When you stop and think about it – most of us don’t know what we know – or at least we can’t recall it on command. Sure, we can remember what we need to know when a specific challenge arises. But how will we transfer our knowledge to a generation of employees who come to work with different attitudes and expectations about getting the job done? On the job training will not be enough. Besides, emerging workers have learned to learn in ways that didn’t exist even ten years ago. So how will you and your management team prepare for this critical evolution? What follows are five trends we believe are the most formidable of these challenges. Consider the question(s) at the end of each topic to assess how it may impact your actions and the actions of those around you.
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Perception of the value and relevance of knowledge – The value of knowledge must be measured in different ways. Skills may be essential to daily operations. But the vision and insights gathered over years of experience set organizational strategy, not to mention helping to avoid crises when they appear. But how will those in the emerging generations perceive the value of knowledge they may not comprehend or appreciate at the present time? Using the ease of technology as their guide, some have made the leap that if a certain body of knowledge is not available in a digital form, it must no longer be relevant. In other cases, this knowledge may not appear meaningful since application of it is not necessary immediately. It will be incumbent upon organizations to convince younger workers of the value of knowledge along with delivering it in a way that demonstrates relevancy. Questions to consider: What steps does your organization need to take to convince young users of the relevance and applicability of the knowledge you are sharing? What kinds of information within your environment will prove particularly challenging to transfer and manage?
The impact of convenience on critical thinking – Technology has always been a mixed blessing. Society appears to be migrating toward a model of menu-driven thinking that replaces traditional problem solving approaches with choice-oriented applications. On one level, this kind of technology can enhance the delivery of training and instruction. At the same time, the nuances of critical thinking are lost on those who develop a reliance on menu-driven options to make decisions. Yes, simulations and games may offer solutions to this challenge, but the technology and true integration of this approach is just now in its infancy. Questions to consider: What knowledge within your organization amenable to being managed using a technological platform? What knowledge will prove difficult to transfer because of its problem-solving-oriented nature? What steps can you take to address the challenges of both?
The influence of impatience and non-stop stimulation – The emerging generations are products of a 24/7/365 multi-media environment that leaves many uncomfortable with silence. The nature of knowledge transfer, especially within non-technical realms, is based largely on patient information gathering and process. A classic example of this is the passing of wisdom and insights from a veteran to an emerging leader. The methodology for this typically consists of story-telling, discussion and repeated exposure to the environment. For the impatient young learner, this may be a struggle, especially if the mentor is less than effective at investing the protégé in the value of what s/he has to offer. These relationships cannot be forced, yet contain the transfer of knowledge critical to organizational health over time. Questions to consider: How can you best coach veteran managers and leaders to effectively work with emerging contributors in transferring their base of knowledge and wisdom? How can you convince emerging workers of the value of story-telling, interviews and reflection as effective means for learning and embracing a non-technical knowledge base?
Rejection of veterans’ knowledge – It has been assumed by many that young workers will reject the knowledge of experienced contributors out of hand. But this is not so much an outright rejection as it is a search for relevance. While experience is hailed as buttressing knowledge, it can also bedevil the transfer of critical information by obscuring it with non-essential information. If knowledge is to be transferred successfully, both parties must work collaboratively. Veteran workers must distill their experiences and wisdom down to the essentials. Emerging workers much accept the fact that the nuances of this transfer will take considerable time and effort with those currently possessing the knowledge. Questions to consider: How can you encourage workplace veterans to share their knowledge and insights in ways that are most appealing to the emerging generations? How can you encourage young workers to embrace the relevance of the knowledge they are learning and to work collaboratively with veteran contributors to facilitate the process?
Expectation of continuous learning – The emerging generations have concluded that knowledge and skills equal versatility. This versatility, they believe, will enhance their ability to remain consistently employed in a meaningful way. They willingly embrace opportunities to develop new proficiencies and learn new disciplines. For this reason alone, most eagerly search for novel experiences and knowledge bases to conquer. The acquisition of these skills and knowledge bases however, should not be equated with mastery of the subject. Veteran workers are sometimes put off by the youthful desire of some young people because they see little evidence of an ability to apply these newly acquired skills.
Organizations will need to manage the transfer of knowledge to those most willing to embrace mastery of a topic over time. This will require a system that effectively addresses several issues: 1) Reluctance on the part of older workers to share knowledge that some equate with job security, 2) Skepticism on the part of emerging workers that the knowledge is relevant to them, not just within in the organization, but in a broader context, 3) The desire to learn using delivery methods which young workers embrace such as simulations and Web 2.0 applications, and 4) Encouraging among emerging workers the patience, reflection and endurance required to master the bases of knowledge contained within their areas of responsibility. Questions to consider: How can you and your team successfully address the issues identified above? What resources will be required to do so? What obstacles can you anticipate in addressing these issues?