Training has never been more critical to your company. In droves, your most seasoned employees are nearing retirement, requiring a transfer of knowledge to next-generation workers on a grand scale. Many companies are prioritizing next-gen training. However, most are failing to launch their training initiatives from the most effective starting point.

Ground Zero: Understand the Role That Values Play in Knowledge Transfer

According to Training Industry, Inc., knowledge transfer is “the process by which experienced employees share or distribute their knowledge, skills and behaviors to the employees replacing them.” That last element — behaviors — holds the key to effective intergenerational training programs.

When employees behave with one another in ways that are purposeful, positive and productive, it sets up knowledge transfer for success. Employees approach one another with good intentions and aligned expectations. The flow of information and insight increases, and mutual learning occurs.

The problem is that too often, workers from different generations do not practice purposeful, positive and productive behaviors in their relationships. Instead, they are hesitant, distrustful and sometimes even disrespectful. The results are a foundational disruption in knowledge transfer and training programs that don’t deliver desired results.

You can avoid this breakdown and the loss of institutional knowledge that follows. You simply need to better understand and leverage the core driver of human behavior: values.

What Are Values?

Every human behavior is driven by values or, more accurately, by a values system. Your values system is your unique set of rank-ordered beliefs about the way the world should be. This system answers the questions, “What is most important to you? Why? Which values are you willing to relax in certain situations, and which values would you never relax?”

Our values system determines every decision we make about how we move through life both at home, with the people we love, and at work, with our colleagues. While we hold our values internally, we manifest them externally through observable, quantifiable behaviors, which I call “valued behaviors.”

Values Often Manifest Differently at Different Ages

For most of us, as we age, our values systems (and valued behaviors) change. We begin to have different priorities and even to desire different behaviors from the people around us. With some values, we can become more lenient, understanding and flexible, while with others, we can become more demanding, uncompromising and rigid. This dynamic plays out across our expectations of others as well as our expectations of ourselves.

What does this mean for your workforce? It means that a seismic shift in values is occurring inside your multigenerational workplace. Expectations are changing. Priorities are changing. Ideals about what it means to be a good colleague and do great work are changing. Unless you have built a solid consensus around the core values system that your organization desires in your specific workplace, your training programs (which are, ideally, built upon open relationships and trusting, transparent collaboration) are on shaky ground.

Define Your Company’s Shared Values System

The most effective, efficient route to establishing a culture that fosters multigenerational collaboration and knowledge transfer is through crafting an organizational constitution. This co-created document articulates your company’s specific values system. It’s a formal declaration of your company’s servant purpose, shared values and valued behaviors, all of which are linked to your strategic vision and goals.

The best organizational constitutions are developed collaboratively and transparently within an intentionally designed process that involves top executives, middle managers and frontline employees. Organizational constitutions are realistic, practical, tangible documentations of how people at all levels can behave with one another in order to create a “more perfect company” in which everyone feels seen, valued and respected.

Discerning Your Values Systems Is Not a Cookie-cutter Endeavor

What are the core values around which all of your employees, regardless of age or experience, can rally? That answer depends on your specific workforce, and it may change over time. Defining, aligning and refining your values-driven culture takes ongoing commitment, but the benefits are documented.

Your goal is not to craft an organizational constitution that requires the individual values systems of all employees to be perfectly aligned. First of all, such perfect alignment isn’t possible. Second of all, you should want your multigenerational workforce to continue to bring its unique diversity of beliefs. Rather, your marching orders are to identify the handful of mission-critical values that will facilitate collaboration; knowledge transfer; and a positive, purposeful and productive work environment that respects and even celebrates differences.

Commit to the rigorous process of articulating your values and valued behaviors in such a way that each generation understands and is inspired to pledge allegiance to your organizational constitution. Then, your culture will support your next-gen training programs to be wildly, sustainably successful.