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Teaching Gen Y and making it stick

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As baby boomers prepare to retire, offices are left to figure out: “How do we make sure all their know-how and institutional memory are left behind?”

The biggest challenge: Baby boomers and younger workers have different ideas about how to learn. Boomers are typically used to a classroom environment, with one expert teaching. Younger workers want things in little chunks, with more control over how they learn and more interactivity.

So instead of lecturing, boomers would be better off using digital tools like wikis, blogs and instant messaging.

Here are a few tips for capturing admin knowledge before it walks out the door, and making sure it sticks with younger generations:

Action Review. Based on a U.S. Army learning strategy, teach in the moment. Example: At a daylong meeting, a team might break to talk about what was supposed to happen, compare it to what did happen and discuss how to do better next time.

Blogs. Advantages: Software is free and user-friendly, and blogs provide a semi-permanent, searchable database of expertise. Example: Many technical workers at IBM use blogs to discuss projects, and senior-level consultants use them to record client problems and resolutions.

Instant Messaging. Gen Y’ers have grown up chatting online, so it’s an ideal teaching tool. Benefits: It saves everyone from constant meetings, trips around the office and phone interruptions.

Mentoring. Benefit: Mentors often can teach real-world skills that don’t translate into a training manual. Example: A Black & Veatch senior VP brought two junior staffers on a sales trip to Rio de Janeiro so they could observe how he negotiated a compromise, and how he dealt with different nationalities.

Peer Assist. Post a description of the challenge on a company intranet, and an employee who has already discovered a solution can explain what worked in the past.

Podcasts. Benefit: Young workers, who don’t want to sit through lectures, can download bite-size lessons onto their MP3 players to listen when their schedules allow. Examples: Disney, BMW and IBM have used podcasts as teaching tools. 

Wikis. Benefit: Anyone can easily edit—and search—wiki content.

— Adapted from “The Knowledge Handoff,” Douglas MacMillan, BusinessWeek.

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