How Much Experience Are You Throwing Away?

How Much Experience Are You Throwing Away?


Mary Lloyd

Assigning the work that needs to get done can become pretty routine if you let it. But if you always give the same people the same kind of tasks, and expect them to handle the same narrow range of challenges, you lose numerous opportunities to mentor, model and generally improve the skills of the whole workforce.

This is particularly true in terms of the people who’ve been around for a while. As you get used to what people can do, it’s easy to take it for granted and have them keep doing that same thing all by themselves. For years. For decades.

Four bad things can happen when you use that approach:

* New hires who need to learn how to do the job miss the chance to model that effective performance.

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* You miss the rest of what that employee is good at because you kept them doing something you already know they were good at.

* Tough job challenges become tougher because you are not applying the most thoroughly seasoned experience in your toolkit to the problem.

* The experienced employee begins to feel “taken for granted” and isn’t motivated to perform at a peak level. Even worse, he or she may elect to leave for to find a more exciting opportunity.

Assigning everyone work exactly the same way is kind of like using a power saw without turning it on. It works a lot better if you see all of what each worker can do in the role as you assign work. If you have experienced employees and are not using them at least informally as coaches, mentors, and problem solving resources for workers with less experience, you’re literally wasting company payroll dollars.

And do more if you can. Consider redesigning the work so you have your experienced workers involved in addressing the tougher challenges more of the time. Get their input on new programs. A lot of what fails has failed before and could have succeeded with a more complete team. In some instances, it will be simple project involvement. But in others, actual job design changes might be warranted. But either way, use that knowledge base and experience as fully as you can.

Another mistake is thinking that all older workers are just waiting to retire and don’t WANT to a challenge. And that they will want nothing to do with the company once they can start living “the Golden Years.” Over 70% of the 3000 baby boomers surveyed in 2005 (BEFORE the economic meltdown we are now facing) wanted to be able to work as part of their retirement. But most favored “cycling in and out of work.Can you design some of your work that way? You might get it done more effectively if you do.

It may mean getting a retired professional involved on a project from time to time. It may mean bringing back experienced help to met the demands of your peak season. It may mean letting an employee who’s a proven self-starter handle a specialized set of responsibilities from the road. I know a guy in Arizona who dispatches trucks for an outfit in Minnesota–from his extra bedroom.

You’ve spent a lot getting these people to the level of experience they currently claim. Just watching them walk out the door is nonsense. Letting them languish in less than challenging tasks when you have problems to solve is equally unenlightened.

Explore what might work for them AND the Company. Think hard about just what–of the work they do now–HAS to be shaped the way it currently is. Make the effort to see if you can keep these people doing what they are good at in ways that both get the work done effectively and prepare the next generation of workers in those slots as effectively as you can.

There is a prevailing and disastrous assumption that older workers can’t work very well and aren’t interested in excelling. It’s ridiculous hogwash, but also a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you expect older workers to be inept, disinterested and disengaged, they will comply with the expectation. And you will lose big time in how well you can get the work done.

Copyright (c) 2009 Mary Lloyd

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 your full range of employee talent, go to =>


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