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Maximizing the Schwartzkopf Generation

RainmakerThinking, Inc.

March 03, 2008

We refer to the 7.5% of the workforce born before 1946 as the Schwartzkopf Generation, with all due respect to the General. In the United States alone that amounts to more than five million workers, representing an incredible store of skill, knowledge, wisdom, institutional memory, relationships, and the last vestiges of the old fashioned work ethic. Nine points on which to focus:

1. They are the true change masters of the workforce, despite their reputation as change resisters. If they seem skeptical about your new idea, it might be they are remembering when it was a “new idea” thirty years ago… and then again twenty years ago… and then again ten years ago. Tap into their institutional memory and use it to steer your organization, your team, and your career through today’s minefield of constant change. Remember this: To understand the new, you must study the old.

2. Most are still hoping to cash-out their investments in the old-fashioned workplace bargain. Having started their careers in the 1950s and 1960s, they built their careers during an era when the historically anomalous myth of job security made sense. Many followed the old-fashioned career path, making lots of short-term sacrifices every step of the way in exchange for promised rewards that vest in the long-term. With pensions on ever-shifting terrain, some will be severely disappointed, and all are watching with trepidation. Maybe that’s what they mean when they say, “loyalty is dead.”

3. On the one hand, they find it vaguely insulting, but mostly inconvenient, that their young colleagues won’t happily do all the grunt work, be last in line for every perk, and make no demands. On the other hand, they know that today’s young workers would be fools to pay their dues and climb the ladder the old-fashioned way. Then again, that realization makes most Schwartzkopfers feel a little sad.

4. Those who have earned seniority, tend to feel strongly it should be valued and rewarded. Still, most Schwartzkopfers are thinking like free agents too, nowadays: “What’s the deal around here?”

5. Schwartzkopfers want to follow strong leaders. Remember General Schwartzkopf’s Rules: ‘When in command, take charge.’ and ‘When in doubt, do what’s right.’

6. Schwartzkopfers thrive on standard operating procedures, written and verbal.

7. Armed with clear guidelines, Schwartzkopfers will be among the most innovative members of the team… in between the lines of course.

8. Create knowledge transfer programs where your oldest and most experienced employees can be honored and rewarded for sharing their wisdom. Capture that knowledge in tangible information assets.

9. Create flexible work programs so older workers can keep working. Build a reserve army of semi-retired older workers who still work part-time, flex-time, or at least sometime. If it works, extend the practice to departing employees in good standing of all ages.

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