflict with the competitive nature of the Boomer generation and complicated by the burnout many Boomers are feeling. Don’t forget that communication is the point of all generational work. How do you communicate with the other generations? In this case, try to catch yourself when you fall into a judgment mode and reframe it to a collaborative mode (regardless of your generation.) You will be amazed at the great things you may learn from a Boomer and you have so much to offer the Boomer in the way of solutions to problems or processes they do not have the time to address!

How do trailing edge members of the generations fit into this picture?

A great question! Trailing and leading edge members of each generation, what we call Cuspers, are a huge asset to any team. They help to bridge the two generations in that they have a foot in both worlds. A Cusper on your team will assist in helping you and other members of the team understand the motivations, frustrations and reactions of team members. If you are a Cusper, use your insight to build communication and team understanding – this experience will serve not just you but the team and your library!

How do we appeal to one age group without making another age group feel left out when limited funding prevents us from doing everything we want?

Funding is and will probably always be an issue for California Libraries. In making decisions on how to spend the limited dollars we have, we owe an obligation to serve all constituents regardless of generation. When we make funding decisions, do we need to base them on generation? And if so, what is the goal? Technology is often the area in which this question comes up most. The important piece to remember is that all generations use technology. So the question then becomes not how do we appeal to one generation and not the others, but how do we appeal to all generations according to their needs? Funding prohibits libraries from “doing everything we want,” so decisions must be made on what is possible.

One way to approach this problem is to design a needs assessment survey for library patrons that can be sorted by generation. This can serve as a guide post for providing those services. Fairly often, I have found that a good needs assessment survey leads me to solutions that do not necessarily require a change in funding but a change in attitude. The needs of one generation may provide an answer to the needs of another, such as understanding technology – could a Millennial provide computer training to a Traditional, who could in turn provide mentoring and guidance to the Millennial? Technology provides a great format for this type of cross generation mentoring, up and down the generational divide. This type of “out of the ordinary” thinking is a great opportunity to get the input from all members of your team and perhaps to enable a team member(s) to take on a project that will enable them to learn how the library can serve everyone.

The librarian assigned to me is out-of-touch, out-of-date, and completely supported by library administration. Suggestions?

This question makes me wonder what the agenda is here. Is this judgment or impatience, or truly a desire to be a change agent to benefit the library and its constituency? I challenge the asker to take a look at the intent of the question and see if s/he can come to a place of understanding the system in which they work, not just what is wrong with the person running the system.

I understand how frustrating the “incremental” nature of public service can be. In a system in which change is not embraced or is embraced slowly, change agents have a doubly hard task ahead of them. Again, success relies on your ability to communicate - communication is the basis of all generational work. When a change agent Xer challenges an incrementalist Traditionalist or a competitive Boomer, the mixture is like oil and water! If the communication approach is one of challenge, you will not be a successful change agent. If the communication is one of collaborative solution seeking, the prospect for success grows. Try to understand what is motivating you first and then what motivates your librarian. If you truly wish to engender change for the benefit of your constituency, then make changes according to the system you are in. This may mean tiny steps when you want big ones, but many tiny steps lead to large leaps.

You may find that shaping yourself to the system you are in provides you with great experience towards the future, although you may not be able to effect change now. You may find that seeking mentoring from you librarian gives him/her the opportunity to leave a legacy and gives you a better understanding of the system and therefore a better opportunity to introduce change within the system. Do not take it for granted that change is not possible, challenge your perception and do your homework. Show them a reason to change and provide the road map to solution.

No comments: