With the anticipated Baby Boomer brain drain that companies are due to face in the near future, many managers are looking for solutions to bridge the growing knowledge gap that the impending mass exodus of Baby Boomers will create. Fortunately, there are strategic steps you can take now to prepare for what’s ahead and turn a potential “brain drain” into a “brain trust” instead. We turned to “A Guide to Leading the Multigenerational Workforce,” created by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program, to provide the following advice on how best to create a knowledge transfer between Baby Boomers and Millennials at work.
A Growing Knowledge Gap
Since Baby Boomers make up almost a third of the workforce, 56 percent hold leadership positions, and nearly 70 million are expected to retire over the next decade—the growing knowledge gap in management roles is apparent. The dilemma now is how to capture the wealth of knowledge that these leaders possess, and help them pass it on.
In the overall workforce picture, the most expansive next generation of potential leaders are the Millennials. Although they currently account for only about 34 percent of the workforce, they are expected to grow to 75 percent by 2025. These are the leaders of the future, making it critical for Baby Boomers to pass on what they know before they head out the door.
Turning a Brain Drain into a Brain Trust
One of the best methods for moving beyond the fear of brain drain to the opportunity to build a brain trust is to optimize the synergy between the two generations. Research conducted by Ben Rosen, PhD, professor of organizational behavior for the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, found that Baby Boomers and Millennials share some of the top five expectations of their employers—a dynamic which can be used to build a foundation for knowledge transfer:
- All supported the success of the organization. Tapping into this desire will help to establish a foundation and common goals for preparing for leadership transitions.
- They agreed on what characteristics are required to be a good leader. Helping them to mirror and model this in each other will provide opportunities for leadership training.
- All expressed a desire for their own career success. This provides a perfect dynamic for recognizing the expertise of Baby Boomers, and providing Millennials with the new opportunities they seek.
- They recognized that the process of aging is universal and affects everyone. When Millennials can see Boomers through the eyes of their own futures, they will better understand the need to tap into the expertise they can provide now.
- All recognized that future challenges are inevitable and unpredictable. It’s a great foundation from which to launch knowledge-transfer opportunities to help create a more stable future in the years ahead.
Strategic Steps to Make it Happen
If you give Baby Boomers the opportunity to provide insights and experience—while continuing to develop their talents and strengths—they’ll get exactly what they need to thrive. Since Millennials are often referred to as the “collaborators,” they already have the perfect skillset to be on the receiving end of knowledge transfer opportunities that your organization creates.
By combining the two dynamics, and taking into account the unique needs of both generations, you can follow strategic steps to bridge the knowledge gap and build your brain trust:
- Retain Baby Boomers as long as you can by offering the flexibility they need.
- Value their experience and acknowledge their expertise
- Provide incentives for them to share their knowledge with Millennials.
- Capitalize on the Millennials’ desire for new opportunities to advance.
- Make the most of the fact that Millennials value mentoring from positive leaders who will coach them and provide structure
- Tie knowledge-transfer opportunities to the larger mission of the organization, which is something Millennials want to be part of.
- Leverage the technical knowledge that Millennials possess, and provide reverse mentoring opportunities with Baby Boomers to build equality in relationships.
By following a few strategic steps, you can help your organization avoid the looming Baby Boomer brain drain by bridging the generational gap with effective knowledge transfer.
Alison Napolitano is the community manager for MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA degree. Alison has a background in marketing, digital strategy and account management. In her spare time, Alison enjoys art, being with family and is always involved in some form of athletics. You can follow Alison on Twitter @anapio7.