energizing breakthrough performance

Transfer Knowledge Before It’s Too Late: Avoid the Coming Brain Drain with Mentoring

Author: ; Published: Nov 15, 2009; Category: Strategic Planning, Workforce Succession Planning; Tags: , , , ; 4 Comments»


The Director of the 2010 Census recently remarked in the Washington Post that he is concerned about the imminent brain drain in the US Bureau of the Census owing to projected retirements. He pondered how this development could impact adversely a 2010 census which promises to be more than a little controversial at best. His solution? The older employees should take 15 minutes to sit down and have coffee with the younger ones to “transfer knowledge.” It begins to make you wonder about the level of compensation afforded to Census executives and managers if the knowledge can be transferred successfully over a cup of coffee, be it tall or grande. Sad. Starbucks will like this “strategy,” but the thoughtful citizen will not.

The passing of the mantle of leadership in American government and business is nigh. Baby Boomers have begun leaving the scene in one way or another but the question is: Are they ensuring that the transfer of knowledge and expertise will be smooth and complete? Too often, it’s being left to “someone else”—the next person “on watch” as it were.

The problem is that most of the time, the next person on watch is the very person who needs to be mentored for the job! Look at public utilities, such as water and wastewater districts and you will usually find the same predicament. The need for making a smooth transition is ubiquitous, yet the level of systematic and concentrated effort is usually paltry. Indeed, if Y2K proved to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing, the passing of the baton to a new generation has the potential to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) is a 14,000-employee federal agency that performs a vital function—it pays our military heroes, our defense contractors, along with the President and a few other notables. A few years back, then-DFAS Director, Thomas Bloom, was concerned about ensuring uninterrupted performance as the mantle of leadership is passed from one generation to another. Indeed, the leadership demographics were cause for pause. The top leadership team of 20 executives was at or quickly nearing retirement age. Not remarkable on the face of it. However, the average age of the next lower echelon was actually older than the top leadership team! Go down yet another level and the employees were still no younger, on average. This is the condition at many organizations, particularly public organizations where no less than 50% of the employees are retirement-eligible as this is written.

DFAS started working on this challenge in 2001. Tom Bloom certainly wasn’t content with the idea that a couple cups of coffee would do the trick. The agency instituted a mentoring program. Strategic Futures Consulting Group has now trained more than 2500 of the agency’s employees in how to do quality mentoring. Creating an embedded mentoring culture in a large organization takes time—probably a decade, give or take. When it comes to renewing organizations by preparing the workforce adequately, leaving things to chance or leaving things to the next leader won’t do.

The strategic future is now: Organizations should ensure their perpetuity while those who can transfer productive knowledge are still on the payroll, not after they have already departed.

Should we say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” even when our lying eyes promise us that it is fixin’ to be broke? Today is the time to prepare for tomorrow.

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4 Responses to “Transfer Knowledge Before It’s Too Late: Avoid the Coming Brain Drain with Mentoring”

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