You need two things: First, a strong business model that is differentiated and speaks to a loyal audience. Second, you need experience.
Unfortunately, I keep hearing from people across my network that many businesses are focused on the former while ignoring the latter. The latter is an important call-out, because experience seems to be devalued in stressful times, which creates situations of ageism -- specially prevalent in the media business.
If you are an entrenched executive who controls the strings, you are typically able to withstand the bias towards younger people with fresh ideas because you control the perception of those ideas. If you are middle management, you can easily be targeted as being too expensive, too long in the tooth, and not the “right person” to help a company undergo the transformation required to battle against things like a wily competitor or a slowing economy.
In some cases, this can be true. People do get burned out, tired and in some cases technology and new ideas pass them by. The problem arises when it is a blanket statement applied to a broad group of people. In that broad group may be exactly what you need to win in that downturn or competitive environment and you need to empower those people to be the change that has to happen. They at least have earned the right to have the conversation.
Experience is an asset. Your tenured employees have likely ridden this kind of wave in the past at your company or somewhere else. They have insights that can be valuable -- and in many cases, they can do twice the work in the same amount of time it will take someone with less experience.
You need to find the people not afraid to get their hands dirty, get into the systems, and do the actual work. If all they do is manage, then that’s a problem. You need to get into the trenches in these types of situations.
It’s the age-old analysis of ROI -- the return on your investment in these people. Is the investment worth as much (or more) when compared to when you originally made that investment?
To be clear, I am not arguing that we should simply abolish age as a consideration in business. Some folks have indeed aged out of certain areas due to technology and evolving business models, and the opportunity may have passed them by. I am arguing that you should evaluate each person on the merits of their previous work, the opportunity they present for going forward and balance those considerations with the needs of your business beyond a simple cost-cutting exercise.
The best way to do that is to speak to those employees one-to-one and engage them with the challenge. Too often I hear of people being cut without any indication that it was coming. That’s poor leadership.
On the flipside, I hear about people being overlooked for roles because they are “too experienced.” That person will likely deliver more than what you think you need, and is willing to apply their considerable knowledge in a way that will likely deliver beyond expectations.
Experience typically means more than “I’ve seen this movie before.” It also means, “I know what steps to take, or what criteria to evaluate, to make this a success.”
As a leader, it’s your job to maximize the output of your team, and sometime a little experience can go a long way.