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Retaining Boomer Brilliance

The Why and How of A Pre-Retirement Knowledge Transfer Program


While much of the world is pondering all things Millennial, an equally if not more pressing topic is often left neglected in all the Millennial excitement… namely, what happens when Baby Boomers exit the workforce and ride off into the retirement sunset? This is a question many view as taboo. “Shhh, should we be talking about this?”  Though it can be an uncomfortable topic to broach, it’s becoming more and more critical.

Take a glance around your office or across the conference table at your next meeting. You’re likely to see several seasoned employees who have spent decades in the same industry, possibly even at the same company. Step-by-step, Boomers have carefully crafted their careers for decades, in many cases over ten, twenty, maybe even thirty years. They’ve seen constant change in their workplace, overcome their fair share of challenges and weathered multiple recessions.

This is a pain point for our clients across all industries. They’re starting to feel that inevitable shift as Baby Boomers approach retirement. Every day, approximately 10,000 members of this generation retire. Not only are Boomers leaving in droves, but much to the dismay of co-workers, managers, and c-suite alike, they’re taking decades of acquired knowledge out the door with them.

So what can you do to prevent this knowledge loss? How do you start these conversations without making any party involved uncomfortable? When evaluating a pre-retirement knowledge transfer plan, consider the following:

Boomers are eager to participate – much to the relief of Xers and Millennials.  
Boomer retirement is a big concern for both soon-to-be-retirees and those for whom retirement is still a long ways off. BridgeWorks has spoken to countless Boomers, but also Xers and Millennials who worry for their organization during this time of transition. One hopeful balm to their fears is that, despite the fact that they’re retiring, many Baby Boomers are showing an enthusiasm and strong desire to share their acquired knowledge. There’s been an uptick in Boomer-centric mentorship in the past decade or so and according to the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies, 68% of Boomers envision a phased retirement plan. A large group of Boomers want to continue to share their legacy with their organization leading up to their impending retirement, during their exit, and even after they’re no longer clocking in.

Knowledge transfer does not mean giving away the keys to the castle.
As willing as Boomers are to help, it can be a hard pill to swallow to be told to just give away your sacred knowledge. They’ve earned that knowledge over years and years of hard work and dedication. And anyway it would be impossible for a Boomer to literally give away “the keys to the castle,” gifting every gem of wisdom they’ve acquired throughout their careers – and they shouldn’t! Their career is theirs and no one else’s. Rather than asking Boomers to give up their hard-earned institutional knowledge, think about positioning Boomer-led mentorship or knowledge share as action-driven – focused on arming green employees with curated tips and tools to help them be successful in their role at your organization. Less of a data download and more of a coaching opportunity.

Time invested can be a win-win for both parties.
The Boomer-led knowledge transfer doesn’t have to be a regimented, list-making, box-checking, compliance-meeting kind of exchange. Participants will be much more engaged if they look at these meetings as conversational and candid exchanges. And they shouldn’t be one-sided lectures delivered by the Boomer to mentees. These mentorship-type relationships are an opportunity for the two parties to come together and talk frankly about the ins and outs of your industry and company-specific job dynamics. Allow for some breathing room and space for reverse mentorship to take place during these knowledge-transfer meetings. Boomers may be transitioning, but they’re still as open as ever to exploring new ideas and skills. You might even see that by creating this open space between Boomers and their Xer or Millennial mentees, some interesting new ideas might be a nice byproduct of the initial goal.

While there are certainly groups of Boomers who would be interested in this more involved, mentorship-type version of passing of the torch, it’s important to recognize that it may not be the best fit for every single retiring Baby Boomer. Just as BridgeWorks solutions are not one size fit all, not all Boomers may be want a pledge of this scope or time commitment. Maybe a knowledge hub, like an intranet, would be a more convenient of knowledge-sharing for some of your Boomers. Staggered retirement could also be a viable option to ease the transition.

Whatever route you take, paying extra care and attention to succession planning is absolutely essential, especially if you’re one of the many companies with a high Boomer make-up. Boomers have demonstrated an exceptional work ethic their entire lives. Many of them will be eager to lend their voices to your company’s legacy to ensure that their efforts continue to work for your organization long after they’ve left the building.