If you were born between 1946 and 1964 you are part of the "baby
boom" generation. Data from the 2000 U.S. Census estimates that the group
that holds the "boomer" moniker is made up of at least 82,826,479individuals. I sometimes feel that 82 million of them work in government.
Beginning in 2011, a shift in the labor force is going to
occur because the front edge of the boomer generation is going to turn 65. While
many are concerned about a potential labor shortage, I am mostly concernedabout a sudden and continuous brain drain from our organizations.
All around me are workers who are at or nearing retirement
depending on when they actually started working for government. Many of these
are middle and senior managers who carry with them a great deal of
institutional knowledge. I know of whole sections and departments that will be
retiring at the same time or following each other out the door continuously for
several years. If this doesn't bother you, it should. Why? Mainly because
government usually does a horrible job of cross-training and making sure thatthere is more than one person responsible for a function.
It's not that government workers don't like to share
knowledge (I'm being kind here) but that government organizations typically are
not staffed with a lot of redundancy in positions, and the workers in these
positions generally wear many hats. Which means two things: One, that there is
a great breadth of knowledge contained in a single individual and two, that
person is usually too busy to document their knowledge or take the time to
share it with someone who can step in and fill their shoes. So when they go, sodoes their knowledge.
As I look around organizations that I'm familiar with, I see
this as a real potential problem. It's not good to have all your "old"
hands leaving at or near the same time. But at the same time, we can't prevent
it. So in order to prevent the potential problem, we need to prepare for it.
Kind of like the Y2K problem. Proper preparation led to a potential disasterbeing hardly a flash in the pan.
So what can we do to prepare? Well there are a number of
things that we can do if our organizations can wrap themselves around the fact
that there is change coming, whether they like it or not. Here are somesuggestions in no particular order:
the inevitable. No, this does not mean encouraging your older workers to
take on increasingly large amounts of debt so they cannot afford to
retire. It is documented that a significant portion of the baby boom generation
desires to work past 65. Help them to do so. How? By creating incentives
that make it more enticing to stay at work such as: working from home,
part-time work, job sharing, phased retirement, job swapping, and a host
of other HR and Finance policy and procedure changes that can effect achange of mind in the older worker to stick around.
- As you
know, forestalling the inevitable is not a solution in itself. It is just
a means of buying yourself a little more time to prepare for a worker's
departure. The real answer lies in putting processes and procedures into
place that allow for an orderly transition of knowledge to others in the
organization. This can be done through mentoring programs, fast track
programs, business process documentation and reengineering, cross-training,
and the creation of "knowledge bases" and expert systems, aswell as probably a dozen other things I haven't mentioned.
course, being IT oriented, you can also look upon this as a way to
introduce new technologies and ways of thinking into your organization.
Our current methods of storing knowledge and communicating in our
organizations (via e-mail with attached documents or files in a shared
folder) are horribly inefficient ways of knowledge management. It is time
to shift towards Wiki's and Blogs and searchable databases as a way of
communicating internally and externally in our organizations. 3000 e-mails
in someone's inbox is not a good way to pass on knowledge to the replacement
worker. A central store of knowledge is what is needed. The closer you cancome to that, the better off you are.
Personally, I have to deal with this issue now. I plan on
tackling it through mentoring, cross-training, and retraining, as well as
trying to establish a new way of doing business through tools such as Wikis and
Blogs. The point is, many of us will have to start dealing with this as time
draws nearer to 2011. Yes, it is only 2006, but time flies when you are gettingold ;-) So start preparing now.