In the popular television show Homeland, thirty-something CIA operative Carrie Mathison is actively mentored by her fifty-something senior colleague, Saul Berenson. It’s a good thing that Carrie is trying to learn everything she can from Saul now, because within a matter of years, Saul will likely retire from government service. Carrie is ensuring that all of the knowledge he has gleaned from decades of work in the field doesn’t disappear into a black hole.
In the next ten years, the massive Baby Boom generation (born 1946-63) will exit traditional jobs en masse, resulting in a major brain drain. You may be well acquainted with many of these Boomers now, but waiting to pick their brains until they’re out the door is not a good strategy. It’s much better to strike while you have easy access. To that end, here are a few knowledge sharing and gleaning recommendations to employ immediately.
Be a Joiner
Get involved in extracurricular activities sponsored by your company (sports teams, volunteer initiatives, etc.) and third-party industry associations so that you are naturally exposed to senior people inside and outside your field. Become a regular at events that take place more than once, and every time you meet someone, show genuine interest in their work and ask lots of questions.
Practice Reciprocal Mentorship
An evolution of reverse mentoring, reciprocal mentorship is a two-way relationship in which advice and information pass easily between a senior and junior-level colleague. The senior colleague may mentor the junior colleague on general business and career matters, while the junior colleague may provide guidance on twenty-first century workplace efficiencies and technologies.
Organize a Think Tank
Invite senior-level people who are top thinkers in your industry to attend a brainstorm on a particular topic. Plan a meal and thought-provoking discussion questions in advance so that the attendees are motivated to tell you everything they know.
Stay Plugged into the Organization
When emails come down from senior management, don’t delete them right away. Instead, read carefully about new programs and training opportunities. Take advantage of everything your employer provides, and use your attendance to network and build your skill set. When your leaders ask for feedback, give it willingly with the goal of establishing personal relationships with them.
Leverage Online Tools
NASA’s Spacebook was a terrific example of an online system that facilitates communication and knowledge sharing between retiring and up-and-coming personnel. Consider implementing data, task and project management software such as QuickBase to regularly collaborate and share reports with senior colleagues near and far. Keep precise documentation so that even when these colleagues are gone, the learnings are available for future reference.