Longer working lives are the most influential driver transforming today’s workplace. That’s the premise of a new book by Lisa Taylor and Fern Lebo called The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work (Rotman-UTP Publishing, May 2019).

“We wrote The Talent Revolution to build career and talent management structures that support longer working lives,” says Taylor, president of the Toronto-based research and consulting firm Challenge Factory, an Encore Network member. She spoke recently about the book with Betsy Werley, Encore Network lead.

The book has a valuable section debunking myths about older workers. What’s the most challenging myth and the best evidence to refute it?
This question is like asking me to choose a favorite (or maybe a least favorite) child. The encore community is well-aware of the myth that there is no expiration date on human contribution and potential, so I’ll focus on the myth of diminished productivity.

Our research found that, more than age, the manager’s attitude has the greatest effect on employee productivity. If managers believe employees are less productive, employees meet this expectation. Managers are mistaking disengagement for declining productivity, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Some older workers may be disengaged for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they haven’t had a meaningful future-focused conversation with their employer in years. Or they are receiving subtle and not-so-subtle cues that it’s time to wrap up their career. Or they are excluded from learning programs available to new graduates and “high potential” employees.

Today’s managers don’t know how to have career conversations with staff who are 55 or 62 or 71. So they avoid the discussion and create the very disengagement that fosters a perception of poor productivity. We need to educate managers on the importance of future-focused discussions with staff and teach them to have better career conversations.

Employers seem to understand the benefits of retaining experienced talent more than they get the value of hiring experienced talent. What are the most persuasive reasons to hire experienced people?
Too many companies are reluctant to hire experienced talent because they believe that older workers are more expensive than younger ones. They believe that with experience comes a tendency to be set in one’s ways. They believe all of the myths that are outlined in The Talent Revolution.

We work with employers all the time and find that when the aging workforce is included as how the world of work is changing there is enthusiastic engagement. They appreciate tools that provide a sense of agency to break down outdated talent structures. We’ve seen big shifts in thinking even in our one-day workshops.

But we have a lot more convincing to do. Many children born today will live past their 100th birthday. We can shape systems, structures, language and tools to eliminate ageism and ensure they can thrive throughout their lives. By identifying the conditions of a better future for the next generations, we can create the blueprint for change in our own time.

You work in Canada and the US. What differences do you see and what can we learn from each other?
Ageism is pervasive on both sides of the border, where 90+ percent of private sector workers are employed by small business and time-strapped small business owners have the most significant impact on topics like longer working lives.

But Canada and the US differ in founding and cultural beliefs. In Canada, our social safety net is stronger. Public education and health care systems provide a foundation of support and services, and many of the services that encore organizations provide in the US are the mandate of Canada’s public or social services sector organizations. We have a National Seniors Strategy, the first pillar of which is “independent, productive and engaged citizens.” Canada’s newly created Future Skills Centre is now looking for innovative practices in mid-career and experienced worker skill development and career transition.

The United States has a stronger culture of entrepreneurship and risk-taking. Canada is establishing itself as a significant location for innovation – but traditional employment and career paths still dominate.

Challenge Factory is learning from these differences and has always appreciated being part of the broader encore community. We’re taking our first steps into Europe this June!

One final difference for readers is that we spell “aging” differently! For Canadian government and domestic resources, search for “ageing.”

Can you share an example of an employer that’s making the most of a multigenerational workforce?
One of our public sector clients revised its talent management approach. Instead of maintaining separate programs for on-boarding, leadership development and succession planning, they focused on life-long career success, using a single curriculum. The new program has employee and business targets engaging intergenerational teams. Each team has three key roles: a new hire, a next-generation or high-potential leadership candidate, and an experienced employee who is within five years of retiring or shifting to a new working relationship.

The new employees received their on-boarding from high-potential candidates who need opportunities to step into leadership. The high-potential candidates are mentored by the experienced staff. The experienced staff work with the new employees to identify relevant best practice from outside of the organization (a tool, technology, approach, etc.). Each person in this triad is supported by online learning activities as well as goals that they must collectively achieve.

This program has led to lower costs, higher productivity and an enriched culture.

Encore.org puts a high value on narrative change and storytelling. Do you see those as useful tools in your book and how are you building them into your work?
I agree wholeheartedly in the power of narrative change and storytelling. The stories we believe shape our experience of the world. How we hear, process and integrate the stories, though, is just as important as the story being told.

I build on a culture model called Tribal Leadership, which describes a large population that believes that there are good things happening to other people, but not to themselves. This “my life sucks” audience hears every good news story as yet another example of how others have been able to be successful, but they haven’t.

At Challenge Factory we work with a partner, CreativeConnection, to transform how industries and sectors understand their own stories and rebuild the story into one that creates the future of which they want to be a part. It is a creative, emotional and powerful process.

Our 2018 National Conversation on the Future of Work engaged more than 1,000 employment and career service professionals building their new story. The approach and techniques are equally powerful when working with individuals and small groups who are caught in a story that is defensive, divisive and painful.


Published: April 19, 2019

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