In this week's blog: Knowledge is evolving faster, and as people move jobs more frequently, modern businesses face the danger of knowledge being lost. Read on to discover why having an age diverse workforce could help with retaining organisational knowledge. 

Every morning, Christine Lucas wakes up with no memory of the day before.

No matter what she did… Who she spoke to…. What she watched and what she read, she has no memory of it.

It’s a blank slate.thinking

So she needs to find alternative ways to remember things. She starts recording a daily video and writing a diary, so she can retain her knowledge from one day to another.

That’s the basic premise of a psychological thriller that came out a few years ago, called Before I Go To Sleep. (It was made into a movie with Nicole Kidman as well.)

But in a way, it reminds me of the modern workplace too…..

You see, modern businesses and their employees also have a problem retaining knowledge.

There are no longer jobs for life. People change jobs more frequently than they used to, taking with them all the knowledge they have gained, both about how to do their job and company history.

That can be a big loss to an organisation, particularly when staff turnover is high.

Once upon a time, the knowledge and skills you gained in university were still relevant for decades. Nowadays, given the speed of technological and societal change, the skills required to do a job are constantly evolving.

So the way things were done just a few years ago might be easily forgotten.

And because the knowledge required to do a job changes so frequently, it no longer always makes sense to promote those who have the most experience, as might used to happen.

people1Increasingly, teams are headed by people with the best managerial skills. Sometimes they are even professional managers.

So teams can no longer necessarily look to their bosses to teach them the skills they need to do their job.

It’s as if we wake up every few years, not exactly blank slates like Christine Lucas – but with very short memories.

You might say that the “half-life” of knowledge is shortening – that is, less and less time elapses before knowledge in a certain area becomes irrelevant or just plain wrong.

So just like Christine Lucas, we need to find new ways to pass on knowledge, both so we can learn new things quickly….

….and so we can retain memories that are otherwise in danger of being forgotten.

That is why, as our workforce ages, transferring knowledge from one generation to another will become a key activity.

Older workers may look to younger workers to help them keep up-to-date with modern skills and technical knowledge….

….although, realistically, continuing education will be a priority for everyone, regardless of age.

But by the same token, younger workers will look to older workers for their organisational memory.

Having people around with longstanding client relationships, who can remember best practices developed over years and who can provide some continuity with the past will help businesses function smoothly at a time of rapid change.

lightbulbOlder workers may also have experience that younger workers simply lack. No matter how up-to-date their technical skills are, they will have tacit knowledge built up over decades, which can benefit their younger colleagues.

So while some organisations may prefer older workers to retire early, they should carefully consider whether they really want to give up so much human capital.

Wouldn’t it be better, instead, to create mentoring programmes, whereby mature staff could work side-by-side with younger employees, and share their insights?handshake

Mentoring does not necessarily have to be about direction – it could be about cooperation, and be fostered informally through social networks, as well.

Or perhaps it would be beneficial to transition mature workers to other areas of the organisation, which could take advantage of their expertise and knowledge?

Or to create forums and platforms, where knowledge can be exchanged and flourish?

It is paradoxical, but the faster our knowledge evolves, the more important it becomes to learn from people who have ‘been around the block’ several times.

It is just one of the many benefits of a genuinely age-diverse workforce…

Posted by Steve Butler

Topics: Next Generation Savings

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