Parents No Longer Just At the Stage Door

Recently I have been talking about the needs of the next generation of leaders in comparison with those of earlier generations. On the whole I think that those who feel the next generation lacks the commitment to the cause exhibited by theirs can respect the desire for a better work-life balance.

There is a characteristic of the next generation that might be a thornier problem for arts organizations–their parents. The term helicopter parents was originally applied to parents who “hovered” over their children when they went to college. The parents would bug professors about their children’s grades, dorm staff about room mates and in some extreme situations, would actually complete assignments for them.

As the students graduated, the parents began showing up at the work place, at interviews and going so far as to fill out applications and negotiate salaries for their children.

Now I don’t quite know if this is necessarily going to be anything new for performing arts organizations who have always had stage parents hovering around. However, a decision needs to be made on the organization’s policy on parental involvement. As the Forbes article I linked to above notes, some companies are embracing parents. Others feel it is not appropriate for parents to be involving themselves in decisions being made at work and have generated formal responses to the issue.

Fortunately, my mother restricts her complaints about how many hours I am putting in at work to me.

While I have known about helicopter parents for quite awhile now, I haven’t run across any cases anywhere I worked. (Well, one intern’s parents followed him cross country to check out his work site but didn’t contact us past that point except to make a donation.) What impelled me to cover the subject was a video the Next Generation Consulting blog linked to in the entry on mentoring I cited last week. The video is about an hour or so long on the subject of mentoring at accounting firms.

As the speaker, Rita Keller, discussed the issue of parental involvement, she noted that employers needed to be prepared to have the new employees making a lot of personal calls or texting throughout the day. Now if the parents are prodding their kids to get to bed and wake up on time, this can be beneficial to a company. The area she mentions that I believe would be the biggest concern for employers is lack of initiative and decision making skills. Because these young people have consulted with their parents and friends on so many issues in their lives multiple times a day, they tend to crave/require specific guidance or advice and lack the ability to act independently.

The results of helicopter parenting and the general technological environment the next generation of workers have grown up in is the subject of a really good article from HR Magazine that addresses the issue and how to structure the work environment to best channel younger workers’ energies. There are some benefits these folks bring like familiarity with technology and a facility of working with groups and multi-tasking. But there are also some disadvantages too like indiscretion, unrealistic expectations and impatience.

Stopgap Mentoring

Over at her blog on the Next Generation Consulting website, Rebecca Ryan asks, Is Mentoring a Coverup for Poor Management? According to an article she links to at the end of her entry, most companies are actually coaching rather than mentoring. Coaching essentially consists of helping someone fulfill their function for the company whereas mentoring is more of a customize relationship aimed at growing the person.

In Ryan’s view, most mentoring programs are essentially buddy programs. Whereas:

“True Mentoring occurs when an elder’s intention is to entrust another with the welfare of her or his estate (or something similarly signigicant.) In business, this means that one generation of leaders takes the next generation under its wing and over time, teaches them everything they know….So you see, Mentoring is intended to occur alongside a transfer of responsibility. Most Mentoring programs have no such intention.”

The problem she feels lies in the fact that companies try to use mentoring to fill in gaps but don’t commit to designing and implementing the program resulting in low retention and burn out.

The next generation of leaders are looking for mentoring and presumably want it to be high quality. Just as interns don’t want to just be a photocopier, new employees don’t want a coaching only experience. So if you have a mentoring program, the question to ask is, Is it any good?

Constructing Leaders

Some disclosure right from the beginning. While most of my involvement with the project I am about to describe will be voluntary, I am receiving some travel and lodging in return for my participation.

I have recently been chosen to participate as a lead partner in an very intriguing project. There is a new arts facility being planned for Bellevue, WA and I have been asked to provide input into it’s planning and construction. I assume I was chosen for my past work experience but especially because I provided input into the theatre portion of a community center the Salvation Army is building with a bequest from Ray and Joan Kroc.

But providing input into building projects is no big deal, right? What makes this so intriguing is the process the organization is using to gather and integrate the input. All ten of the lead partners (later phases will involve additional people) were chosen from among those who have participated in the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Emerging Leadership Institute. The thought behind involving ELI alumni is to tap into the collective knowledge and experience of people in mid and senior level positions who are involved in both overall policy making as well as day to day operations.

What is deemed of additional importance is providing professional development opportunities for people in these positions. The lack of these opportunities has been a concern since I first attended ELI. In explaining this need, the pilot project document quotes an address Ben Cameron of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation made to International Association of Assembly Managers about the next generation of leaders’ view of careers in the arts which appears to be pretty much what he said to the Southern Arts Federation.

In addition to providing excellent career advancement opportunities, they hope to create a template with which future projects may be built. While I will be traveling to learn more about the site and talk with those involved, a lot of the work I will perform will apparently be online discussions and reactions to materials posted by staff. Perhaps the fact that I actively use a blog was also a factor in being chosen since that will be one of the tools that will be used.

I have signed a non-disclosure agreement agreeing to keep many of the details confidential. From my experience on the Kroc Center project I understand that there is some information that can also prevent the organization from receiving the most competitive bids for services too. I am generally pretty conservative about revealing what I really know about situations so I don’t perceive any difficulties in my participation.

What I do hope to be able to do is report on some of the general topics that are discussed that are worthy of consideration by arts organizations everywhere– “How does the design make passersby feel welcomed?” “How does the design facilitate emergency evacuation.” Though I will steer clear of publicizing some questions that while valuable to ponder and a valid part of the design process, might cause people to lose confidence in the organization without reason–“Aren’t you concerned that that placement there might have a potent for a toxic spill?”

Needless to say I am pleased to be involved with the project. But also gratified to learn that people are seriously thinking about ways to create opportunities for leaders to attain career and personal growth.

Not As Bad As Reported

For those who have been eagerly awaiting a post on the implications of the chicken dance at weddings on the greater culture as a whole, I am sorry to disappoint you, I didn’t gain any insights while at my sister’s wedding. I don’t even think they played the chicken dance, much to my relief.

I did have a brief conversation with my other sister’s mother-in-law who founded a social service non-profit and is approaching retirement in the next 18 months. I asked her about the succession planning she was doing since that has been on my mind of late. Pretty much every element mentioned in the reports from the Myer Foundation and Building Movement held true. It was interesting to actually speak to someone about these trends having read so much about them.

In her organization, the budget was about $200,000 too small to necessitate having the type of person on staff who would be groomed to take over. None of the other people in senior management positions want to take over so her board will have to look outside to replace her. She also commented that since most people only stay with an organization 5-7 years, there hadn’t been a lot of opportunity to cultivate someone to succeed her. I was grateful to learn that in general, she didn’t really question the commitment of emerging leaders in her field to the work.

She had taken a seminar on Founders Syndrome which she had found quite valuable. She talked about having that problem with her board when many of the original members left. (The organization is going on 25 years old now.) She admits that her agency will probably have to deal with at least an off-shoot of this problem when she leaves. Some of the staff have said they are too old to get used to working with a new boss and will leave when she retires. While this will leave one less person who will resist the inevitable change a new executive director will bring, it also removes some of the institutional memory from the agency.

As with many of those in the aforementioned reports, she wonders if she can afford to retire as planned on what she has saved given the recent changes in the economy.

I don’t often get the opportunity to speak with people in the non-profit field outside of the arts at any length so it was interesting to hear so much of what I had read verified. When I read reports, I often forget that the trends being reported are cumulative of many respondents and that every element doesn’t apply to every organization out there. While my sister’s mother-in-law faced many of the challenges outlined in the reports I have read, her agency hasn’t experienced them all. Those they have encountered haven’t been as big a cause of concern.