How to Capitalize on Baby Boomers’ Experience While Also Grooming Young Leaders
The aging of America’s workforce and the mass exodus of skilled, experienced workers from the baby boomer generation are having a profound effect on every aspect of business, most critically in personnel and staffing. This creates a unique challenge for CEOs, human resource managers and staffing companies who all aim to ensure that the day-to-day operations of a business are not adversely affected and that companies are positioning themselves to create new leaders.
The Society for Human Resource Management surveyed human resources professionals for a report, “Business and Human Capital Challenges Today and in the Future,” which was released in December (www.shrm.org). In the report, the effect of the aging workforce was top of mind. According to the SHRM, “When respondents were asked about challenges for the next 10 years … the top response by HR professionals was ‘developing the next generation of organizational leaders’ (39 percent), followed closely by ‘managing the loss of key workers and their skill sets due to retirement’ (35 percent). Thirty-eight percent of HR respondents said the top current challenge is ‘maintaining high levels of employee engagement.’ It was followed by ‘developing the next generation of organizational leaders’ (31 percent), ‘maintaining competitive compensation offerings’ (29 percent), and ‘retaining our highest performing employees’ (26 percent).”
I95 BUSINESS asked three top staffing professionals – Sheryl Davis Kohl, President, Beacon Staffing Alternatives, Inc.; Jennifer Quinn, Vice President, All-Pro Placement Service; and Trish Alatorre-Ridings, National Account Manager, Kelly Services, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. – to weigh in on some of these findings and how they are helping their clients succeed in this changing business climate.
I95 BUSINESS: How can companies tap into the intellectual knowledge of more experienced employees and have them share that knowledge with younger colleagues?
Alatorre-Ridings: Employers can cultivate a “sharing” environment by establishing mentoring programs that encourage workers to share knowledge by pairing younger employees with more tenured talent within a company. The mentors not only serve as informational resources, but also support a “learn in the moment” experience by working on projects collaboratively.
Quinn: Knowledge and skills can be taught, but we see this as the primary gap between the generations. Regarding company knowledge, it is important for teams to work together to transform explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge. It is a combination of cooperation, trust and sharing that will help bridge this gap. Companies can offer a recognition program for those employees who spend time helping others and add to the corporate knowledge.
I95 BUSINESS: Baby boomers also possess certain skill sets that Millennials may not, such as effective verbal and written communication … how can companies create a mentorship-type system without interfering with productivity?
Kohl: Mentorship programs and team meetings – where both baby boomers and Millennials pair up to share ideas and processes – can improve the flow of communication. The younger generation values group and team learning, understanding from many sources as opposed to a single authority. Face-to-face interaction is usually preferred and most effective for bridging the generation gap. Baby boomers have skills and knowledge that come with experience. Boomers can impart their knowledge by informal mentoring and exposure to help broaden their perspective and drive their passion about their job. The more structure a company can lend to a mentoring program to create knowledge transfer, the better. Determine younger employees’ goals and developmental needs and then pair them with more experienced employees to create a flow of communication among generations.
Quinn: Mentor opportunities seem like a great idea but can be intimidating to implement. Sometimes a less formal approach can help ease into the program, viewed more as a peer buddy role. This approach allows new employees to better navigate the new work environment. It also presents minimal barriers and oversight as compared to a more formal mentor program. This method also fosters and helps develop relationships among co-workers.
Alatorre-Ridings: Employers need to consider how each generational group interacts with other groups and management, and focus on building teams – not just across generations, but across cultures as well. Taking advantage of the different strategies, insights and ideas provided by multi-generational project teams can help increase productivity, efficiency and quality.
I95 BUSINESS: What advice do you have for companies looking to create programs to foster leadership development?
Quinn: Leadership development is a tricky area. Not every person is suited to be in a leadership role. It is important to recognize employees’ strengths and weaknesses. It is easier and more cost effective to retain and develop homegrown talent. Companies should challenge staff with unfamiliar roles and rotate job duties and functions. This does two things: (1) gives employees an opportunity to learn different aspects of the company and (2) hones in on employees’ strengths/weaknesses.
Kohl: Fostering a culture of leadership throughout all levels of an organization can be the key to creating a successful leadership program. Instead of just looking at leadership at the top level, companies can seek talent and opportunities to develop and practice management even at entry-level positions. Companies need to put a strong priority on selecting, developing and retaining strong leaders at every level.
To accelerate growth, organizations can place people in different types of leadership roles to gain experience and confidence. As a person in a leadership role, you have to be willing to put in the time, training and support to build strong leaders within your company. Not all training has to be structured; great leaders are formed from inspiration. Team building events, happy hours and other things outside the office can be used to foster leadership growth opportunities.
I95 BUSINESS: In this go-go-go, high-tech world, how can companies better foster employee engagement? What are the benefits of such engagement and connecting with your staff?
Kohl: A lot of companies rely too heavily on one form of corporate communication. By taking advantage of technology, making your message available in several formats, you’ll ensure that you engage all your employees.
Quinn: It is imperative to engage and connect with staff. Employee satisfaction must exist to run a successful company. Employees need to feel vested and committed. Company recognition is one way to foster job satisfaction.
Alatorre-Ridings: There are a variety of methods in which employee engagement can be accomplished: virtual team rooms, instant messaging, town hall meetings and chatter groups. The benefits are that best practices, learned experiences, company information, and new ideas and suggestions are encouraged and shared, resulting in employees feeling engaged, part of a team and valued within an organization.
I95 BUSINESS: Retention is always a priority as companies fear the highest-performing employees will get poached by a competitor. How can management manage this fear and retain the best and brightest? Is it all about compensation or are other factors the key to keeping employees happy?
Quinn: Most employees will tell you that it is about job satisfaction and not compensation. If you want to retain top talent, you need to create a positive work environment where employees are happy, feel like they are a part of the big picture and are recognized for their contributions.
Alatorre-Ridings: While compensation is certainly a factor in attracting top talent – retention is equally important, and there are several factors that can play a role in retaining employees. Companies should build flexible work schedules and the physical and technological infrastructure to support employees. Start out by establishing policies about flexible work schedules that will enhance employees’ work/life balance without adversely affecting their productivity. Invest in technology for mobile offices and online information sharing so that flexibility can be seamlessly integrated into the work environment.
Institute and encourage “career development” conversations with employees. Keep employees engaged by offering accelerated onboarding programs and cross-functional rotational work programs that offer lateral movement and prevent boredom. Provide comprehensive training programs that enable employees to continually enhance their professional development and attain career goals.
Organize multi-generational project teams that will engage and empower Gen X, Gen Y and mature workers to tap into the unique contributions of each group. Incorporate benefits programs to leverage different workforce expectations. For example, retirement policies may be key to retaining experienced workers who have reached retirement age but want to continue working. Investments in “reinventing” or “transitioning” retirees will help keep workers in the labor force longer. Offering flexible options and performance rewards helps to keep employees engaged and can significantly boost retention rates.
Kohl: Company culture should be a top priority. Not all employees, especially Millennials, are as concerned with monetary compensation as they are with feeling appreciated and valuable. This sense of value can come from contributing to the organization’s culture and progress. Benefits of importance can be things like casual Friday, company paid benefits, provided lunch, outings, early vacation leave, company T-shirts, fundraisers, etc. I95