Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Government has it Goin' On Regarding the Generations!

Last week, I had the pleasure to sit down to lunch with Sean M. Clayton, Human Capital Specialist at the US Department of Energy, and Jeffrey Vargas, Chief Learning Officer for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Shwew, I know - long and fancy titles and department names. But these two gentlemen were definitely not as laborious or difficult as the words after their names. Indeed, they were young, high-energy, and incredibly committed to helping the federal government address the important generational changes that are impacting its workforce.

They were practically bubbling over with passion and ideas for the issue!

A couple great insights that they shared and I would like to share with you.

"The human capital issues of tomorrow won't be solved without understanding the generational issues of today."


"It used to be that 'knowledge is power'. But now 'passing on knowledge is power'"

It is so nice to find colleagues with a shared mission working in an entirely different sector. Thanks to Sean and Jeff for their time and enthusiasm!

We got connected to Sean and Jeff via Max Steir, President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, which according to their website is "a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to revitalizing our federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way government works." I recommend you check out the great work that Max and his team are doing.

The Partnership for Public Service was founded by philanthropist Samuel J. Heyman. According to the Partnership's website:

"A veteran of the Kennedy Justice Department, Heyman created the Partnership in an effort to restore prestige to government service and reestablish the federal government as an attractive employer for America’s best and brightest as it was when he graduated from law school. Heyman’s actions were motivated by the looming retirement of his generation. He viewed this unprecedented loss of talent from federal service and the increasing inability of government to attract and retain top workers as one of the greatest threats to our national prosperity."

Two important notes on this founding story:

1. This is one of those interesting and rare moments when philanthropists almost directly support the development of government.(Other examples that come to mind are Ted Turner trying to give billions to support the United Nations, which didn't work so he created the independent UN Foundation, and John D. Rockefeller's offering governing control of the soon-to-be Rockefeller Foundation to the Congress, and them rejecting the offer. Can anyone offer other examples and how it worked?)

2. It is excellent to see a baby boomer recognize how his generation can contribute to helping the next generation enter into and shape an industry or field of work. I love the duel mission of engaging a next generation in both serving and transforming the way government works. I hope that more philanthropists and funders begin to see the need need for this right in their home turf - within foundations and the nonprofit sector. Imagine what could happen if a donor or donors saw it as their role to capitalize initiatives through which the next generation is engaged in serving and transforming the way philanthropy and the nonprofit sector work? Well, I guess you can guess where my mind goes on that one...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jay Leno Won't Let Go -- The Beginning of the Boomerang Effect?

Even though he is past the prime of his career, last night Jay Leno came back to NBC with a new prime-time show -- after his retirement from The Tonight Show. Leno is back, and he is right in successor Conan O'Brien's front yard.

As guest Jerry Seinfeld jokingly put it last night, "Back in the 1990s, when we retired, we actually left!"

As I watched this first episode of Jay Leno's second show, it occurred to me that this is indeed art copying life. All across America - in the nonprofit sector and beyond - Baby Boomers are increasingly retirement-challenged.

Some will have trouble exiting jobs due to serious economics challenges. This is real challenge that our society must address by strengthening our social safety net. In the nonprofit realm, which is my greatest concern, we must develop excellent ideas and systems to ensure that retirement from nonprofit careers is viable.

However, other Boomers will not step down even if they could. (Leno certainly doesn't need the cash.)

Unlike their predecessors, it seems, Boomers will forge the 'encore careers' discussed by Civic Ventures. These encore careers, it seems, will be preceded by encore premieres, and, one assumes, encore retirements at some point.

In contrast to Jay, when Johnny retired after his long-term commitment to The Tonight Show, he left with the dignity and finality of the Greatest Generation.

Of course, Jay still has plenty of humor and ideas to contribute to our weeknights, and he can probably make NBC a good little profit. There is no reason he should stop being a productive comedian. In fact, I would think there is much that younger performers can learn from him and his cohort, as he learned from those who came before him.

The key question is: Do Boomers who "boomerang" back into the workforce have to do so in ways that directly compete with their successor generations? Can we find ways to compliment rather than directly compete with one another? Could we actually create new value together rather than cause economic conflict between the generations?

For Conan's sake, and for all of us, I sure hope so.