Monthly Archives: March 2017


From the Ground Up by Phi Hardwick

Most strategic planning retreats begin with an opening exercise designed to energize the group and get participants to know each other better. The big issues surface later on during the retreat. However, at one recent retreat the opening exercise exposed a major issue facing the organization. The issue: an aging workforce. The exercise: autograph party.

Autograph party, also known as autograph bingo, is an excellent way to begin a team building meeting or a strategic planning retreat. Best used with large groups it asks participants to mingle and discover facts about each other.
In the autograph bingo version participants are given a sheet of paper containing five squares across and five squares down similar to a bingo card. Each square contains a different fact or trait. For example:

– has traveled by train;

– grew up on a farm;

– has two or more siblings;

– voted in the last election;

– plays a musical instrument.

Participants then stand up and find another person who fits the trait or characteristic. When they do so they have that person place their autograph in the square. The fun begins when it becomes increasingly difficult to find someone who fits the desired trait. The facilitator can make it easy or difficult depending on the group. For example, if the group was composed of only professional people it might be difficult to find someone without a college education. When someone has five squares across, down or diagonal as in bingo then that person shouts, “Bingo,” and the game is over.

In the autograph party version participants are given a list of characteristics and instructed to find others in the room who possess that particular characteristic. Such was the case in the above-referenced retreat, which included approximately 25 participants in the same division of a larger organization.

After everyone in the group had done their best to find a match, the facilitator reconvened everyone, and asked everyone who possessed that certain characteristic to stand as read the characteristic. Most stood when asked who had voted in the last election. Only a few stood when the characteristic was “does not like sushi.” Almost everyone stood when the characteristic was “has had a colonoscopy.” Only three people stood when “has a tattoo” was read. At that point there was a lively chatter about where on the bodies the tattoos were located. Then it became obvious that the tattooed participants were under 30 years of age.

At that point one of the wise elders in the group remarked, “So we have too many colonoscopies, and not enough tattoos.”
All realized that the comment was another way of saying that this organization had an aging workforce and a wave of retirements coming soon. After all, people don’t begin colonoscopies until they are over age 50. They also realized that tattoos are mostly associated with younger persons.

Thus, autograph party broke the ice for the group and allowed the participants to begin focusing on some real issues facing the organization. In this case, the issues were the aging workforce and the differences in how baby boomers and millennials approached their jobs. That in turn led to serious discussion about succession planning and whether the current policies and procedures needed to be changed to accommodate the current and future workforce.

These issues and how an organization should handle social media seem to be the hot topics facing almost every organization these days. Management everywhere is attempting to understand how to deal with these issues.

Baby boomers, those 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964, are entering retirement age. As they become so-called older workers a range of issues face employers, not the least of which is a declining labor force participation rate. In other words, by 2020 this country is expected to have a shortage of workers. Many employers are making plans to deal with this phenomenon. Many are not, and are just hoping for the best. Thus, labor force participation rate is one issue.

A current issue is how to deal with a mix of employees who have different values. Many articles have been written about millennials, those born between generally between the early 1980’s and the late 1990’s. One 2012 study found Millennials to be “more civically and politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values, and less concerned about helping the larger community than were GenX (born 1962-1981) and Baby Boomers (born 1946 to about 1961) at the same ages,” according to USA Today. The study was based on an analysis of two large databases of 9 million high school seniors or entering college students.

An issue facing state government in Mississippi is its aging workforce. Over 35 percent of state government workers are now eligible for retirement. That’s not only a workforce issue, but an economic issue as well.

So how should an organization even begin to deal with these issues? Perhaps the answer lies with colonoscopies and tattoos.