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Archive for the ‘business with boomers’ Category

I Am Not Alone — And Neither Are You!

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

There are really good life coaches out there who GET IT about the importance of customizing your retirement years.

Karma Kitaj is one of them. She seems like my emotional twin in the attitude with which she reviews my book Supercharged Retirement. Check out her blog for what has to say about the book and the possibilities for “after we give up work.”

Veterans in the Talent War – Using Older Workers Well

Monday, April 13th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO. Mining Silver

There’s an old story about a farmer in South Africa who sold his farm so he could become a diamond prospector.He never did find his mother load.But the guy who bought the farm, who was paying more attention to what was going on around him, did—in the creek bed that the would-be prospector had crossed every day he’d owned the farm.If you’re not paying attention, you can miss seeing treasure that you already have.

For many companies and the culture in general, this is true of older workers.They are a gold mine of experience, knowledge, and well-honed skills, yet we politely move them to the sidelines—and then out of the picture entirely and into “retirement” simply because they’ve reached a certain age.Why do we keep doing that?

I can hear the clamor of defense already.Older workers don’t want to work as hard.Older workers want to retire and are just treading water until they can leave.Older workers get sick more often.None of these things are true across the board.What’s even more important to realize is that even if they are true for your company, you may be causing them.

If senior employees aren’t offered new challenges, if their experience isn’t appreciated and relied on, if they aren’t given effective opportunities to learn new technology, you’re stacking the deck against the company—and them.Without positive challenges, appreciation, and a viable chance to learn, it’s hard to enjoy your work no matter how old you are.And when you don’t like your work, you think about leaving, especially if you can retire.

You may be applauding this exodus.It “makes room for fresh blood.”You’re reducing salary and benefits expenses.But that’s like using a gold mine for cold storage.You’re not really getting the best use out of what you have.And when you “throw them away” for younger workers, you lose a lot that the company needs to know.

Why not be smarter about how you use them?

LEVERAGE WHAT OLDER WORKERS KNOW AND CAN DO.The “old pro” who can calm the most irate customer should be the role model for new hires.She might make a great mentor or even a trainer.Even if she doesn’t want those roles, concrete examples of how she handles things make it much easier for younger workers to learn how to do the job right.And she just might perform even better for being noticed.

ADD A SEASONED PERSPECTIVE TO DEVELOPMENT TEAMS.Get your older talent involved with projects that will be enhanced by their viewpoint.What are you trying to do that might run into trouble for lack of a reality check?What needs to be linked carefully to what you are already doing to be a success? Cross-generational teams should be our “secret weapon” for business success.We think of them as battle grounds.Yes, there are generational differences.There always have been.Effective managers—both of companies and projects–capitalize on them.

USE WHAT SENIOR EMPLOYEES KNOW STRATEGICALLY.Too often, we tell older workers how valuable they are and then relegate them to work that doesn’t take advantage of it.This isn’t a matter of “making them feel good.”This is about getting the most bang for your payroll buck.Even so, higher motivation is a usual side effect.And that, in turn, leads to even better performance.From them.From the company.

TEACH TECH IN WAYS NON-GEEKS CAN LEARN.All too often, technical training for older workers is a geek speaking Greek and a jumbled effort to remember stuff that never did make sense.This is not the learner’s fault.This is bad teaching.But older workers are quick to belittle themselves about their inability to learn this stuff.So poorly designed training stays in place and needed skills remain unlearned.If you were teaching your Russian subsidiary how make widgets, would you do it in French?

STOP THINKING “40-HOUR WORKWEEK”.If a senior worker wants to throttle back, explore whether they can get the essential work done on a less-than-fulltime basis.Thinking of full retirement as the only alternative to a fulltime position makes as much sense as thinking the only place you can get to from Chicago is Cleveland.Explore the possibilities. If your company has a defined pension plan especially, include HR. You may create a part-time or project-based slot that gives you more than you would get from a fulltime new hire for less money.

