Bye, bye boomers
Smart organizations prepare for retirement onslaught
THE baby-boomer exit is here. So far, it’s been somewhat innocuous, with rather quiet retirements of distant corporate executives. Lloyd Robertson, lead anchor of CTV evening news for instance, stepped down a couple of years ago with barely casting a ripple. Locally, many well-known entrepreneurs and organizational leaders have quietly passed the torch to up-and-coming leaders.
It was the recent announcement of a generational shift at ABC-TV that really got my attention. At 68, Diane Sawyer, the longtime, high-profile evening news anchor was replaced by a 40-year-old. As explanation, ABC executives reported a generational shift was necessary to appeal to younger audiences. Thus, by dubbing the evening news as “a vestige of another time,” Diane Sawyer was painted with the same brush and sent off to do special projects.
In the real world, not many businesses can afford to have an up-and-coming leader working as an understudy, especially for a lengthy period — it’s just too expensive. The result is a loss of corporate knowledge within many organizations and the creation of a growing leadership gap.
Couple this with the fact leadership skills needed to take organizations into the future are different than today’s technical skills and management style. The U.S.-based Center for Creative Leadership says collaboration is one of the key skills missing from future leaders. In their view, collaboration is becoming more important because of the demand to do more with less accompanied in a continually changing global marketplace.
These demands will see an increased use of crossfunctional teams and interdepartmental reliance as well as project teams that span across different agencies and/or corporations. Whereas, this and other skills have already been found lacking in the marketplace, the most effective solution to the problem of a lack of skills is to begin aggressively assessing and developing current internal talent.
Few companies, private and/or corporate as well as notfor-profit organizations I’ve encountered, have conducted a study of their workforce. This valuable exercise enables employers to map demographics, identify the level of risk for retirements and/or employee exits and identify frontline workers with the potential for personal and professional growth. Once this survey is done, businesses can develop a plan to promote from within.
I have seen the success of this type of initiative both within my own firm and clients’ firms. For instance, can you imagine the corporate value provided by a front-line manufacturing worker who was identified as high potential? With a combination of in-house training and support for university accreditation, within a few years, this individual was promoted to the senior management team and stayed with the firm for many years.
Let’s look at how to foster a learning culture within an organization.
Conduct a workforce analysis: This strategy will enable the identification of employees at all levels of the organization who are eligible to retire, and enable you to plan for each risk. Use it to identify individual educational status and interests and assist you to put a succession plan in place. If your organization has a human resource information system, ensure the information is kept updated so a workforce analysis is no longer required annually.
Review and refine your retention strategy: Baby boomers are likely not to retire all at once, so you need a strategy that continues to engage those who stay. This can be accommodated through part-time and contract work, as well as coaching and mentoring with emerging leaders and/or through front-line teaching assignments for technical skills.
Apply leadership talent assessments: Internet technology makes it easy to apply a psychometric assessment tool to help emerging leaders understand their skills and areas of challenge. These assessment results should be used to develop career plans as described below. As well, the assessments help managers and business owners make decisions about the hiring, recruitment and training of potential emerging leaders.
Engage in career planning: A career plan can be made for every employee. Firstly, identify the skills and competencies required in each job and create a career map to demonstrate how a candidate can progress. Make these career maps public throughout the entire organization. Help employees see where their career might lead should they develop advanced skills. For those designated as emerging leaders, meet with them to develop a concrete plan for developing their skills. This can include formal training through rotation as well as inhouse training and university/ college support.
Avoid the quick fix: Corporate leaders often think the best approach to leadership training is to send their employee to an intensive five- to 10-day learning program. However, in my experience, you’ll find that shortly after being back to work, the program binders are sitting on a shelf. The individual is left without a coach and/or a program colleague with whom to test out assumptions and to try new strategies learned in the program.
Create, progressive development programming: Research has proven the best approach to learning is being able to apply one’s newly learned skills at the earliest opportunity, accompanied by personal coaching and feedback. Programs that offer this approach are typically held every few weeks during a six-month period. While the programs can be delivered individually, the best approach is a group setting in which individuals can share personal experiences and success strategies and gain assistance on problems. Usually, this support group will exist long after the program is over.
Wise business owners avoid getting caught without the leadership skills and resources needed for success.