With retirement waves looming in the coming years, many companies have started taking precautions to prevent losing expert knowledge with those employees. While the approaches vary based on industry, company size, and need, the foundation of knowledge transfer programs are often similar.
As a major player in their industry, GM was mindful of the repercussions that could come with losing a wealth of knowledge when many employees hit retirement age at the same time. The company leaders knew they needed to preserve employee expertise in order to maintain their competitive edge. Expecting the largest wave of retiring expertise to occur by 2017, GM took action and designed several programs that would allow them to transfer knowledge successfully among all levels of their workforce.
Case Study: GM, Preparing greener employees for larger roles
To preserve the knowledge of these experts, GM has developed a mentor program where younger employees can seek a mentor in more experienced employees. GM's program allows employees to create profiles to narrow their mentor/mentee search, such as by department, by job, or even by their alma mater. "We want to foster leaders to be coaches, and mentoring is one of the best ways to do that," said Chris Oster, the Detroit automaker's global director for talent development. "It's really about encouraging both sides of that equation to make the connection."
To further encourage connections throughout the organization, GM has also created a 2 year job track for new employees – giving them the opportunity to rotate through different positions, gaining knowledge from different experiences. "They get a breadth of exposure in the business before they specialize," Oster said. These programs require every department to have updated training, processes, and documentation. Finally, GM has also decided to feature career development days. These days give retirees the chance to share their knowledge.
GM has been able to leverage their knowledge transfer programs as opportunities to leave behind a positive legacy. Senior leaders, after experiencing change and working with different groups of people during their time with the organization, are often willing to help prepare the next generation to take on new roles.
In their programs, GM managed to accommodate the personalities of each generation in their workforce. A strong work ethic is an attribute often defining of the baby boomer generation. They also tend to be comfortable working in teams, as being seen as a valuable part of the group is important. Younger generations often look to make an impact, bringing enthusiasm and ambition to their work. Creating programs that cater to the qualities of different generations will increase the likelihood of transferring skills and expertise within the company.
Ultimately, even with preparation, the loss of senior experience causes companies to take risks and put greener employees in higher positions. "The idea is that we're going to need to take more risks with promotions and accelerate the promotion of people," admits Oster.
To make knowledge transfer efforts worthwhile, it's important to have a clear and deliberate strategy.
Tip: Focus on the knowledge possessed by the person, rather than the individual or the position.
Is your company or department at risk of losing valuable knowledge and doesn’t have a strategy?