What we are doing with older workers is a senseless waste—to the culture, the company, the person.Grab the competitive advantage by using them to their fullest potential.You will probably be amazed.

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Mary Lloyd is the author of Supercharged Retirement:Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. She offers seminars on how you can create a meaningful retirement for yourself and consults to help your business attract and use retired talent well.She is also available as a speaker.For more insights on how to better use the talent of those in the last third of their lives go to =>http://www.mining-silver.com.

Why We Need to Recalibrate Our Sense of “Old”

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO Mining Silver

On his 80th birthday, Hugh Hefner said “80 is the new 40.”   In an article last summer, Sunset magazine proclaimed “100 is the new 70.”   Author and CEO Bill Byham titled a 2007 business book  70: The New 50. The numbers are fun, but so far, it seems in terms of the way we see it as a culture, 50 is still “old.”  We need to revisit that.  We are shooting ourselves in the collective foot big time.

Webster’s lists nine different definitions of the word “old.”  When we talk about “old” people, are we talking about “worn” or “experienced?”   Our continued success as a society hinges on which we choose.  Because 50 is not “worn” so much as polished.   We are throwing away really good stuff–and then paying to keep it somewhere else.

Seventy percent of the physical problems we blame on aging are actually the result of lifestyle choices.  It’s not your age that’s keeping you from doing that bike ride.  It’s that you haven’t walked farther than from the couch to the refrigerator in the last five years.  Excusing our bad habits with our birthdays is a downpayment on a long gloomy death spiral.   Most of us are going to live to 80.  Thirty years of assuming we can’t do what we want because we’re “old” is pretty tragic.

Businesses who assume 50 is “old” are squandering some of their best talent, too.  Instead of helping  the experienced workforce get comfortable with new technology, they look for ways to usher them out the door.  Instead of building multi-generational teams that capitalize on the full range of talents and skills available, they shove the experience in some corner where the younger workers can’t learn from it.  They literally watch needed expertise walk out the door into retirement without ever asking, “Any way we can get you to work for us on a more flexible basis?”

Wired magazine’s April issue includes an article about taking your job on the road–in your RV.  It wasnt written for “old” people.    But it sure looks like a good marriage of “retirement” and staunching the experience drain.  The irony of the current business mindset is that while companies continue to assume that experienced workers want traditional retirement, they are creating flexible work arrangements to attract Gen Y workers as their replacements.  The “new kids” want  to work when they want wherever they want,  responsible only for the end result rather than showing up every day.  It’s called ROWE–results only work environment.    To offer such options to new, inexperienced workers–who probably won’t reach the level of productivity the older workers have for ten years or maybe much longer–and NOT offer it as an alternative to retirement is painfully short-sighted.

As a business, there may also be room to retain the experience you already paid to develop in creative ways that take less than a full time salary to accomplish.   This is a tight labor market, yes.   But it’s also the perfect opportunity to try some things while the pace is a little slower.    How can you marry new technology with old savvy to get the best bang for your labor buck?

And then there is the little matter of government entitlements.  When someone retires, they go on everybody else’s payroll, via FICA taxes.  Social Security comes out of our collective wallets, not “the government’s.”   So when we expect people to be “old” and to retire around 62,  we buy in on taking care of them, in terms of Social Security checks, for an average of about 18 years.

Most  people retire in good health.  They are still capable of doing great work on something in which they believe, particularly if it’s a customized arrangement.  Instead, the invisible wall of ageism goes up around them.  The culture assumes they are washed up, worn out, and useless.   We pay them to “get out of the way” when they weren’t in the way in the first place.  And once they’ve retired, we make re-entry into the labor market, even if highly qualified, damn near impossible.  It’s like we are afraid “old” is contagious.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Once people start being “old,” they buy in on the stereotype.  They need more medical attention.  Much of it wouldn’t be necessary if these capable people could remain engaged.  But when the only person who’ll talk to you is your doctor, you talk to your doctor.  Once Medicare is part of that person’s setup, we are all pay the bill.

