I attended a retirement dinner last week. An honor. Not one person or even two, but three men honored on this night. My wife works for this company, one of the largest in the world. It is a place that people start a career and decide to stay.
These retirees reached 34, 34, and 35 years respectively with the company. 103 total years of experience and wisdom. The learning and re-learning. The successes and the failures. The mastery of their own world. So many miles down that road.
As the evening went on and the speeches and stories filled the room, it was clear to me that this was a special night and an opportunity for me. I am the outsider. I do not share in their experience. Their lessons are different from mine.
As the outsider I began to view the proceedings as a true observer and note-taker. I was an Anthropologist once more. I observed the power of story to connect people and lock in key learning from important past events. I observed how a powerful company can operate at a high level and still care deeply for its people. I observed the power of ritual to mark transitions.
Through it all I could not shake off that total number of combined work year. 103. Amazing.
As the evening wore down I thought of what happens next. Not for the three; they will live well in retirement. What happens for the organization? How do you lose 103 years of experience and ability and continue to succeed?
This gets to the heart of the Learning Organization. To capture the accumulated learning of its people and use it to adapt and grow.
I know this company has an extensive “Turnover Process” where the soon-to-be-retiree meets with his or her replacement for a period of time that can last weeks. While they must review the technical aspects of the job, I trust there is a good amount of story telling and reflection.
This is what I do.
This is how I do it and why I do it.
These are the lessons I learned. Listen to my story.
Are you listening?