Not Your Father’s Corner Office: Some Old Dogs Don’t Need New Tricks

In the past, I’ve written a lot about the younger generation of workers. Today, I want to talk about what younger generations can learn from those who’ve “Been there, done that,” and how to promote their insights within your organization.

A lot has changed since the last time I shared my thoughts on this subject: I have a new, challenging job in a different market, I’ve moved from an employee to a manager in my current organization, and for various reasons, have moved twice in the past seven months. Suffice it to say, the only thing that’s stayed the same in my life as of late is that things have been changing!

Yet in spite of our culture’s yearning for new and different, and my personal experience with what can be learned by moving forward, I’m quickly coming to understand that some things remain the same no matter the industry or size of the organization. Coming in to lead a team that is comprised of both well-seasoned and newly minted employees has taught me that there is tremendous value in leveraging the knowledge and experience of both.

At the campus I now manage, we have a relatively new individual who is part of our Facilities team. In his 35-year career, he’s worked at seven different organizations in a facilities management position. Every day, by 7:30am, he’s out either sweeping the walkways in front of our school or salting the sidewalk with ice, as has been the case recently. In fact, the time we had a campus cleanup day, we discovered he does such a great job keeping up the outside of our facility that he hardly left us any work to do!

Considering his experience and willingness to pitch in, I was shocked at what he once told me about other places he’s worked: “You know, I’ve never really truly felt a part of any organization. People just didn’t really talk to me.” Yet I’ve found him to be incredibly positive, thoughtful and knowledgeable-”and, most of all, I’m glad to have him on my team. And I’m shocked that no one ever took the time to tap in to his wisdom.

Just the other day, he commented to me that at two months in, he’s still intuitively feeling his way around our organization. When a tricky situation came up that I had asked for his assistance with, he did his best to answer my questions with the information he had at the time. He paused to reflect before he answered, and gave me a response I could live with. I can think of many younger colleagues who may not have acted so prudently in that situation-”myself included, not so very long ago.

Experienced workers have so much to contribute. The gentleman to whom I’m referring is not only extremely proficient with many of the mechanical systems in our building, but he also has the emotional maturity to negotiate potentially tricky (or politically sensitive) scenarios that could quickly take a turn for the worse. To me, both his extensive experience and his emotional wherewithal make him an incredibly valuable member of my team.

So how can you tap in to the potential that exists in your senior workforce, and how can you encourage younger employees to listen to the lessons they’ve learned? For starters, get familiar with the individual experience of every employee, and create space for everyone to learn from each other. As a new leader, I took a page from a colleague’s book and held short, one-on-one conversations with all the team members to get to know them better. As challenging issues come up, I am more aware of whom I can leverage for which purpose, and who’s motivated by what.

Also, we’re moving to a new campus next year, so we’ve recently held a series of discussions involving our new location and the impact on our students. We have had time to get everyone in a room together and facilitate conversations where they are all involved. But even if you don’t have such a pressing issue to discuss, you can easily create urgency around something that people can rally behind. Don’t think so? When’s the last time you asked anyone with a marketing background how your brand was doing, or invited someone who’s had experience with strategic planning lead a brainstorming session about the future? You might be surprised at what you learn.

All in all, these are probably things we should be doing with our team anyway, as maturity and wisdom don’t always come in the form of a more experienced worker. Fortunately, some things just don’t change over time.

Danielle DeLonge is the Campus Executive Director for Davenport University’s Lansing campus. She holds a BA from the University of Michigan, and an executive MBA from Davenport University. If you’ll be in the Lansing region anytime soon and would like to get together for coffee, she can be reached at [email protected].