Passing the baton
By Kendra Scorsone, PMP
ILLUSTRATION BY MARK ALLEN MILLER
Families hand down stories and heirlooms to preserve what's most precious to them. Organizations should take a similar approach as they face an unprecedented generational transition in the workforce.
In the United States alone, 10,000 workers reach retirement age every day. By 2030, the percentage of people age 65 or older will rise from 13 percent to 20 percent as the baby boomer generation ages out of the workforce. (The post-World War II baby boomer generation was born between 1946 and 1964.) This enormous outflow of talent could strain organizations’ ability to operate. In light of this demographic shift, the smooth and effective transfer of knowledge across generations becomes even more important to the success of organizations.
This knowledge transfer challenge is complicated by the fact that generations can differ greatly in work attitudes, learning styles, and how they perceive and value information. Therefore, a knowledge transfer plan must address generational differences. The following tips will help organizations tailor their programs to address employees’ unique needs.
A successful knowledge transfer program can't only be about knowledge. Of course senior employees know a lot of facts, but a program also needs to value and capture their skills and experience. To achieve this, try a shadowing program in which younger employees observe older ones during a project. Then make sure the younger worker has a chance to undertake hands-on activities, too.
Organizations can deliberately structure work teams to ensure a diversity of generations working together. This approach allows knowledge to be transferred informally, in the course of everyday work.
2. TRY CO-MENTORING.
Organizations should offer programs where baby boomers and millennials jointly mentor each other. Baby boomers can provide perspective on organizational history and routines, and millennials can share their knowledge and experience with technology. (The millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, was born between 1981 and 1997.) The traditional mentoring relationship is based on the idea that a senior worker is sharing his or her expertise with a younger colleague. A better approach recognizes that both generations of workers have much to offer each other.
In a previous job, I developed a mutually beneficial co-mentoring relationship with a senior colleague. He was from the World War II generation, and I am part of Generation X, generally defined as being born between 1965 and 1980. Initially, we viewed each other with a degree of suspicion and uneasiness. But we eventually overcame these feelings as he helped me understand the company's organizational processes and routines, and I helped him on computer training and skills. The relationship was valuable to both of us, and the company.
3. CONSIDER A SOFT RETIREMENT PLAN.
Organizations should allow baby boomers to continue to work on a part-time or consulting basis after they leave full-time employment. Scripps Health is an example of a company that allows older workers to undertake a phased-in retirement over several years and even return later through contract work and consulting. This type of system can facilitate a longer window for knowledge transfer.
4. FOSTER AN INTERGENERATIONAL ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE.
Ideally, baby boomers, Generation Xers and millennials should work together routinely. For example, organizations can deliberately structure work teams to ensure a diversity of generations working together.
This approach allows knowledge to be transferred informally, in the course of everyday work. It also builds trust and mutual respect among the generations, which allows more formal knowledge transfer programs to run effectively.
The generation now beginning to retire provided a strong base for global industry to prosper. Its knowledge, skills and experience cannot be replaced simply by the introduction of computers or other technology. Successful organizations will seek strategies that engage all generations and ensure the transfer of critical skills and knowledge to younger generations. At the same time, the newer generations’ approach to learning should be respected and leveraged to ensure a successful knowledge transfer program. PM
Kendra Scorsone, PMP, is an engagement leader at ADP, Dewitt, Michigan, USA.
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JUNE 2015 PM NETWORK