In this era of longevity, where average global life expectancy has rocketed from 53 years in 1960 to 72 years in 2015,1 employees are finding the need and preference to stay in the workforce beyond the “traditional” retirement age, developing secondary careers and moving through careers and roles. Hence, the workforce of today is composed of four generations, including baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z working together. This challenges organizations, as they must facilitate knowledge transfer within a multigenerational workforce to stay competitive.
Too often, organizations presume that they are monoliths, composed of workers that think, look, act, and react the same way. Just like society, organizations contain workers who have a diversity of thought, life experiences, and needs. Those diversities are reflected by generational characteristics that have an impact on how employees interact and exchange knowledge. Knowledge Management (KM) targeted initiatives should be predefined, but also must be flexible to incorporate each generation’s preferences, needs, expectations and beliefs. The knowledge transfer strategy, consequently, must be shaped with a generation-centric approach, taking into consideration multigenerational knowledge-sharing dynamics.
Drive knowledge sharing by adjusting to preferred learning experience
Organizations should first consider content consumption trends by generation to serve as a cornerstone to knowledge sharing. This allows the organization to align knowledge consumption processes to the learning experience preferences of each generation. According to a former director of a company from the consumer and industrial product industry, his organization determined what would resonate with different generations and how they designed components of “lessons learned” and knowledge-sharing processes to appeal to each generation. The high-level findings uncovered that baby boomers like that there is a structured process for sharing and a standard format for lesson capture; millennials, by contrast, like that the process uses new IT tools and collaborative group interaction,” said the former director at APQC’s 2016 KM Conference.2 He also added that this not only succeeded in engaging all the generations in knowledge sharing, but also brought them closer.
Other large organizations manage KM programs for knowledge transfer from the experienced generation to younger employees as part of their knowledge retention goals. In addition, we in the Deloitte Knowledge Management practice suggest adopting a conduit knowledge-sharing approach, with knowledge transfer occurring not only from experienced workers to less experienced workers, but also vice versa. As Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP notes in a recent case study,3 intergenerational relationships are formed by reverse mentoring, when early-career employees teach leaders about new and emerging technologies and leaders share their experience and expose millennials to areas of the business beyond their immediate job realm. Mentoring both ways in the multigenerational workforce provides opportunities for mutual employee development and learning by sharing of diverse perspectives and knowledge across generations.
One technology—appealing to all ages
When KM initiatives include the implementation of new KM systems and technological features for sharing knowledge, the multifaceted approach should address the generations, since the technological orientation of the generations will affect the adoption and usage level of the system. While Gen Z and millennials can be seen as digital savvy, baby boomers and Gen Xers can potentially be viewed more as digital immigrants, so the user interface (UI) should be designed to fit a variety of preferences. For example, offer linear acquisition of knowledge through hierarchical navigation along hyperlinked search capabilities to more fully appeal to all kind of users.
Organizations should also consider how to socialize and engage with workers from all generations. Look to not only match communication preferences, but also leverage more than one communication method:
- Some people may prefer to consume content packed graphically and concisely in small “nuggets” on a mobile app, while others may prefer to consume larger amounts of written content on a website page.
- Older generations might be not as social media oriented, so communicate through the channels that they use such as email, meetings, phone calls, and one-on-one sessions. Younger generations may be more engaged in interactive and virtual ways of communicating such as game-designed and competition applications (gamification).
- Younger generations, as digital natives, may adopt new technologies rapidly, just by experimenting freely on the job with the tools, but older generations may need to understand the value first.4 Promoting KM initiatives and technologies by offering support and training those less tech savvy as new technological platforms are introduced can be a key to adoption. Helpful tools such as Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs), which overlay the KM system and provide personalized walk-throughs, minimize ambiguity or resistance among new users and can provide an intuitive and simplified experience for the less tech savvy.
Even if all generations expect largely the same things from the workplace, they differ in the ways they act to achieve those things.5 Flexible KM approaches and initiatives, along with versatile knowledge processes facilitation that will meet all generations’ expectations from the workplace, can enable smooth knowledge transfer across the multigenerational organization.
Inbal Namir is a knowledge management director on the Deloitte Knowledge Management center of excellence in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP.
1The longevity divide: Work in an era of 100-year lives, The rise of the social enterprise: 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte Insights.
2Multigenerational knowledge sharing multiple generations in KM-Case Study, May 13, 2016, APQC.
3A Technology Company Leverages Reverse Mentoring to Develop Senior Leadership and Millennial Talent, 2019, Bersin.
4A Technology Company Leverages Reverse Mentoring to Develop Senior Leadership and Millennial Talent, 2019, Bersin.
5A Technology Company Leverages Reverse Mentoring to Develop Senior Leadership and Millennial Talent, 2019, Bersin.
* Additional source: Knowledge Management System’s Implementation in a Company with Different Generations: A Case Study, December 3, 2012, Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Volume 65, Pages 942-947.