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Mature Training: Banking on Experience

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The over 50s now make up 26% of the working population. This has risen by almost half a million over the last three years and is a trend that is set to continue for both this age group and the over 40s. Today, six out of ten employees are over 40 years old. Simon Cooper, Senior Training Consultant for TACK International looks at training mature workers.




If you manage a workforce do you see this trend as an opportunity or a hindrance?

Be honest – how much do you invest in anyone over the age of 40 in your company?
When you look at the wine industry the growers know that if they nourish and care for their mature vines they will harvest and continue to get the best from them.

Are you more likely to hire someone under 40 because you will get fresh ideas and fresh blood? The answer is most probably yes. It’s interesting that as organisations we are open to bringing in older contractors and interim managers for their experience and to help lift our business. This begs the question why isn’t the in house experience valued in the same way?

Those in your organisation that are ‘rich in years’, are also ‘rich in experience and knowledge’. They represent a company’s memory databank, a valuable asset that the best customer relationship management systems and databases can’t replicate.

Just as ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got’, if you don’t know what you’ve done before you won’t have the opportunity to improve on the past. This memory databank can short cut the time to introduce improvements and overcome issues, with less time spent on trial and error.

So what can we do to harvest this rich experience?

Overall you have to create an environment where everyone’s opinions are valued and they are not afraid to share them openly. Managers are not deliberately neglecting their mature workforce. The thought is these employees have been in the business for a long time.

They make the mistake in thinking that they probably know everything, so what more can they do for them? This benign neglect compounds over the years to the point where the mature employees are virtually ignored. It’s no wonder that if they are seen as ‘just part of the furniture’, they start to care more about just holding on to their job and lack any motivation to speak up more and ‘step outside the box’.

What more can be done to re-invigorate the mature workforce and the business?

Here are some suggestions for how organisations can continue to invest and stimulate ideas and provide motivation for the mature workforce:

  • Everyone should have their own personal development plan and continuous development activity that is regularly reviewed and updated.

  • Create a culture where experience and views can be freely expressed and listened to. Invite people to come up with alternative solutions that can work in business today.

  • Specialist skills should be noted, nurtured and kept up to date.

  • Professional and soft skills should be endorsed by the company.

  • Expand roles so that people can contribute to wider business and team benefits. Look at additional skills for helping people to coach, mentor and facilitate or use their knowledge to act as an advisor.

  • Take into account the full range of motivators and rewards. Money and status are not the only drivers.

  • Offer support to encourage the use of systems, technology and new processes. People should not feel afraid to say ‘I don’t know’. Good support which doesn’t intimidate the user will, in the long run, make the business more efficient.

Inside most companies there is a potentially brilliant mature asset that is not being developed and utilised. The accusation often levelled at the mature workforce is that they are slow to change. Isn’t it a fact that it’s the outdated business attitudes and mindsets towards the mature workers that is the real problem - and will only be compounded in the coming decade if nothing is done?

The mature selling game presents its own challenges to managers

In sales the younger age groups do not, as you might think, dominate the non-sales management roles. The Marketing and Sales Standard Setting Board tell us that 60% of ‘junior sales’ positions are held by people over 35 years old, and a third of these are over 45.

So the trend towards a more mature workforce presents its own challenges to the sales profession and its managers. The challenge is also accelerated by two factors:

  • The ratio of sales team to sales manager continues to rise, so fewer managers will have a higher proportion of mature salespeople reporting to them.

  • Salespeople are staying longer in frontline sales roles, preferring the work, lifestyle and income level to management or alternative roles.

The mature salespeople who are rich in experience and years are likely to be responsible for the highest and most valuable customers, so their continued productivity is critical to many businesses. The pressure is also on the salesperson as they know that just ‘seeing out’ the later years is not an option as there is nowhere to hide in sales if you under-perform!

The assumption is that sales managers wish to develop their sales people year on year and not have them just repeating their first couple of years 15-20 times over! All the suggestions put forward earlier to motivate mature employees also apply to the mature sales force. But what further advice can be offered to those responsible for developing all of their mature salespeople?

Business is constantly changing and with it the customers’ expectations of their suppliers. More progressive sales managers are encouraging this important group of salespeople to embrace advanced selling skills, relationship management and account development programmes.

Great learning opportunities exist that, instead of segregating different abilities as in the past, can bring together young and old to learn from each other and openly share their knowledge and experience.

Simon Cooper is Senior Training Consultant for TACK International, a sales, and sales management training and development consultancy with partners in 40 countries.

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