There is no substitute for experience

2011-10-04 00:00

HE is the ‘‘old dog” in the corner office (or work station) who has seen it all before — “history repeated, lessons­ learnt and forgotten over time”.

It is perplexing that so many organisations choose to encourage and facilitate the departure of those “wise old heads”.

In a country where skills are precious and in short supply, losing these valuable skills seems like a death knell for the economy, let alone the organisation itself.

While some may say the opportunities­ that open up as a result of the departure of these individuals help to alleviate the major unemployment pressures facing the economy by making way for new blood, the invaluable input of experienced­ professionals­ can actually create opportunities for a new generation of skilled professionals who are hungry­ to enter the job market.

They can also serve as valuable mentors who guide young professionals.

Gusti Coetzer, a director of integrated talent solutions and leadership development firm Talent Africa­, makes the point that contrary to popular belief, older professionals can be open to change and innovation.

She also argues that older professionals are in a better position to assess risk and make strategic decisions for the future benefit of the organisations they serve.

“Following the publication of the King III report on corporate governance, many companies are looking to strengthen the board committees on risk, audit and sustainability.

“A risk-based approach to business sustainability is becoming the norm. However, can younger executives and directors properly assess risk when they may have only three to five years’ experience?

“Growing market volatility suggests 20 or 30-year events have to be reckoned with. But how, when your institutional memory is off playing golf? Leveraging the new old to complement a younger managerial generation has become a business imperative. It’s a strategic issue. Skills shortages are constraining growth — that of the economy and, I suspect, of many major companies. Globally strategic leadership in South Africa is urgently required. It sounds ironic, but executives and directors­ especially may have to be bold to unleash the old,” Coetzer argues.

Some come back as consultants — but that has become a costly exercise for companies and ultimately, in the greater scheme of things, the net result is still a premature outflow of valuable talent as many choose not to enter the job market once they have left.

It is a travesty that the progress of people in the prime of their careers is cut short — typically in their 50s — when they still have at least a decade of contributions to make towards the success of their organisations.

Far from being too old to maintain an organisation’s strategic direction, they can exhibit the longevity required for the long-term imperatives needed to keep the organisation afloat.

One of the key ways in which human beings learn and develop to their full potential is through gaining experience — and in many instances, these lessons only materialise after months, years and even decades of practical experience.

An early exit by an experienced professional deprives a company of its vital contribution and insight, leaving colleagues, clients and the business as a whole, poorer.

• Kavith Harrilall is the Business Editor of The Witness.

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