We need to revisit when “old” starts.  I’m voting for somewhere around 95 or maybe 98.  Many of us can keep going all the way to the day we die if we just have the opportunity.  People over 50 have a lot left to offer and a lot left to do. As a culture, we need to give them the chance.

Why “Whatever” is Losing You Customers

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO, Mining Silver

In a recent post I mentioned an experience at a local grocery store that made me vow I would never go back.  In a nutshell, I took issue with being totally ignored by the checker, who carried on a conversation with her also young co-worker the whole time she was supposedly serving me.  I said I would not go back.  And I won’t.  (My stubbornness is legendary.)

But after I wrote that post I started to think about the broader implications of that experience.  It’s something that’s much bigger than me choosing a different grocery store.  What was going on was both generational and ageist.  And the businesses who want to flourish–in this economy especially–need to see it for what it is–something that can make a difference in their bottom line.

Sure, I didn’t like being less important that what kind of cream cheese the friend had gotten for her on her bagel.  But what made that conversation seem appropriate to her in lieu of concentrating on the customer?

That checker was doing what most of this culture does–including me, even though I try really hard not to.  She decided I wasn’t important–I am much older than she is.  I am not relevant in her world.  I was just taking up the space in front of her friend.  So she ignored me and talked to her friend. The problem is, I have a lot more money than her friend.  And was, until that episode, spending quite a bit of it where she is employed.

She will never see the connection if she gets laid off because the store loses business.  (A lot of us in this particular community are much older than she.)  She will blame “stupid management” or “the economic downturn.”  She won’t ask herself, “What did I do to precipitate this?” because kids don’t ask themselves that.  And a bad manager or an inept business owner won’t ask either.  A good manager will and will notice that things are going south before they are all the way to Antarctica.

Older shoppers are not what they used to be.  The baby boom now has gray hair.  We don’t take being rendered irrelevant quite as calmly as the Silent Generation.  But it’s easier to voice our opinions by permanently walking out the door than by yelling at someone.   You don’t want my business?  Fine.  I will take my money and go somewhere that notices I’m buying from them.

There are two other things that make the need to provide good service to older customers even more compelling.    First, much as the stereotype suggests we are all maybe three steps from being street people, older customers tend to have more money to spend.  When you don’t provide them with a positive experience, they won’t spend as much. And when you don’t provide them with a minimally gratifying experience, they will do business elsewhere.

It’s tempting to kiss them off but can you afford it?  And to be blunt, you can only go so far with the rude treatment with the Gen X-ers. too.

The other thing it’s important to realize is that there are different levels to consumerism that tend to parallel age.  At first, it’s just a matter of getting the material things you need to be able to function as an adult.  When you’ve managed that, buying moves to being “pampered.  This tends to happen in your forties and early fifties, when you don’t have time to pamper yourself.   But then you morph again as a consumer.  The third stage is about the experience and that’s why this kind of employee behavior is even more destructive than with younger customers.

It’s a two-headed dragon.  Older customers are treated with less respect because of the ageist assumptions of our culture.  At the same time, older customers want more attention because the experience of shopping is a larger component of their consumption expectations.

So what can you do?   You could explain  all this in a training session.   You could send out e-mails or post a memo on the break room bulletin board.  But all of that assumes the very ones who are not paying attention to the older  customers will pay attention to the bulletin board–or to some other older person in a training class.

What’s the best thing to do?   See for yourself.  Watch what’s going on.  If I had been the store manager that day and had observed that checker, she would have been in my office before the end of her shift.   This is not something you can teach with a memo.  It’s like keeping five-year olds out of traffic.  The feedback needs to be direct, immediate and firm.  “No.  You cannot do that.”    Sounds harsh, but it’s the kindest thing you can do–for everyone involved.  The young employee.  The customer.  The business.