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Digital transformation was once something to put on the corporate wish-list for "next year" -- an undefined goal having something to do with computers and software that would be helpful but wasn't a top priority, given more pressing matters.
Related: 4 Ways Millennials and Baby Boomers Make the Dream Team
This is no longer the case. With the uptake of the cloud -- both on the user and enterprise sides -- and myriad other technologies such as BYOD (bring-your-own-device) that are making our world faster, more distributed and more connected, companies embracing digital transformation are the ones not only staying alive but thriving.
Yet one challenge here may be getting older workers -- baby boomers -- comfortable with the changes going on in American companies. Those companies rely to a great extent on the knowledge and expertise of their older employees: Lose their engagement, and you'll lose their knowledge. Lose their knowledge, and you'll lose decades of work and insight.
Which means we need to hold on to the knowledge of aging workers as well as keep them engaged in this new age of information overload. And that's a challenge.
With information still growing at exponential rates, employees can't always find what they need, even with technology advances. Combine this with the "need for speed" -- the rapid pace of today's work environment forcing employees to work faster and more collaboratively to get their jobs done -- and you have a tough scenario.
As enterprise demographics continue to skew to millennials, companies are having a hard time meeting the varying needs of a multi-generational workforce. But there are certain things companies can do to not lose out on the knowledge of their most experienced employees.
Here are five ways enterprises can help an aging workforce embrace digital transformation.
1. Create easy but impactful training programs.
This is an obvious one, but it needs to be mentioned because it's also one of the most effective ways to get older employees on the digital transformation train. Employees in their 20s grew up in the digital age and are accustomed to using things like Google and Facebook profiles, Slack, Hangout and various SaaS tools. Employees in their 30s are probably in the same group, although there may be a few who need some training.
Most likely training should be especially targeted to employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s, who may have had some exposure to today's collaboration platforms but need more time to feel comfortable enough to use them on a day-to-day basis and be fluent with them.
Apart from flexible online classes, a great way to set up such training is through partnerships and mentorships. Match a millennial with a baby boomer and have the millennials walk the boomers through the learning process. This will not only make the training affordable but help to break down the inter-generational silos that tend to form in today's offices.
A key aspect of this training is to impress on older employees the importance of the shift to digital, the gaps it will fill and the nature of their own role at the forefront of this shift. Likewise, you should communicate why the older tools, methods, and ways of thinking are no longer viable.
2. Link digital transformation to career growth.
One of the other best ways to encourage your older employees to jump onto the digital bandwagon is to link digital transformation to their career growth and career goals.
An example: Say you have a boomer who's a business development representative (BDR) looking to become head of sales. Impress on him or her the importance of communication platforms that encourage transparency and break down workplace silos. These platforms thus facilitate the free and symbiotic flow of insights and data among departments, which will help boost sales.
If your boomer is a product manager looking to eventually become chief marketing officer (CMO), make sure this person understands how digital possibilities, like going paperless, drive innovation and make products easier to market.
3. Encourage company engagement through collaboration.
Unify offline and online communications by keeping employees connected through their mobile devices, to provide "anywhere, anytime" access to tools and corporate information.
This not only helps to break down inter-generational silos and meld employees of different ages; it keeps employees engaged with their companies and with their career paths within their companies, which in turn promotes employee retention and satisfaction.
Also, everyone expects the same easy, frictionless experience on their devices the same way they do with the systems they use at work. Software is just sitting there, ready to be operated. It should feel less like "technology" and more like an intuitive extension of how your employees complete the task.
Rather than acting as a mere gatekeeper of technology, companies must become more of a business enabler of enterprise-level tools that streamline workflows while reducing user barriers.
4. Support virtual work environments.
Work environments should allow employees to stay connected in distributed and virtual work locations while balancing customer/company privacy and operational risk. Such environments give older employees the freedom they need to live their lives while keeping them connected with their colleagues and career goals.
As employees get older, they tend to seek more freedom from the desk and office. So, you should help them see today's digital tools as providing that freedom as well as increasing workplace efficiency. With this scenario, older employees may well stay on longer; and when they do leave, they'll leave you with the knowledge they've accumulated over the years.
5. Empower your employees with the right tools.
When you give your employees the tools they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability, you are empowering them to help themselves in their careers and to feel fulfilled and valuable. Platforms that provide easy access to insights and data allow employees to be agile and nimble with their work. They also allow far better recording of knowledge and experience.
If your employees have these tools, they'll feel valuable. If they feel valuable, they won't want to leave, and when they do leave, they will have gladly provided their insights and knowledge via the same tech that allowed them to do their jobs so well.
Make it work for them, and they'll work for you.
In the end, retaining the knowledge and insights of your older employees comes down to helping them feel happy and fulfilled throughout your company's digital transformation. Through easy and impactful training, a supportive virtual work environment, and your efforts to impress on them the importance of the digital transformation for their career growth, you'll be fortifying the future of your company.
You'll be ensuring that everyone -- not just the millennials -- are embracing digital transformation.