What happens when you go to work one day soon…and discover that you’re the only one there?
A Changing Workforce
For some organizations—particularly those in the public sector—this is an increasingly likely scenario. Perhaps it’s not quite that stark, but the trends are real: the “Baby Boom” generation is retiring, and there is a growing shortage of experienced government professionals ready to step in to managerial and leadership roles.
In some age cohorts, there are simply going to be fewer people, both absolutely and in relation to the general population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (as reported in USA Today in May 2015), over the next decade the population of people 65 and older will increase by 37.8%, while the population of those aged 18 to 64 will rise by only 3.2%. Somewhat more alarming, the number of 18- to 24-year olds will actually decrease.
These gross population figures are interesting, but what do they mean? In and of themselves, they don’t really tell us that much. However, in the context of managing the dynamics of the organizational workforce they do offer something for leaders in every agency and organization to ponder.
Qualified, skilled, and experienced people are a tangible resource. People deliver their skills and knowledge to organizations and, more importantly, what they have done—their experience. A piece of the organization’s collective memory is held within each of them.
Engaged leaders realize that they need to find the right people with the right skills, in the right number to fill the void that will be left by an increasing number of retirements and departures. A shrinking pool of qualified and experienced people to replace them will make this challenge more difficult. Disconnected leaders will ignore this fact at their (and their organization’s) peril.
So…what should every engaged and strategic leader do? While considering who’s leaving and who’s staying, here are a few ideas on how to survive this challenge…and maybe even become a stronger organization in the process.
Pick Brains and Draw Diagrams. Interview and understand the roles and responsibilities that longtime folks in the organization are performing…including both the formal and the informal stuff…and how they’re getting things done. Don’t assume you know all the tricks and “work-arounds” they’ve been using to be successful over their careers. Plan to do it long before they submit their retirement papers.
Document the results of interviews, surveys, small group sessions, or a mix of these…whatever technique works in your organization. Analyze those business processes, and commit them to a diagram or chart. Line of Sight’s mantra is… “If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.” Remember, your senior leaders and experienced staff are leaving; if you don’t immortalize the results of this activity in writing, the organization’s brains and memories will leave with them.
During the process of gathering this collective memory, be sure to look for and document opportunities and their recommendations for improving the way(s) things are done – the core business processes and tools. You may want to engage the people who are preparing to leave in implementing these improvements, as a way of facilitating the transfer of their knowledge to enable them to cement their legacies.
On the other hand, in some cases you may be better off simply waiting for some to leave to avoid their resistance to change (“…because it’s always been done this way…”). Either way, collecting and codifying your veteran employees’ organizational memory is valuable. This activity will guide an organization away from unnecessary mistakes, retain valuable lessons learned; it can even lay the foundation for process improvement by demonstrating how not to do something.
Before You Go… Knowing in advance who is leaving gives you an opportunity to engage them in an effort to impart their institutional knowledge and professional experience and expertise. Implementing systematic methods for direct knowledge transfer is critical to avoiding brain drain and losses in productivity.
There are many techniques available. Formalized mentoring programs allow senior, experienced individuals to share what they know in a one-on-one developmental relationship. Another method is a kind of formalized “story telling”: you can build a structured format for experienced members of the organization to present lessons learned in forums such as “lunch and learn“ sessions, team meetings, and training events.
New and more junior workers can be engaged in “shadowing”, a practice through which the newer employee works alongside a more experienced individual who can help the newer employee learn their job, increase knowledge about the organization, or take on important behaviors or competencies.
Another way to facilitate the transfer of knowledge across the organization is through a systematic internal job transfer program. In federal agencies, this usually involves a temporary “detail”: reassigning an employee to another suitable position within the organization, for a specified period of time (typically up to 120 days), with the expectation that the employee will return to the original position. In some cases, an internal transfer can also be a permanent reassignment.
Short-term details and internal reassignments can help to “cross-train” employees, enhancing their understanding of the wider organization and encouraging the distribution of key knowledge and skill sets across the staff.
But regardless of what techniques you use, advance knowledge of who may be leaving and advance planning and implementation are the key to capitalizing on the opportunity to capture longtime employees’ knowledge, skills, and experience.
Help them Spread their Wings and Fly. There comes a time for people with less experience to break out, move up, and take over from those who have gone before. It’s only natural.
Effective leaders can help this along in their organizations by planning for more junior staff to take on more responsibility and leadership roles. This involves a wide range of actions by leaders. Developmental activities such as career counseling, training courses, and a structured, methodical transfer of organizational knowledge and vital skill sets (as described above) are vital for every member of the organization.
Mentoring and shadowing will help younger leaders getting ready to take that step upward. Good succession planning is important. This doesn’t involve pre-determining every position change. Rather, good leaders foster the development of a cadre of potential leaders who are well prepared and able to accept new challenges and opportunities within the organization.
Creating leaders with a robust set of skills—technical skills, people skills, political skills, organizational skills—provides a pool of candidates to ensure that the organization will be well led across all of its departments and functions.
Planning is Everything. Taken in total, these actions provide a tool kit to address the reality of loss of knowledge and expertise, provide for leadership succession and, most importantly, ensure that your organization can deliver its products and services, achieve its mission, and deliver on it responsibilities into the future.
Even great organizations need help once in a while. Line of Sight, LLC, is a certified woman-owned business with extensive experience in helping both public and private sector organizations plan for and manage change such as significant personnel shifts within organizations.
Line of Sight’s capabilities are easily accessed through the GSA Mission Oriented Business Integrated Services (MOBIS) Professional Services Schedule (PSS) contract.
To find out more about how Line of Sight can help your agency or organization develop and implement effective strategies to address change, please visit our website at www.Line-of-Sight.com, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 410-696-2610.