The knowledge transfer crisis: what happens when the Baby Boomers finally retire?

Tue, Mar 12, '19 •

The knowledge transfer crisis: what happens when the Baby Boomers finally retire?

OK, so the silver tsunami has been less of a calamity than first thought. Those Baby Boomers are just refusing to retire, dangnabbit, spurred on by a lack of retirement savings or a desire to remain professionally active in some capacity. But hey – that’s sort of good news for your business.

Even though the lack of mass retirements means you get time to plan for the impact it will have on your workplace, it does mean a stilted transition and a sense of prolonged inevitability in your workforce. unless, of course, your Internal Communications team seizes the opportunity to mitigate the impending disaster.

Yes, disaster. The Boomer Brain Drain is headed your way, and without a knowledge transfer plan based around a central cloud repository, such as a G Suite intranet, it could have a serious impact on your day-to-day operations, and your future growth.

Avoiding the Boomer Brain Drain

It’s a real thing, this Boomer Brain Drain. In just 10 years, all Baby Boomers will be aged 65 and over, which is generally accepted as the retirement age in most countries. In the US, it’s said that 10,000 Boomers are retiring every single day – thankfully not all from one company, but that’s still making a significant dent in the collective workplace.

But more than just impacting whether Generation X finally gets to leadership positions or whether the Millennials and Gen Y-ers have the experience to plug the gaps, the Boomer Brain Drain can actually impact the way a company is run and how it grows in the future.

“When older people temporarily can’t remember a name or why they went to the kitchen, such a “senior moment” is an inconvenience. When a business “forgets” how things are done, it hurts profitability,” writes Eric F Frazier for Business.com.

“Worse, the loss of knowledge may not be temporary. With four million Boomers a year leaving the workforce, more than half in leadership posts, what’s lost is a wealth of accumulated skills and experience, relationships and networks cultivated over years, and firsthand recollections about the development of products, services, and marketing strategies.”

Have you started your knowledge transfer process?

Businesses are generally not prepared for the impact Baby Boomer retirements will have on their organization, and have done little to document or share the knowledge before it walks out the door. When you consider around 80% of S&P 500 companies have Boomer CEOs, it’s clear that business in general is approaching a knowledge crisis.

“Approach senior workers you’ve identified and solicit their active involvement in capturing their knowledge,” writes Eric F Frazier. “The tone and context of these conversations must emphasize their value to the organization and career aims, avoiding any sense that they are being nudged toward the door. This is why establishing a senior-friendly culture is important. In a supportive environment, most seasoned employees will openly discuss their future and feel pride in helping to prepare the next generation and the company for continued success.”

Similarly, continues Frazier, emerging leaders should be identified and prepared for these roles as well as the relationships needed for knowledge transfer.

So what should you be transferring? Think about things like how your product or service has developed over the years, those battle stories from the early days and how your Boomers overcame the challenges to rise and rise. Or how your top sales people scored their biggest wins, based of course around building relationships and listening to customer needs instead of going in for the hard sell. Maybe it’s about how teams work best in your organization, or how your engineers fix things, or how the CEO got to the top.

Consider screencasts, webinars, even internal podcasts where your Boomers can share their stories and impart their knowledge, helping you to record it for the generations to come. And, of course, you’ll need a home for this knowledge, somewhere central like a G Suite intranet that everyone in the business can access.

There will be a culture impact

And while any knowledge transfer process you instigate to prepare for the Boomer Brain Drain will undoubtedly cater to Boomers’ preferred communication styles - that is, in person, face to face, or by phone - partnering the outgoing members of staff with up-and-comers can actually benefit both sides. Acting as mentors, Boomers can not only transfer organizational knowledge, but also interpersonal and social skills that their younger counterparts may be struggling with having grown up in a digital world. Intergenerational team collaboration can be facilitated by a G Suite intranet and Google collaboration tools, which make it simple to connect, share and store information.

These intergenerational relationships can open new ways of working, new learning opportunities and new ideas for both sides of the equation. The younger staff will become a more valuable asset to the company, while the retiring staff will be equipped with skills to take beyond retirement. In addition, the workplace culture becomes more inclusive, more dynamic, more flexible and more open to fresh thinking.

“The breadth of topics to transfer should be widened beyond the typical mechanics of a business unit or department to consider all the social relationships and stakeholder groups that can determine how successful a new leader will be. The legacy of a relationship can extend well beyond the departure of a leader,” says Joe Ungemah, North America practice leader, talent management and organizational alignment at Willis Towers Watson, quoted in HR Executive.

Get your technology ducks in a row

So let’s move beyond the cliche of technophobe Boomer vs digitally-savvy Millennial here; there are plenty of senior workers who dive head-first into technology while there are youngsters who aren’t chained to their smartphone. This isn’t as much a generational thing as it is a business continuity thing.

It’s crucial for your knowledge transfer process to instigate a technological solution that can be harnessed from wherever your employees are, at whatever time. What’s currently in the Boomer practice lead’s head must get into the cloud so that it can help answer any questions his colleagues may have in the future, on the road, at their desk or on the move.

And the best way to build a system for knowledge transfer? By establishing your digital workplace with a G Suite intranet at the helm.

Building a G Suite intranet based around Google team collaboration tools helps you to harness the latest cloud-based technology and facilitate your knowledge transfer.

Create a Channel where team collaboration can help to tease information from the brain of your Boomers and into an always-on collaborative environment. Have your Boomers host Hangouts to impart their wisdom and experience, their success stories, their challenges and how they overcame them. Create videos showing everyday processes and workflows, then upload them to your Google Drive for posterity. Get them posting thoughts from a mobile app to ensure you capture the moment when it happens.

Doing all of this on a G Suite intranet means it’s powered by a powerful search mechanism that puts it all at your entire team’s fingertips whenever they need it.

The digital workplace is transforming the way companies work, but that doesn’t mean the old ways should be forgotten. Using a G Suite intranet can help you to capture the knowledge of your soon-to-retire both as a way to document where you’ve come from, and as a way to ensure you can get to where you're going next.

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