Years ago, in one of my early management roles, I supervised an employee named Martha. Martha was memorable because she’d been in the department and organization for a very long time AND she carried a huge chip on her shoulder. I was a new supervisor and in one of our early interactions, I suggested an alternate approach to one of our processes. She immediately jumped in with: “Tried that bright idea five years ago. Didn’t work then, won’t work now!” Now you no doubt have come across one or two of your own versions of Martha in the workplace. Loosely defined, these are employees who have a great deal of experience, and who have been with an organization for quite a while. They’ve seen supervisors and managers come and go; many times they’ve trained those very people only to see them move on to greener pastures. If they have chips on their shoulders, it’s likely because their experience has been under-utilized and under-appreciated. Yet, it’s these experienced employees that can be a valuable resource to you and your department IF you can find a way to capitalize on their strengths.
Here’s one idea. Acknowledge their experience. They need to hear it from you. They’ve heard the education vs. experience storyline before and they often see themselves as getting the raw end of that deal! The truth is that experience is education, and if you, as a leader, cannot appreciate the value of experience, then you’re setting yourself up for ongoing failure with your more experienced employees. But it isn’t good enough to just know this; you have to tell them. Verbalize this sentiment: tell them you recognize and value the experience they bring, and that you’d like the benefit of their knowledge as you continue. Don’t be afraid to repeat it.
What are you doing to tap into the knowledge and experience of your older more experienced employees?