Combating the Challenge of an Aging Workforce

We’re all getting older…

Something we’re hearing time and again from customers is the challenge of an aging workforce.

I spoke to an attendee at Field Service USA last month who told me how at his company, all the complex technical questions went to a handful of people who had decades of know-how in their head. Unfortunately, these people will all be retiring soon.

His story probably sounds familiar to you. Every company is grappling with this same question: How do you extract the information from their heads and into the hands of less-experienced, junior colleagues?

Yes, the Baby Boomers are retiring and there’s nothing we can do about it. But you can prepare for the changes this will have on your service organization and surf this wave successfully.

Develop your plan now.

The worst thing you can do is ignore the situation.

Get key people in your organization talking about this. What knowledge does our organization hold in manuals and other sources? And what resides only in the heads of our ageing workforce? Who are our aging Knowledge Gurus and what are the common questions they get asked?

Can older engineers help you extract their knowledge through workshops, mentoring and coaching programs? Is there a way to turn their knowledge into how-to videos? In fact, according to Forrester Research, 75% of employees would prefer to watch a video rather than read an email or web page.

A danger with these plans, of course, is if the younger engineer leaves you’re back to square one. Millennials are twice as likely to leave a job after two years and they’re only half as likely to be employed by the same company after 10 years.

This is why diversifying your field service workforce with new hires that include mature workers is a great idea.

One of the most important steps you can take right now is starting a project to collate all your knowledge from various departments and put it in one place. That might simply be on a wiki or shared drive for now or it could be something like AnswersAnywhere.

But by just starting the first steps, you’re already ahead of many!

Want to learn more about how you can address the talent gap and surf the silver tsunami? 

The Take-Away from Field Service Palm Springs? It Doesn’t Have to be Complicated!

Field Service USA is over and we’ve waved good-bye to gorgeous Palm Springs (and its 100° Fahrenheit heat) for another year. As always, the event proved to be chock-full of great discussions, insightful sessions, eye-opening innovations… and flamingos of course!

Knowledge Management emerged as a big theme this year, both on the expo floor and during the sessions. It’s no wonder – 62% of executives attending Field Service said they planned on investing in knowledge management within the next 24 months!

Jonathan Ralphs, CEO of AnswersAnywhere, joined Microsoft’s Clayton Fernandez, Johnson Control’s Pat Foley, Tokyo Electron’s Ed McMurray during Day One of Field Service to discuss the latest tools and best processes for effective knowledge management.

What Does it Take to Make Knowledge Management Work? Quite a lot!

One of the first questions brought up on the panel was “What exactly is involved to make knowledge management work?” The unanimous answers seemed to be: Quite a lot!

As Jonathan explained, knowledge management requires a combination of people, processes and technology in order to be successful.  It’s too easy to underestimate what’s involved and over-promise on results. In fact, most KM projects undertaken by corporations fail because of the complexity and volume of work that might be involved.

The panelists agreed that a KM project is more than just choosing platforms and technologies; it’s about understanding the required outcomes and working back from that to determine how to achieve them with whom.

A member from the audience asked who typically leads the knowledge management initiative within an organization. Pat and Ed both observed that usually the responsibility is assigned to one individual; however, it’s typically given on top of other responsibilities, making it difficult to prioritize knowledge management.

This may not always be the case though. As organizations begin to recognize the importance of knowledge management, Jonathan predicted that it wouldn’t be long until the position of Chief Knowledge Officer becomes as commonplace within corporations as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer.

Where in the World Do You Start?

Another important discussion on the panel was where someone should start with their KM strategy. Jonathan stressed that implementing knowledge management doesn’t have to be complicated, “Like any new project, break it down into its essential parts and ensure that stakeholders are involved from the very beginning. Don’t become too ambitious too soon; better to have lower expectations and build out one piece well rather than going all-out straight away.”

Where do I start? is a question that we get all the time at AnswersAnywhere. Knowledge management can feel like an overwhelming task that often leaves people wondering where to begin. During the panel, Jonathan advised starting with the major pain points:

  • Identify which groups of products are taking up more time and costing more to support
  • Measure these product support costs (against the average).
  • Start with the field service end and work back to identify which steps of the product support process is causing the bottleneck.
  • Determine what is required to free this bottleneck and together with stakeholders and field engineers, discuss what the priorities need to be
  • Agree to a pilot including some or all of the ‘difficult’ group of products and agree a realistic plan to deliver this initial phase
  • Deliver the pilot with training and support. Measure the outcomes and compare to the starting point.  If successful, these will be important to work up the business plan to take to the next stage.

 

Jonathan concluded his advice with this: “Let me give you an example. Recently I had a discussion with a service company that wanted to reduce their call outs to fix their customers broken-down cars. We implemented a pilot in the call center with 20 basic questions for the agents to ask the customer as a form of basic triage. Used 20 agents for the trial – a cross-section including those with NO car experience so they couldn’t use their own ‘expertise’ – and gave them very basic training. They ended up reducing call-outs by 75%!”

What’s Next for Knowledge Management?

Wrapping up the session, the panel discussed where they saw knowledge management going in the future. The panelists agreed they saw a blending of the lines between the different technologies and systems that gives a seamless experience without toggling from system to system.  For example, creating a ‘hybrid’ KM where the service tech has a 360 degree view of the customer, the product and all knowledge relating to it, all in one place through one interface.

Jonathan also added that knowledge management should be always available, even offline where feasible, and present the latest ‘approved’ knowledge so the field service tech can close the job faster and accurately.

As for final thoughts on knowledge management, Jonathan concluded that he hoped the take away from the session would be one thing: “It doesn’t have to be complicated!”

Want to learn more about implementing a Knowledge Management initiative? Let’s talk!