The Baby Boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, began turning 65 in 2011. Boomers are the largest generation in U.S. history, and their retirement means companies will soon be facing an exodus of many of their senior leaders and most knowledgeable people.
High unemployment rates, which make recruiting easy in general, may mask the significance of this demographic and its likely impact.
Senior leaders have mission-critical skills, experience and knowledge. When they leave, they will take it with them – unless you are prepared with solutions.
It will not be possible to simply recruit your way around this “Boomer brain drain.” The next generation, so-called Generation X, is only about half the number of the Baby Boom generation, so there will be a smaller pool of candidates to draw from.
Here are some strategies that can help companies be prepared.
Do a threat assessment
Determine which of your senior managers are eligible to retire in the next five to 10 years. Assess how critical each of them is to accomplishing your mission, and how prepared you are to replace the knowledge and skills that they will take with them. Using the strategies that follow, act now to close any gaps you identify.
Update your retention strategy
Some Baby Boomers would like to work beyond traditional retirement age, perhaps in a reduced capacity. The key to keeping such talent as long as possible is being flexible. Consider part-time, flex-time and consulting relationships as alternatives to full-time employment.
Hone your succession planning
Identify which of your junior managers have the potential to move up to senior leadership. Tell them that you recognize their potential and want to develop it. Provide them with growth assignments so they will be as prepared as possible when it is time to advance.
Create knowledge-transfer strategies
Ultimately, senior leaders have to retire, and the only way to keep their knowledge in the company is to employ effective knowledge-transfer plans. These can vary widely. One approach is to set up mentoring opportunities, whereby senior leaders are paired with high-potential junior managers for the purpose of helping them prepare for increasingly responsible roles. Job shadowing is a related strategy in which junior managers spend time observing the day-to-day activities of senior leaders. Intergenerational work teams should be a fixture in the workplace. Don’t overlook technology as a means of knowledge transfer. Document information that previously existed only in people’s heads. Create formal training modules, perhaps completed online. Have senior people conduct teaching seminars.
Fine-tune your recruiting efforts
Recruiting is, of course, one piece of the solution. But it needs to be tailored to the challenges that you identify in your threat assessment. Select candidates on the basis of ability and character, more than knowledge and experience. The latter can be taught. The former cannot. A proactive approach to the exodus of Baby Boomers from the workforce, such as that described here, could avert a crisis of leadership in the years ahead.