Knowledge transfer programs are key in upcoming workforce generation shifts.
By Adam Lloyd
My father just turned 65 this April, has worked for one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense companies for the last 30 years, and refers to himself as “one of the last dinosaurs” left in his group. He joins 78 million baby boomers (born 1946–1964) who are currently reaching retirement age at the rate of 10,000 per day, which will continue over the next 19 years. This generation has had a tremendous impact on the current workforce and there is a need to squeeze every ounce of knowledge and experience from the soon-to-be retirees. With the figurative and literal clock ticking, there is an opportunity to develop younger and newer generations to have a similar effect. So who better to ask about this movement than a baby boomer?
Dad, why do you think you have been retained as long as you have?
That’s a great question (laughs). In an environment that defines success by profitability and works from contract to contract, it takes specialization and processes that have been put to test. My background is somewhat specialized. I guess I have been part of creating what works and what does not, 30 years of trial and error. Work ethic has always been instilled in me.
How are you working with younger generations in your organization today?
I am fortunate to be in an environment that hires students who have been at the top of their class and exceptional external employees. Because we are not overly supervised, it’s common to see very bright new hires get lost in meetings, not connect culturally, and make unsuccessful attempts to reinvent the wheel. I try to mentor and improve efficiency with younger generations. I can save them time by teaching process we’ve created over the years, help them make personal transitions into our culture, and serve as a safety net to rely on for questions and advice. Believe me, I gain a lot too—they teach me about new technology, tools, and communication.
What value do you think you are adding to the younger generations?
Our diversity, ethics, and mentorship committees could probably answer that better. I would like to think aside from the technical and process teachings, I am making their new career life an easier and more comfortable adjustment as they are to my exit. I believe I am a quick go-to, supplementing the more formal training and orientation sessions. They are more confident in meetings by relating to the culture, saving some time in project delivery, and hopefully will be better prepared as future leaders.
Hearing this directly from a baby boomer reiterates the point that organizations taking a proactive approach to planning for this generation’s retirement have a lot to gain. Well-planned knowledge transfer to new, external hires through mentoring and assimilation programs is proven effective. So now the key question is: How do you achieve success here? What’s the recipe? Having worked with public and private companies from start-ups to Fortune 100’s, I realized it’s no surprise that organizations operate uniquely.
However, there are fundamental principles to create a foundation for backfilling the positions of the transitioning baby boomers while leveraging their years of expertise. The most successful organizations accomplishing these initiatives have been proactive in their strategies, seamless in the execution of experience transfer and transition, and have earned internal buy-in through education. Companies that do it right have a sense of self and apply thoughtful consideration to the size and scope of their business and cultural needs. Once you understand your own corporate make-up and human capital objectives, a set of key steps can be applied to harness the generation shift with ease.
The first step in the formation of a transition or assimilation program for external talent succession planning is to determine if you have the internal infrastructure to execute the program. Is bringing in an external firm to guide and advise your teams necessary? An in-house team will know the organization and culture, understand the talent that currently exists, which areas of the organization are at risk to retire, and the current tactics to bring in outside talent. An outside firm offers an objective assessment of your organization and the best practices of previously leading similar initiatives.
Whether managing internally or via a third party, organizations must strategically develop a leadership bench through early preparation for knowledge transfer. More time equates to a smoother transition—especially for specialized roles—and results in greater success adapting new employees to a corporate culture that emphasizes mentorship.
Developing the next generation of your organization requires sourcing for talent, an acquisition plan, and a transition program. The talent may exist internally or may stem from recent graduates, competitors, or target companies. The hiring phase—whether done internally or through external sources—will require the incentive to attract talent into a mentorship program. The career value of exposure to various functional areas through business rotational programs is a unique opportunity for new hires to expand skill sets while gaining baby boomer perspective from multiple divisions. Upward mobility, whether on the front end or back end, may lead to a faster track to leadership or increased responsibility.
With incentives in place for building future talent, what’s the motivator for exiting baby boomers? I think back to the conversation with my dad. The value is seeing work done efficiently, the moral accomplishment of helping new hires, and continuing their dedication to a company they have been loyal to. Some companies even offer monetary incentives to stay on for a duration of time—basically a contract to mentor—to help develop an incoming class of new hires, to guide a project, or to formally join internal committees.
A strategic assimilation and training program must be developed and tailored to your company’s needs. If a rotational program is selected, it’s a matter of identifying the businesses and functions to deploy it. If direct mentorship is chosen, understanding where the most capable leaders in your organization sit is critical. Any approach starts with gaining buy-in and commitment throughout multiple tiers of the organization.
Investment from the baby boomers to actively participate and train the next generation is a necessity to success. Some individuals will embrace the mentorship opportunity as a meaningful responsibility, while others—as they are nearing the end of their careers—may not be as fully committed. Incentive—whether its recognition or monetary—can be a differentiator. Internal education of a streamlined program will get everyone on the same page and increase the likelihood of both buy-in and successful participation.
Staffing and recruiting teams are the first impression external candidates will have so be sure they are knowledgeable, soft in approach, and committed to selling the program. HR teams need to educate recruiters on the assimilation and training program. Results-driven activity and seamless onboarding for new hires is key.
The hiring managers’ dedication to future leadership will result in the knowledge transfer from baby boomers to future generations while injecting diversity into the organization with a fresh wave of external experiences from new hires. There is still time to leverage all that the soon-to-be retirees have to offer. Although my father is a self-proclaimed “dinosaur,“ I feel he believes he has many contributions left. I imagine there are others—take advantage of it.
Adam Lloyd is president of Webber Kerr Associates, the former executive search division of WilsonHCG.