Very interesting data came in from a client today. My consulting company is working with this client to help develop project managers who can handle €500 million manufacturing projects. The client has an aging workforce and needs to have 90 of these new project managers (PM) in place by 2015. It normally takes 7 years to get these PMs up to speed and we’re working to reduce that ramp time by 50% or more through structured knowledge transfer. If we fail, the manufacturer’s business is at risk because their clients will not sign contracts where the project managers are not sufficiently prepared.


Why Inertia Surrounds the Aging Worker Problem

The interesting data point that came in from this client was an internal report from 2005 outlining the very problem that my company was only now being brought in to solve. Why has a known and critical workforce talent shortage received so little attention?

Two main reasons:

  1. The client’s culture and compensation model actually dissuaded experts from transferring their knowledge to peers.
  2. The client’s leadership team just didn’t know how to solve it.

I see similar inertia and cultural obstacles to knowledge transfer in many organizations. In this case, through our knowledge strategy work with the client, we uncovered the cultural and compensation issues that had stymied progress and have worked to address them. Now, we’re using our 3-step knowledge transfer process—including the Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM) and Skill Development Plan (SDP) tools—to map out the exact skills that each PM must have so that we can use a combination of formal training and knowledge transfer to execute on these plans. We also have a workshop (our flagship Knowledge Transfer Workshop) coming up in Paris that will be attended by the client’s current and in-training PMs from around the world, so they can learn how to be mentors and/or apprentices as needed.

Ideally, we would have been brought into this client much sooner. It remains to be seen if we can move fast enough to meet the urgent business need, but we are now moving forward with support from the executive team, plans are in place, and there’s a growing sense of confidence that this problem can be solved. I’ll keep you posted in future blog entries about how the project unfolds.

SUMMARY: As business leaders, we need to take our heads out of the sand when it comes to the very real risks of an aging workforce. My questions for you are: How long has your organization known that you have a serious talent shortage on the horizon? And, is it possible that you haven’t made enough progress toward a solution simply because you don’t know what to do?