How Millennials Impact Your Chamber of CommerceThursday, January 22, 2015
Part 2 of the blog series Adapting Your Chamber For The Millennial Generation.
As Chamber of Commerce professionals, we are in a unique role. Our business is to advance and promote every one of our members’ businesses. We are the connectors that make it possible for other people to get things done. Sure, we have our own events and programs, but our success is measured by the success of our larger business community. Pretty cool!
It isn’t easy to be a champion for an entire community of business leaders, and that job is getting harder. Generational change and technology are combining to make much of what we used to do obsolete. So how do Chambers remain influential in this era? The same way we’ve been influential for generations before: innovation and adaptation.
The rise of the Millennial generation has wrought significant changes already, and as these future leaders start companies and take on executive roles in established businesses, we in the Chamber have to be ready. Have you started to prepare?
Speak the Language
One fundamental challenge Chambers face with Millennials is their reticence to join anything. This generation wants to start things, not join things. Their association with your Chamber brings with it lots of baggage (your politics, your brand, etc.) they don’t want. So how do you engage them?
Don’t talk about “events” they should attend. Instead, promote the “opportunities” and “experiences” you have created for them.
Don’t pitch them a “dues” based membership the way you always have. Instead, ask them for an “investment” and be able to describe the return they can expect on that investment.
Don’t ask for “volunteers” for a committee. Instead, invite them to “collaborate” with fellow leaders.
Think words don’t matter? Test these out and see for yourself.
Know your Audience
If your Chamber wants to cultivate the next generation of business leaders, you need a sophisticated understanding of who those leaders will be. All young professionals are not the same, and what appeals to some could turn others away. How can you know what they want? Ask them! They will be happy to tell you, and after you listen they will probably offer to help make things happen.
A young professional network is one way to engage Millennials, but beware! They aren’t eager to join things (see above) and the programs you offer need to cater broadly. What aids a young lawyer in climbing the ladder could be useless to the young entrepreneur who needs professional services and investors for her startup. Get creative and target the right people.
It’s About Culture
Talking properly about your offerings and designing programs to meet their needs is important, but it won’t do any good if there isn’t a cultural fit. Millennials have an almost subliminal obsession with culture, and with finding people, places and organizations that match their values. What are they looking for?
Collaboration - They want a place where individuals can come together and collectively produce something of value. They will give you more in free services than you can imagine, if you can get them excited about the project. How do you get them excited? Engage in a two-way conversation where they feel like they’ve helped to shape the project’s goals.
Distributed Authority - Empowering leaders to feel ownership of projects or experiences will drive them to incredible results. In order to feel the comfort and trust necessary to do this, you need to be very careful who you place in leadership positions. But once you’ve matched the right person with the right project, the rest will take care of itself.
Recognition - After the fun is over you need to spend time thanking those people who made the event or program so great. This does NOT require expensive trinkets (trust me, they don’t want the engraved paperweight), it is about a sincere and personal expression of gratitude. This simple gesture will ensure that person is loyal to your Chamber for their entire career.
Developing a strategy to adapt your Chamber to match the culture and values of the Millennial generation may seem daunting, but it is essential for you to remain influential. After all, influence is about spurring people to action. You can’t generate activity if no one is listening!
In the next post, I take that cold, hard fact and apply it to the most important type of influence: political advocacy. For many Chambers, their government affairs activity is among the most important things they offer members. Getting the next generation involved in advancing your agenda will be a necessary part of innovating and surviving in the 21st century. For this, a match to culture and values is even more important. I’ll explain in my next post.