“Many large, older com­pa­nies are caught up in a tsunami of baby boomers re­tir­ing”

▶▶Com­pa­nies are work­ing to en­sure mil­len­ni­als are pre­pared to step into lead­er­ship roles ▶▶Many are “un­aware of how much tribal knowl­edge” re­tirees take with them

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - Contents - −Jeff Green

Vikram Ravin­der was a lit­tle ner­vous as he faced the board mem­bers of Chicago non­profit Bunker Labs in a con­fer­ence room in early De­cem­ber. The 29-year-old Deloitte se­nior con­sul­tant for strat­egy and op­er­a­tions was pitch­ing a plan that might help Bunker se­cure fund­ing for a pro­gram en­abling veter­ans to be­come en­trepreneurs.

Ravin­der de­vel­oped the pitch, un­der Deloitte’s pro bono pro­gram, with his men­tor, Jonathan Copul­sky, the com­pany’s chief mar­ket­ing and chief con­tent of­fi­cer. The two meet reg­u­larly as part of a push to have se­nior man­agers train ju­nior em­ploy­ees. Copul­sky, who will re­tire in June 2017 when he reaches the com­pany’s manda­tory re­tire­ment age of 62, has men­tored sev­eral younger Deloitte ex­ec­u­tives. “I was able to put this guy in a po­si­tion, give him enough ‘got your back,’ but also give him the free­dom that he could be suc­cess­ful and coach him as op­posed to di­rect­ing him,” Copul­sky says.

Ravin­der’s pre­sen­ta­tion helped the non­profit se­cure new fund­ing. “I see how he ap­proaches clients,” Ravin­der says of Copul­sky. “Mil­len­ni­als bring data and an­a­lyt­ics, but boomers have ex­pe­ri­ence they can rely on when the data isn’t suf­fi­cient.”

Com­pa­nies from Deloitte to de­fense con­trac­tor BAE Sys­tems, Gen­eral Mo­tors, and Gen­eral Elec­tric are scram­bling to en­sure mil­lions of younger man­agers from the so­called mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion—those born from roughly 1981 to 1997—are ready to step into lead­er­ship roles as baby boomers bow out of the work­force. About 10,000 reach re­tire­ment age ev­ery day. “Many large, older com­pa­nies are caught up in a tsunami of baby boomers re­tir­ing and are un­aware of how much tribal knowl­edge they are tak­ing with them,” says Dorothy Leonard, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Har­vard Busi­ness School. Leonard’s firm, Leonard-Bar­ton Group, de­vel­oped knowl­edge-trans­fer pro­grams at sev­eral GE divi­sions and at the non­profit Ed­u­ca­tional Test­ing Ser­vice.

Un­til last year, boomers made up the largest por­tion of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, and Gen­er­a­tion X rep­re­sented the big­gest share of the work­force. Now mil­len­ni­als lead in both cat­e­gories: They hold about 20 per­cent of all man­age­ment jobs, up from 3 per­cent in 2005, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics data.

GE runs pro­grams in its GE Hi­tachi Nu­clear En­ergy and GE

Trans­porta­tion units, among oth­ers. Re­tain­ing tech­ni­cal knowl­edge and ca­pa­bil­i­ties is a fo­cus, says GE Global Re­search spokesman Todd Al­hart. ETS set up knowl­edge-shar­ing part­ner­ships be­tween key per­son­nel and col­leagues within the same de­part­ments, to “deepen bench depth,” ac­cord­ing to Can­dyce Wright-Citrone, who’s re­spon­si­ble for di­ver­sity and de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives in ETS’s Chief Learn­ing Of­fi­cer Group. Ac­tion plans, based on in­di­vid­ual learn­ing goals es­tab­lished for par­tic­i­pat­ing em­ploy­ees, are fol­lowed over sev­eral months. GM uses ed­u­ca­tional train­ing and men­tor­ships to help bridge the gen­er­a­tion gap. It wants its lead­ers to func­tion more as coaches, the au­tomaker has said. And Bank of Amer­ica has a so-called on­board­ing pro­gram to help new ex­ec­u­tives adapt to the cor­po­rate cul­ture and learn from se­nior ex­ec­u­tives.

