I’m doing a survey on Linked-In at the moment about talented people who can’t find work, and getting the feeling that there are a lot of very experience marketeers being thrown on the heap because they have been overtaken on the corporate ladder by someone a lot younger who sees their experience as a threat, rather than a valuable tool to be leveraged and channelled.
A lot of it is down to the fact that companies no longer grow managers, but rely on MBAs and experience gained in other cultures, yet some of the best management lessons come from managing a team of ‘old timers’ and having to learn their ways in a long-established, and successful, business.
I discovered this years ago when I was a thrusting young manager determined to make my stamp upon the world, but whatever I said I just couldn’t get a couple of ‘good ole boys’ to listen. Why? because they’d seen it all before and their experience told then that nothing I was coming up with would make a great deal of difference.
Most young managers react to that situation by dismissing the wisdom of experience, and dismiss the ‘old-timers’ as ‘unwilling to learn’ or ‘set in their ways’. While it’s true that some people turn 50, and decide to spend the next 15 years marking time till their pension, I’ve not met very many.
In fact most of the people I know, and I live in a area with a very high percentage of retirees, think that just because your age starts with a 5, or even a 6 doesn’t mean you’re against the idea of earning more, being challenged and growing your own knowledge, or improving your personal status in the marketplace.
So how did we solve the old-timer challenge? A lesson from the army on my first day as a junior officer – I was ‘requested to visit’ the RSM’s office where he welcomed me to the regiment, and told me, firmly, that while the little pip on my shoulder meant I technically outranked him, and as well as all the other NCOs in my troop, their average soldiering experience of 20+ years each had taught them all more than I could hope to know before I left three years later, and if I actually wanted to get anything done, I’d need those people to do it for me, so better get their acceptance, forget respect, pretty damn quick.
He also pointed out that respect has to be earned, and you get a hell of a lot more of it if you start with an open ear, than an open mouth!
So a few years later when I was climbing the greasy management pole, I did get my ‘old-timers’ onside, and in fact they became the most productive and profitable members of my team, because by listening to their ideas, respecting their wisdom, and discussing what they would do in my shoes, we developed some extremely innovative tactics that blew the competition away and had the total support of everyone in the team.
Of course I could have just found an excuse to ease them into early retirement and have a go on my own, but if I had we’d all have been a lot the poorer.
Now how can we get this across to today’s ‘middle management’?