Generational Change in Your Company?

KCMN April Meeting Summary 

KCMN’s April meeting featured two sets of speakers who shared their company best practices for managing the generational transition as boomers are reaching retirement age.  As part of the registration process, attendees could respond to an optional survey indicating their breakdown of employees between Millennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers.  Company responses varied, but net result of the 20 company response was that 25% of their workforce is comprised of Boomers (born in 1946-1963). Six companies have over a third of their workforce from the Boomer generation.

Reduced Hours For Employees Transitioning to Retirement

As a way to provide an opportunity for Boomers approaching retirement to transition to retirement, rather than abruptly leave and take their experience, tribal knowledge and skills, Scott Nord, Vice President, Chief Financial Officer at UltraSource, LLC, and Chris Vering, President, CFO, COO of Knit-Rite, Inc. shared their companies’ experiences with their retirement transition plans.  Both programs share many of the same elements:

-        the programs are voluntary, include a reduced hours schedule, provide benefits despite reduction in hours, and are intended to be for a mutually agreeable finite period.

-        In both cases, management has to approve individuals on a case by case basis depending on business need.

The advantage is that the transitioning employee can mentor and set the stage for their eventual replacement, and can help with personnel planning vs a 2 week notice on the way out the door.

UltraSource has had several employees choose this option, and has been successful with some minor revisions along the way. Knit-Rite just initiated their program in January, and has limited communication of this to those positions where a transition/knowledge transfer is an important consideration.  Chris also noted that their hiring guidelines are being revisited in regards to how they evaluate those with past criminal records as potential employees.  This change was driven by the lack of candidates, and includes a guidance document on the nature of the offense, kind of position, and time since the offense occurred. Chris noted that those given a second chance have been some of their most dedicated and loyal employees.

Developing a Multi-Generational Culture

The second half of the meeting was comprised of a panel of manufacturing company employees, led by Kirk Young of Job Match Assessment, who discussed how their companies are managing the transitions in their companies as the workforce becomes more Gen-X and Millennial. Brian Pittel, Engineering Manager at Continental Disc, noted that his company’s product line is very mission critical to their customers – product failure can result in injury or death. Therefore, processes and knowledge in the hands of experienced employees was needed to be captured before these people retired.  Brian has looked to strategies such as asking them to write things down/author new processes, and the use of video to visually capture key processes and concepts.

Chris Coad, Production Manager at Dimensional Innovations, stressed that their use of temp to hire drove home the need to develop more standardization of processes, despite their company actually being very Millennial-heavy. The company seeks to hire for cultural fit almost more than skills, since skills can be taught, while work ethic and cultural fit cannot. However, the process of teaching those skills must accurately reflect the demands of the product and customers, so continues to be a work in process to create accurate processes.  Kirk noted that the training methods are evolving – and that the era of creating a binder that employees will read is no longer the best methodology.  Holland Nameplate is also working hard to standardize everything to help improve training, and allow them to focus on cultural fit, hiring nice, smart, driven people who can then learn the specific job skills when they come on board.

Considerable discussion centered on the importance of culture.  Kyle Hooten, Quality Manager at Holland Nameplate noted that he came to the company for the job, but has stayed due to the culture.  All of the panelists are Millennials, who agreed on some common points that are critical for maintaining a loyal and dedicated Millennial workforce:

-        Communication:  Chris Coad noted that DI attempts to ‘over communicate’ as much as possible. Kirk noted that traditionally, Boomers subscribe to the ‘knowledge is power’ philosophy, but this creates animosity in the Millennial generation. All noted that sharing information promotes trust.

-        Focus on Culture and Teamwork: Brad Farmer, Accountant/Estimator at Holland Nameplate stressed that with a strong culture, those employees who do not work hard and contribute will weed themselves out.  DI has a keg on site, and employees can participate in ‘drink and learn’ sessions to improve their skills and build camaraderie across departments. Holland offers Beer Thursdays and company lunches once a month to share information, and build teamwork amongst the employees.

-        Flexibility:  While processes and procedures are important, there also needs to be avenues where new ideas, suggestions, or technology can play a role in improvement.  Providing more flexible work schedules when possible is a growing expectation, especially in the Millennial generation.

-        Respect: Companies have to walk a fine line between respecting the contributions of the older workers, many of which contributed to the current/historical success of the company, with the reality that the business environment and technology is changing very rapidly. The key to managing changes is to focus on showing all employees how changes can be improvements, and can make their jobs easier and/or the company more successful.