The ageing workforce part 1

January 21, 2016

One of the hardy annuals used to justify knowledge management programmes is the problem of the ageing workforce. Equally persistent, to the point of perversion, are the subsequent imposition of solutions based on codification. Nothing wrong with that in the obvious domain of Cynefin and at least a part of the complicated domain but to be honest most of those applications should be business as usual, there is nothing special about those whose retirement is imminent in respect of the need here.

In reality, the question is a wider one, which is how to capture or distil knowledge that is wrapt up in experience. I hesitate to use the wisdom word but it is appropriate here. It is worth looking at the nature of that knowledge/wisdom and why it is important. It is also relevant to realise that the ageing workforce is one of the easier (if any are easy) areas of experience to retain. You can still engage people post-retirement but rarely if they leave for alternative employment and with extreme difficulty if you lay them off. In fact, you might want to read my earlier post about naturally evolved roles before you even think about that.

So it’s worth looking at three types of knowledge that are being lost before we go any further:

  1. A large part of the experience is abductive in nature, the ability to link or connect what to the less experienced is a disconnect.  The more memories you have access to, the more diverse the experience that gave rise to them, and the more extensive the networks which extend them, the more you can make those links under pressure.
  2. The trusted relationships that are part of those networks can only be treasured, social obligations built up over time through multiple projects are not something that can be recorded and they are not transactional anyway.   I never liked the idea of there being a favour bank; the wrong metaphor altogether.  Many of them will only be known in the context of a need to know.
  3. Decision-making under conditions of stress with limited information is always an issue and the authority or advocacy capability that comes with both experience and the lack of further ambition for promotion or power.  This is frequently neglected in problem definition but it is essential.

All of those require approaches that are far from conventional in nature. In devising them we can draw on one of the most ancient, and most effective, knowledge transfer systems namely the apprentice model. We can use digital means to enhance that, but not replace it. But that is for tomorrow.

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About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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The ageing workforce part 2

It is no coincidence that I am using images from medieval apprenticeships in this series ...

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