“In the next 10 to 15 years, we’re go­ing to have the great­est trans­fer of knowl­edge that’s ever taken place,” says Chip Espinoza, di­rec­tor of or­ga­ni­za­tion psy­chol­ogy at Con­cor­dia Univer­sity Irvine. An ef­fec­tive way to han­dle the shift, he says, is for a com­pany to cre­ate re­la­tion­ships be­tween the gen­er­a­tions.

“It’s clearly an emerg­ing area that ev­ery­one is deal­ing with,” says Mike Pre­ston, Deloitte’s chief tal­ent of­fi­cer. Within a decade, maybe sooner, he says, there will be no boomers in Deloitte’s top man­age­ment.

BAE, a multi­na­tional de­fense and aero­space com­pany, sim­i­larly has been pre­par­ing for the re­tire­ment cliff for sev­eral years, says An­drew Muras, the com­pany’s ad­vanced learn­ing man­ager. BAE adapted a NASA pro­gram de­vel­oped a decade ago when the U.S. space agency started to lose ex­per­tise from the lu­nar land­ings as se­nior en­gi­neers re­tired. Re­al­iz­ing it would need that knowl­edge for mis­sions to Mars, the agency asked en­gi­neers who’d worked on the Apollo mis­sion to share what they knew in meet­ings with new en­gi­neers.

When BAE learns that an em­ployee with deep in­sti­tu­tional knowl­edge plans to re­tire, whether in a few months or a cou­ple of years, a knowl­edge-trans­fer group of about a half-dozen peo­ple of vary­ing ages work­ing in the same area is formed. The teams meet reg­u­larly over months to talk and ex­change ad­vice. Younger work­ers elicit tips, and in some cases older ones grad­u­ally hand off tasks to ju­nior em­ploy­ees. The pro­gram be­gan as a pi­lot in 2013; dur­ing the past two years, BAE has ex­panded it across the com­pany. It even­tu­ally wants to hold as many as 60 ses­sions a year.

One man­ager who’s sched­uled to re­tire in April de­moted him­self in the process and now works as an as­sis­tant to an em­ployee who re­cently joined the com­pany from the U.S. Navy to do the job the man­ager once held. Ac­cord­ing to Muras, the two worked to­gether on a bid to han­dle main­te­nance and re­pairs on an am­phibi­ous ship for the Navy, a con­tract the older worker had run for 11 years. The con­tract has since been re­newed, with the newer em­ployee over­see­ing the work.

BAE has quan­ti­fied the pay­off of its knowl­edge-trans­fer ef­forts by look­ing at vari­ables such as di­rect and in­di­rect costs and pro­duc­tiv­ity. “We’re sav­ing on av­er­age be­tween $120,000 to $180,000” per pro­ject, Muras says. De­vot­ing more time pre­par­ing mil­len­ni­als for lead­er­ship roles may also en­cour­age them to stay with the com­pany. The me­dian ten­ure of work­ers age 25-34 is about three years, com­pared with 10.4 years for work­ers age 55-64, ac­cord­ing to BLS data.

Catie Per­rella, 26, who co­or­di­nates parts pro­duc­tion for the F-15 Ea­gle fighter jet, is part of BAE’s lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment pro­gram. “You can take knowl­edge from po­si­tion to po­si­tion,” says Per­rella, who joined the com­pany in 2011 and is en­rolled in an MBA pro­gram at Bos­ton Univer­sity. “I’ve had a lot of friends who leave a com­pany af­ter two or three years, but BAE has so many op­por­tu­ni­ties within the same walls,” she says, that she can ad­vance her ca­reer by stay­ing put.

The bot­tom line Com­pa­nies that don’t plan for gen­er­a­tional man­age­ment shifts risk fall­ing be­hind and los­ing out to their com­peti­tors.

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