Boomers On The Run

Planning for Succession as Boomers Transition into Retirement

Boomers are on the run!

The generation that grew up in the 1950's, 60's and 70's - the baby boomer - once product of the birth control pill, feminism and television wars - is now starting to leave the workforce and moving on to their next stage in life. This move toward retirement will significantly change the workplace. Our workplaces will experience an exodus of boomer leaders, managers, and various other boomer generation experts needed to run and grow our businesses. For all intents and purposes, boomers are on the run.

What this means for businesses, of all shapes and sizes, is they need to seriously consider succession planning as an investment in future growth. Succession planning is perhaps, not the best term as organizations tend to apply this term to only the leadership and management roles in their organizations. But with boomers exiting the workforce, it's not just about succession planning for those positions at the top of the organization but, also, for the large number of positions held by boomers throughout the organization. How best to accommodate this exodus while retaining the expertise needed - at all levels of the organization - is a challenge for human resources experts, one they should welcome if they want to be viewed, and utilized, as a strategic adviser to the executive suite.

Much has been said, in business literature, about the desire of human resources experts to have a place at the senior tables - those places where key strategic decisions are made. Unfortunately, this function, generally responsible for the attraction, retention and recruitment of high performers, is viewed as a support function and a cost centre, in other words, a necessary evil. There is even a contention that although CEOs, CFOs and COOs understand and appreciate the value of human capital management and its importance to the growth of their companies, they do not agree "... on critical aspects of talent management, but they also are unclear who should bear responsibility for these issues in their organizations." (CGMA Report, Talent Pipeline Draining Growth, 2012, page 1).As a result, talent management is perceived as expensive and a drain on the coffers.

This is the perfect opportunity for human resources experts to step up and address the talent management issue by providing senior executives with the business case for developing a boomer legacy. This will cement their role as a strategic advisor and leader in connecting human capital management to business growth.

Creating a boomer legacy will go a long way to addressing the challenge generated by boomers exiting the workforce. It involves human resources experts identifying the critical skills and roles the organization needs to retain, or develop, if the organization is going to continue to grow. Once these critical skills and roles are identified and documented, the next step is to build a business case to clarify to the senior team the risks associated with not creating a boomer legacy and the rewards reaped if the legacy is created. The underlying foundation of this legacy is knowledge and expertise transfer, creating a process where expertise and knowledge of the boomer employees is effectively transferred to their successors.

To develop a knowledge transfer methodology suited to your organization, there must be four basic principles in place.

  1. Boomer leaders are held accountable. Current boomer experts, leaders and managers need to understand they have a role in helping the organization retain the required expertise. This will be their legacy. Positioning this activity as their legacy recognizes them for their past contribution and encourages them to participate in the knowledge transfer process. For those boomer leaders at the top of the organization, and there are many of them in place today, the focus must be on developing successors for their roles, internally as much as possible. Their coaching and mentoring skills will be needed to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and expertise to their successors. These leaders should feel accountable for the sustainability of their organization, hence; work with human resources experts to create a leadership continuity process.
  2. Critical roles and tasks are surfaced and documented. We should never assume that all tasks, activities and roles associated with boomers are critical or need to be retained by the organization. And we should be looking to the future as well. What is the knowledge that will be necessary for our organization to possess, in which roles, over the next five to ten years? This type of analysis requires researching the current state, predicting the future state and effectively, forecasting what knowledge will be required for continued business growth. Company strategies and business goals should be the guides for determining the critical roles and tasks. Use of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis is a good starting point. This is an excellent opportunity to revisit the roles and tasks that are currently in place and remove those no longer required, fine tune and upgrade those required, and build those that will be needed in future.
  3. Risk must be assessed. Evaluate the risk associated with not building a knowledge transfer process. Develop a business case that clearly highlights the return on investment (ROI) from this process and the financial risks to the company if the process is not developed and implemented. The level of risk should determine the amount of time and dollars put into the process. If the risk is low, the work involved may be minimal and not require substantial resources. However, if the risk to the organization's future is high, the work involved will be significant and the resources required substantial. Without development of a business case, your senior team will not be inclined to take notice of the effects of the boomer exodus on their workplace. There needs to be a clear and concise connection between knowledge transfer requirements and business growth.
  4. Measures for success are built (ROI). Assuming the level of risk identified in the business case is significant, measures for success will need to be developed and incorporated into the business case. It's one thing to present the financial and growth risks associated with the boomer cohort exodus but quite another to identify how you will measure the business growth effects of the knowledge transfer process implementation. To achieve the anticipated ROI, the process plan itself needs to have both deadlines and measures associated with achievement of these deadlines so regular reporting to the senior team results in process continuity. This process should become part of the company human capital management process.

If these principles are incorporated into succession planning programs and activities, human resources experts will be positioned as strategic advisers to their organizations. They will be working alongside their senior teams to address the expertise gap being left by boomers exiting the workforce and to utilize these boomers to build a legacy of expertise for the future.

Do you do succession planning in your company?  If so, how does it work?  Let me know what you think and do.

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