Sunday, April 26, 2009

April 26, 2009


Hi everybody.

"And the beat goes on.................."


Phase II of the Youth in the Arts Project (commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation) consisted of eight focus groups comprised of a balanced, representative sampling of Bay Area arts organization administrators. Six of the groups were composed of Generation X and Millennial aged participants, while the other two were baby boomers. Each Focus Group met three times for a total of approximately ten hours over a three month period. Each group was asked to identify:

(i). The differences in, and impacts of, multiple generations working side by side in the workplace;

(ii). The obstacles and barriers (from different generational experiences within their workplace experience) to pursuing a career path in arts administration (posed because of their generational position);

(iii). The negatives and positives of working as a junior level arts administrator; and

(iv). Recommendations (from Gen X, Millennials and Boomers) for specific kinds of actions that would address the negatives, obstacles and barriers, and their perceived needs to more successfully pursue an arts administration career path.

click here to go to the Hewlett Foundation website page where you can download both the Executive Summary and the Full Report: (Report available for download under the heading LIBRARY on the right hand side).

We learned:

1. That there are sharp, deep differences in the generations working side by side in our organizations --

(a). in the common experiences that shaped each generation's outlook, perceptions and lives

(b). in the way each generation views work, the workplace, career advancement, the work / life balance, productivity, decision-making, authority, expertise, advancement & promotion, technology, and virtually every other aspect of our profession

(c). in the expectations, assumptions, and preferences of each generation

2. That there are numerous points at which there is real or potential conflict when generational differences intersect and collide, and that these differences and collisions impact productivity, staff relationships, levels of job satisfaction, recruitment / retention and the general workplace atmosphere.

3. That these differences and potential collision points more often than not lie beneath the surface, and senior staff are largely ignorant of, or oblivious to, the importance of the differences to junior level staff. (We also learned that insensitivity to and ignorance of why generations react differently, have different values, ways of doing things and assumptions and priorities is a two-way street, and that all generations could benefit from more fully understanding those basic differences).

4. That from the perspective of younger generations, sensitivity to and manaqement of the generational differences is largely non-existent. And that from the perspective of older generations, the "problems" created by failure to successfully manage different generations within the workplace are largely overblown and non-existent.

5. That there are numerous ways to address the issues and to improve the management of the different generations working side by side that have more to do with changing the mangement style and culture of our organizations than to do with spending money or time.

Specifically, while compensation ranks high on the list of most junior level Gen X and Millennial employees, it is not the single most important determinant in staying on an arts administration career path.

From the perspective of the younger generations, the following issues are the most important in the generational divide

(i). Respect / trust and the (aversion to) allocation of real decision making authority to younger staff.

(ii). The dearth of opportunities for professional training / mentoring and skills acquisition necessary for career advancement

(iii) The lack of effective, consistent and on-going communication and (from the younger generational viewpoint) being kept in the loop.

(iv). The lack of promotion / advancement opportunities

(v). The profound technology gap - both in terms of understanding of, and appreciation for, the maintenance of current technological capacity.

(vi) Senior management's erroneous assumptions as to younger generations sharing their exact sense of work ethic and approach to work and the workplace.

We also learned that the younger generations were attracted to and stayed with an arts administration career path principally because of:

(i). The nature of the work and the satisfaction of working in the creative cultural sector

(ii). Workplace flexibility

(iii). Learning opportunities, including specfically creative skills enhancement (e.g., set design, marketing et. al).

(iv). Peer networking

(v). An atmosphere of 'risk-taking'.

The challenge to our sector is NOT in recruiting new, talented and capable young leaders -- the current economic situation has made it a "buyer's" market for jobs. The challenge is rather how we most effectively manage the generations working side by side, so that we create the best possible working environment for all employees and thus optimize performance, minimize turnover, and maintain optimum productivity. This is the first time in organizational dynamics (in both the public and private, "for profit" and nonprofit sectors) where we have four distinct generations working together. In the larger sense, the issue is how the transfer of power and the transition of leadership from one generation to another will play itself out in the next decade. The way we address the very real generational challenges will impact how smoothly that transition takes place.

While the current economic situation means that most arts organizations are pre-occupied with fundamental issues of survival, and thus aren't likely to believe they have the time or resources to address the generational divide, that divide is real and will not go away. It is incumbent on our field to understand and appreciate core issues that affect how successful we are as business people and to do whatever can be done now to address those issues. Clearly, we cannot just throw money we don't have at problems and challenges. But not all strategic planning involves funding efforts. Much of the generational challenges are about changing the existing (and long standing) workplace and governance culture.

The first and most important step that can be taken right now is for organizations to learn as much as they can about the generational realities and challenges, where collisions are likely, what impact they can and do have, and what can be done to more effectively manage those differences, challenges and collision points within the workplace. It is important for both senior leadership and the younger generation arts administrators to work together to communicate to understand and appreciate what is going on, and then to jointly figure out ways to resolve whatever barriers may exist because of those differences. Just talking about the issue; clearing the "air" and sharing impressions and perceptions will go a long way to arriving at real solutions to real conflicts, and will, in the long run, help to minimize problems.

The second thing that can be done now is for junior level younger generation arts administrators to organize and empower themselves to address the challenges facing them. Existing Emerging Leadership programs and forums might be a good place to start to focus on the specific challenges detailed in this report.

It would be a serious mistake to ignore the issue, minimize or marginalize its importance, or postpone dealing with it to some future date. There will be very real negative consequences to a collective failure to deal with these issues.

The full report gives a brief thumb nail summary of the generational differences, how they came about, and where the collision points might arise. It also details the younger generational viewpoints (in their own words) and makes specific recommendations that organizations and funders might consider. I hope it will be widely read and that it can serve as the starting point for more meaningful discussions about how we address the challenges -- for both individual organizations and leaders and for our funders.

There is, fortunately, widespread recognition among our leadership and in the foundation community, that this is a major issue. I would like to thank the Hewlett Foundation for commissioning this study and for their committment to figuring out ways to support the arts community in addressing the challenges it details. I am particularly indebted to Moy Eng and Marc Vogl.

Please read the full report. I believe you will find it illuminating with information you can use to better manage your own organization. I suggest you widely circulate it among your staff and board and use it to begin an internal dialogue.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.