Wednesday, August 13, 2008

5 simple ways to transfer knowledge between Gen Y and Baby Boomer employees

Currently, there are about 76 million Baby Boomers in the workforce, with 19 million ready to retire by 2011, according to the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). Most organizations have done little or nothing to retain the valuable corporate knowledge retiring employees possess.

In May, i4cp surveyed 118 organizations to find out “what they have done or plan to do about tapping into the knowledge experience of Boomers as they approach retirement.” They found:
  • The majority (71%) of survey respondents said their organization did not incorporate retirement forecasts into knowledge transfer practices.
  • Only one-third incorporate a skills gap analysis into their retirement forecasts.
  • Less than a quarter (23%) said they train managers in the art of critical skills transfer.
Another study by the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations backs up the i4cp findings. In a similar survey from February 2008, the Association found only 28% of over 400 small business owners are working on knowledge transfer plans and only 4% have a formal plan to transfer knowledge to younger employees.

Even with all the buzz and statistics about “Boomer brain drains” and lagging knowledge transfer plans, many have found a simple way to get started - teamwork.

Earlier this year, Tammy Erickson from Harvard Business published an article chronicling the ‘love fest’ between Baby Boomers and Generation Y. Her research found that Gen Yers and Boomers enjoy spending time together and learning from each other.

Gen Ys enjoy the challenge:
“Y’s, when faced with a new challenge, tend to function like a heat-seeking missile – single-mindedly pursuing the person in the organization with the most relevant experience. In many cases, this person is a Boomer – often in some distant part of the organization, or several hierarchical levels removed. This approach reflects how Y’s like to learn – from an expert, just-in-time, and in response to the specific challenge they need to address. And it reflects their comfort in relating to Boomers on a peer basis, developed over an adolescence of friendly interaction with their parents and parents’ friends.”

Boomers like the recognition and a chance to learn:
“Boomers are finding they enjoy the questions (once they get over the shock of receiving emails or text messages from very junior employees) and the obvious recognition of their expertise. They are even learning a lot themselves – new ways of communicating and thinking about getting things done.”

We know it has to be done and employees enjoy learning from each other, but how do we facilitate knowledge transfer across generations?

Margery Weinstein from Training Day shared a great idea in a post yesterday:
“To make knowledge transfer efforts more salient, pair up out-going workers with promising Gen Y and X'ers. Giving their presentations together will spice up the lesson. One way to do it is by having the Gen Y or X'er interview the retiring chieftain about his/her legacy and the company's upcoming challenges. Then have the old guy/gal on the block pose a few questions to the fledgling. Rather than let a perhaps partly loved/partly loathed executive get away with self-congratulatory rambling for an hour, this give-and-take approach is potentially more substantive.

Whether savior or ogre, you thought enough of them to capture their wisdom. They shouldn't mind fielding a few questions about their corporate savior/ogre methodology.”

Embrace the “love fest” and get your Boomers and Gen Y/Gen Xers working together. Here are some ideas for fostering corporate knowledge transfer from older to younger generations:
  • Set up interviews. Use Weinstein’s idea and pair together retiring workers with promising younger employees. Let the pairs interview each other and create a presentation on their findings.
  • Develop a shadowing program. Like an apprentice learning from a skilled craftsman, have your younger employees shadow older workers for a given period of time.
  • Teamwork. Many employees learn best by doing, so find an upcoming project that the pair can work on together.
  • Let them eat cake. Or at least lunch, on the company’s tab. Send the pair to lunch for some one-on-one bonding time. It will help them develop a personal relationship, rather than strictly focusing on work.
  • Make it fun. Set up fun activities around the office for your Gen Y/Boomer pairs to participate in. If they know they can have fun together, there’s something they can learn from each other.

Teamwork between your Baby Boomer and Generation Y employees is the key to slowing the “brain drain.” Find opportunities to connect the generations together and keep valuable corporate knowledge from walking out the door with retiring employees.

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