• Adam Thackeray

Wisdom at Work

I'm BIG on lifelong learning. You must never stop learning. BE CURIOUS. I believe passing wisdom along from generation to generation is second, only to our own life experiences, when it comes to the best means of education and learning. (You need experience to get wisdom…hence experience is #1). Out of my adventures in lifelong learning came the discovery of this astronomical problem.  Businesses are losing wisdom at an unprecedented rate…it is literally walking out the door on a daily basis. We are blatantly ignoring it. This wisdom loss is costing businesses millions of dollars and in most cases executives are in agreement the loss is unquantifiable…UNQUANTIFIABLE.

 It is a problem of “death by a thousand cuts”. Originally, “death by a thousand cuts” referred to a form of torture and execution originating from Imperial China where many small cuts would lead to the eventual death of the individual. As the world has evolved, this idiom has been used in the modern English language to depict situations where lots of bad things are happening, none of which are fatal themselves, however add up to a slow and painful demise. Businesses today suffer from this fate and will continue to do so if we do not change the way we think and operate.

Take the aging population. Retiring at a rate of 10,000/day…for the next 15 years! How can you replace their wisdom once they’ve left an organization? You can't. It's gone. This problem of passing the torch to the next generation is #2 on the list of HR’s biggest challenges...and yet we take it for granted. Too often we say - "Ah we'll figure it out…don't worry about it…"

How many times have you heard "Amy is the go to person in our group for years now on managing those compliance matters...just ask her what to do…she just gets it done". Or how Richard the consultant navigated us through that critical juncture of a massive $100MM program...yet he's now gone and unavailable to deal with the EXACT same problem in a program one year later. Or “Andrea has been managing those relations for 20 years with our clients…what are we going to do now? She’s gone in a few weeks!?!?”

Businesses spend billions on onboarding programs, skills/knowledge-based education and compliance training yet we blatantly turn our heads when it comes to preserving the most important part of our business...the wisdom of our employees. The problem may not appear to some as a bleeding neck wound...however neither was global warming until it started to continuously smack us in the face with it’s impacts on the planet. 

Now that I've told you about the problem…what’s the solution? You can’t show up with a problem and no potential means to solve it!

Consider a model of wisdom in your organization:

  1. Diagnose and discover. Leaders need to understand where they are now and where you need to get to; this is done by asking the right questions to kick-start your diagnosis of the business. Think you know the pulse of your organization? 80% of leaders are detached from the pulse of their business. Where are the gaps? Who are those generations of workers that exist within your organization? How does learning currently take place? Has your culture adopted a learning mindset? How are your employees engaged? Do you have a plan to address learning for foreseeable future? Once you understand your business you can build the right actions to shift to a culture of learning. (if you think you have a sound culture of learning then do an assessment of its effectiveness and engagement levels - skip to step 4 and then comeback to #1).

  2. Capture. Once you have a plan - define simple ways to capture those nuggets of wisdom. Technology is the driver here for capturing wisdom. Video is #1, however not always realistic. Your company and its culture will help define the most effective ways to capture your content. How you go about capturing the wisdom will shift from business to business. Patterns do exist, however the technology and techniques will be different.

  3. Codify. Using scientifically-defined wisdom categorizations and custom ones determined by the business, your content will illustrate the inherit wisdom in the organization; the culture of the organization. Codification of the wisdom in your organization will help with learning paths, patterns of engagement (or lack thereof) and open up new learning realms.

  4. Measure. Measuring experience and wisdom is slightly different. Using defined models, you can have the ability to measure effectiveness, how much wisdom is in the organization and where it resides and ideal learning opportunities. A key piece of measurement that differs slightly for example is observation…because experience is such a fundamental aspect of passing the torch, observation and reflection are key measurements that are not always thought of in learning.

  5. Engage + share. Again, technology is your friend here. Community-based learning. Engagement in businesses is a meagre 20%! You can change this with passing the torch. Become a culture of learning. Empower your employees. From leaders to individual contributors. Encourage people to share and use the mediums of technology to allow that transfer of wisdom to truly take place. Make the wisdom of your organization a learning experience that people want as much as their cup of coffee in the morning. are you going to spark a change in the way people think and learn at your organization? #wisdom. GET INTO IT!

Thanks for reading!


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