August 20, 2010

Demographic Cliff

I was attending a meeting recently and for a reason that I can’t remember I started to do a mental calculation of the average age of the people in the room. It wasn’t a scientific exercise, I had to guess their ages but I ‘calculated’ that it was 52.6 years. Now it could have been that it was only ‘senior’ engineers or ‘senior’ managers that had been invited to the meeting but whatever the background, in that company it would tend to suggest that perhaps there is a potential retirement bubble just about to happen.

Now this experience isn’t an isolated on. I had written an article for Knowledge Management Review magazines on this very topic in 2006 (you can get a copy from the Knoco site) but just this week one of my colleges, Robert Flynn in Western Australia asked if I would work with him to write an article specifically for the local government sector in Western Australia.

Robert used the term Demographic Cliff to describe the imminent retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. I hadn’t come across this term before but for me it wonderfully describes what is about to happen in many organisations not only in local government but in the private sector as well.

In newspaper that was delivered to my hotel room today there is an article that forecasts that Germany’s mean age will rise to 53 and 40 percent of all Germans will be over the age of 60. You may be tempted to think that this is a first world problem but travelling as much as I do, let me assure you it isn’t. Governments and companies around the world are now starting to sit up and take notice of this ‘cliff’. In some ways it is like driving on a country road, you see a sign that indicates a sharp bend ahead. The prudent driver starts to slow down well in advance (that is their plan to deal with the sharp bend) whereas the less prudent driver continues at pace until they can see / feel the bend and then they take action. Is your government prudent and altering its actions in anticipation of reaching the Demographic Cliff or are they pushing ahead at pace assuming they will be able to react when the cliff is reached.

I have written in the past about checklists. If highly trained individuals such as astronauts make use of checklists then surely us lesser mortals can make use of them. There is an excellent book about trying to introduce checklists into surgical theatres so I was really pleased to hear this morning on the TV news that they are making a significant impact in surgical theatres around the world.

One of the really insightful things about the TV news report is that it showed the surgeon using the checklist to have the surgical team introduce themselves to the other team members. I just kind of assumed that they would have already known each other (now you know that your next operation is going to be performed by a group of strangers!) but apparently not.

I also love the language…………..’avoidable adverse event’ Translated that seems to mean something went wrong that was entirely avoidable. Existing knowledge was not re-used and the patient suffered as a result of it. So the next time you come across a situation where existing knowledge isn’t reused, you have an ‘avoidable adverse event’.

The surgeon also said that using checklists helped to build team cohesion as people felt much more comfortable talking out if they saw something that wasn’t right. They didn’t have to say “sorry but you are doing something wrong” but rather comment that they had deviated from the checklist.

So if you think checklists would be applicable in your environment, perhaps it’s time for a rethink, after all the World Health Organisation thinks they are applicable to surgery (and we all know how high a pedestal surgeons are placed on.

I don’t have a link to the TV news report that I heard this morning but you can find out more here.


Knoco Ltd

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