While we’ve been whipping ourselves into a frenzy over the possible (but as of yet undefined) impact of Generation Y on our comfortable ways of doing things, we’ve been disregarding the real crisis occurring right under our noses. Valuable knowledge is walking out the door with every retiring baby boomer.
Dr. Jay Liebowitz has been examining what he calls this “human capital crisis” and his findings are sobering. He defines human capital as the knowledge, experience and judgment accumulated over a lifetime of work. In his 2003 book, Addressing the Human Capital Crisis in the Federal Government, he noted that by 2008 over 50% of all federal civil servants would be eligible for retirement and of that group, 71% are senior executives. Their retirement represents a huge loss of human capital.
Liebowitz points to several strategies for stemming (or at least slowing) the rate of loss. Key among these are knowledge management programs that intentionally seek to ensure the effective capture of the knowledge these retirees have accumulated during their work lives. It’s the only sure means of transferring mission critical knowledge between generations.
If you’re still not convinced, think about the combined impact on your business of disappearing boomers and under-engaged (or otherwise engaged) Gen Y new employees and you’ll begin to see the scope of the problem. We’re facing rapid knowledge loss combined with a slower rate of knowledge creation. All of this adds up to a manager’s nightmare.
For the knowledge manager, the answers to the human capital crisis are fairly straightforward:
1. Capture the expertise of retirees and distill it into “knowledge nuggets” that can be stored and then quickly retrieved for on demand training.
2. Ensure that the format of these nuggets is both video and text so that you cater to the preferences of the Gen X and Gen Y users who will have to put that knowledge into action.
3. Move as quickly as you can to accomplish 1 and 2. This is a race against the clock, as exhausted Boomers gleefully count the days until they can waltz out the door clutching their gold watches.
While it might be fun to think about the havoc that could be wrought on your workplace by incoming counter-cultural Gen Y employees, don’t lose sight of the fact that a far bigger disruption will occur if we let baby boomers slip out of our organizations without first ensuring that their intellectual capital is available for the next generation of managers. Here (finally) is an urgent, mission critical business case for knowledge management. Make good use of it!