Monday, May 24, 2010

Never too old to learn more .....

“LIFELONG LEARNING” is a phrase very common this days and continuing what I posted before, some organizations  may not seem to treasure or adhere to the notion.  According to a recent survey in US, a management-development firm, the number of professionals taking part in formal corporate training drops rapidly after the age of 55. Are these old horns being overlooked or the younger ones being overly taken care of ??

It maybe tempting to conclude that older executives are "falling victim" to age discrimination, as firms focus resources on younger talent and letting them swim in the deep with expensive lesson being not quickly learnt as they could lack the foresight and most important, past experiences accrued over the years by these older staff and executives.

It seems conventional training simply no longer serves the needs of the older executives. Formal programmes are often seen as a repetition of lessons already learned and become increasingly irrelevant in the light of experience and expertise. Depending on what kind of training material and they must be specially tailored to fit the needs of the organization they run and ability to see the day-to-day business event and what are the problems facing them,etc..... The resulting repetitive and bored programme will tend to cause “training fatigue” and is resistant to most incentives.

This doesn’t mean that more seasoned executives have completely abandoned the idea of personal and career development. Instead some of these groups prefer a do-it-yourself approach, conducting their own research and swapping war stories with their peers rather than take a place at business school. Such self-taught approach carries some potential drawbacks. FIrstly is that a wealth of knowledge and experience is lost from the classroom, which reduces the value of the training for everyone else. But non-participation may also be the beginning of a process of detachment from the organisation, its aims and aspirations, which in time will damage both parties. Furthermore, as executives start to stretch their careers into their fifties or more, education makes even more sense for this group.

One solution is to throw money at the problem. When senior managers are offered the chance to mix with their peers at a top business school, rather than a bog-standard institution, they seem to be quickly won over. IMD  in Switzerland ( famous for its MBA school ), for example, maintains that it does not see any drop in the number of older managers on its programmes, and goes on to say that it has actually witnessed organisations investing heavily in them throughout the downturn.

Few organisations could afford to put all of their veteran managers through the sort of prestigious programmes which is costly. But firms do need to engage those managers below the C-suite—what one management consultant describes as the “magnificent middle”—because these are the front-liners who make things happen within any business and who carry around in their heads the secrets of how the organisation works.

One way in which this can be done is to make training less about abstract theory and more about the actual workplace. This means steering clear of the case studies that business schools are so fond of and instead relating new ideas directly to what is happening on a day-to-day basis within the organisation. To accomplish this, training should be delivered in short, sharp bursts so that executives can take a lesson, put it into practice, assess its effectiveness and then return to shape it further in light of this “trial by fire”.

Henry Mintzberg from McGill University in Canada, a high-profile champion of the middle manager, takes this approach one step further. He believes the best way to win over this group is to get them to train themselves. His “Coaching Ourselves” organisation brings experienced executives together for 90 minutes at a time. Managers are supplied with learning guides but not teachers. They discuss and reflect on how the topic impacts on them.  The managers  learn from each other and, most crucially, develop actions for their workplaces.”

Whatever approach an organisation takes to embrace its veterans, an ageing population means that it must do something, or else face the much more serious problem of how to replace them and their valuable knowledge in the near future. 

To be continued........ 

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