Vithal is sitting near the table of his younger colleague Shyam for last half hour waiting for Shyam to finish the Power Point that Vithal would be presenting in the Monthly review. Vithal never managed to learn Power Point very well. He says he had been trying for the past few years. But, somehow not able to learn all the nuances needed to put out a good presentation. The frustrated Boss of Vithal put him on to Shyam- a youngster so that Vithal will not be an odd man out in the monthly review. Vithal had been in the company for the past 22 years.
You would have seen people like Vithal and with some similar qualities in your companies. People who had been there in the company for long long time and somehow fell behind in skill improvement and a few other areas.
The Stagnant Water
Majority of ‘Vithals’ in the industry would have become ancient and stuck at a particular level in the organization without further promotions. Every year when the Performance appraisal comes in, the ‘Vithals’ are wonderful staple for the ‘Solid citizens / Meets Expectations’ category. Sometimes a frustrated Manager may push them to the ‘Below Expectations’ category too. But, somehow with their ‘connections’ in the company they will survive without being pushed out.
It is not uncommon to see some of these ‘Vithals’ being asked to go too.
Many a times, the young Managers who come in to the Company find it very difficult to manage the ‘Vithals’. The age is a factor. Then, the ‘Vithals’ feel they have been in the company for a long time and the young Managers are ‘Bachas’ (Children) who don’t know what is what.
Very often the ‘Vithals’ hold on to their knowledge, do not share it and use it as a weapon to proclaim their relevance in the organization. The Young Managers may find it difficult to fight them. So, very often they succumb to them and carry them on their shoulders. There may also be cases where the Young Managers struggle with them for some time and then manage to push them to another department and get rid of the trouble!
Should we purge the ‘Old Timers’ ?
Should organizations get rid of the Old Timers? Should we prescribe a time limit for the people to stay in the organization?
As I am talking about the Manufacturing Organizations right now, I feel it is very unwise to put a Time limit for people to stay in the organization or purge the old timers.
The strength of a Manufacturing Organization is its’ people. People who had been in the organization for longer time would have accumulated a lot of experience in the organization and they are priceless if used properly. The Organizational experience in manufacturing the Products is invaluable. Companies become much better at their products with experience. They build great relationships with Customers over years. They give wonderful after sales service with the help of the experience. All this experience in most cases reside in the people in the Organization.
How can we get rid of these people who are repositories of knowledge?
If we say these people have become outdated / worthless and a burden for the organization, then it reflects on the Organization. Not so much on the people who are products of the Organization.
Developing the Old Timers
How do we prevent this from happening? How do we help the Old timers / Long Timers in the company to continually develop themselves?
A few essentials:
01. Formulate Systems and don’t depend on the people: Periodically the Companies should formulate systems in each function and don’t just depend on the knowledge of the people in the function. This may sound counter to the argument that we should preserve the old timers. We should never let people get stuck in one area. Water should flow continuously. You know what happens when water does not flow and gets stagnated. It stinks!! Same thing happens to people who are stuck in one place for long time. When the organization is not dependent on the people, they will look to learning something new. Otherwise the Organization becomes comfortable in same people doing the same thing as they don’t have to teach anyone else. People become comfortable as they don’t have to learn anything new. Then, it starts stinking. Downloading the knowledge of people and making them in to systems periodically helps both the organization and the individual.
02. Rotate People periodically: Rotate the people in to different functions periodically after you build the Systems in each of the functions. If you do it without having strong systems, then the organization will get in to trouble as the new person will start doing things in his / her own way.
03. Grow the People in to new roles: How many companies have a strong system for growing people? Growth is a two way street. Employees should participate actively. But, I would put the onus on the organization to make this happen. There should be Developmental initiatives to grow people. I have not seen many companies focused on this. Some wonderful exceptions are there who focus on medium term development of people.
04. Expose the people to companies outside:You can do this by periodic visit to other Bench mark companies. You can take people to companies on a paid tour that are arranged by companies across the world. You can visit companies in Japan/ USA / Europe to show how World class companies work. Nothing better than actually looking at things working.
05. Have a growth agenda in the company:A company that is not having energy within and not having an agenda for Growth will not be having people who are energetic! A Company should always have Growth Agenda and should create some energy in the Organization.
A Company needs to have higher expectations from itself, from its’ people and enable Growth of the Company and the People. If People are becoming worthless by staying long in the Company, then it reflects on the Company and its’ Leadership !
While a Company can manage its ’Old timers’, how can the Young Managers manage the ‘Old Timers’ who are not highly skilled and who have become ‘heavy’ for them to carry them?
The Old Timers have to be moved to start Learning something new. That is our objective. ‘A moving stream of water’ is our objective. We don’t want water to stagnate and stink.
01. Look for what is good:When people stay in a company for a long time, they will accumulate something good. There may be something that you don’t like. But, what do the Old timers have that is good? Recognize it , Use it and appreciate it. Only then you gain a right to point out to something that is not there. Many a times the old timers have good knowledge of the Products / Processes in the Company. You can ‘Down load’ it from them and make them in to ‘E-Learning’ Lessons that can be useful for the whole organization. The Old Timers can be the center piece for the Knowledge Management System in a company.
02. Give genuine respect:Experience is traditionally respected in our culture. We bow to people who are aged and experienced. Honor this tradition in your company genuinely. These are principles and should be followed strictly.
03. Expose them to new areas:The Old Timers can get a ‘New Comer’ feeling if they are put in an unfamiliar territory within the Organization. But, this should be tried only after you use their experience. Otherwise they would get a feeling that they are worthless and being shunted around. We want people around to feel good about themselves. We don’t want them to feel they are worthless. A Mature Leader would agree with this approach.
04. Give them higher responsibility:Let them handle a few areas by themselves as they are experienced. They may fail. But ,that is the way to make them move. By putting your trust in them, you would be showing your good will. If they fail, they will ‘feel’ about it. A Creative tension would start within them to ‘Grow’. Put your Trust in the ‘human nature’.
05. Earn their respect:The Young Manager should not look to bossing over the Old timer due to his/her designation only. The Young Manager should earn the respect of people around him/her with his/her work culture that may be biased towards action.
06. Team feedback:It would be good to let the team give the feedback to each other. If there are 10 people in a team, each person should get a feedback from the other 9 on Commitment, Coordination and Cooperation. Peer feedback is very powerful. If the person feels that only his/her boss is not happy with him/her, the Corrective action may not be strong. But, if he/she knows that 7 out of 9 people are asking him/her to change, then you have a better chance.
07. Don’t make it ‘we vs them’:Unknowingly ,the Managers may push the Old Timers in to one group making it more difficult to themselves. Partner with the Old Timers genuinely and as you may do with anyone else. Do not create groups in the organization with your actions.
I feel the Old Timers in a Manufacturing Company are very valuable and every Company should manage them actively.