New report notices that Boomers are retiring; offers band-aid for sucking chest wound…

Lately I’ve been talking a lot about the looming macro-succession crisis, and it’s felt like I’m the only one who sees the issue coming. This morning, though, a MediaPost item addressing a piece of the issue came across the desk, and while it’s only partially aware of the whole problem and the solution it points to is a half-measure at best, it’s at least nice to see a little validation on the subject.

Thursday July 12, 2007
Retiring Boomers Important in Hand-off to Younger Employees

A recent survey of 28,000 employers in 25 countries, by Manpower, revealed that only 21 percent have implemented retention strategies to keep their senior employees participating in the workforce.

Sharon Birkman-Fink, President and CEO of Birkman International, says “Retaining older workers is incredibly important for companies who wish to retain the skills and embedded knowledge base of their senior employees… Older workers have different needs than younger workers, and.. their preferences… interests and… work-styles must be assessed.”
The baby boomers are a significant percentage of the current workforce and are nearly ready for retirement. Experts expect tremendous gaps in competencies and know-how as a result of this demographic wave. Given the demographics of the retiring baby boomers, the loss of this talent pool will put companies at a competitive disadvantage.

Several industries, including electric utilities, oil and gas production, healthcare and the public sector, are already feeling the effects of baby boomer retirements, says the report. (Story.)

There are multiple problems with this report, though.

  • If you read the article you’ll see that Birkman sees this as a personality assessment issue – and to some degree it is – but when you have massive strategic problems you can’t afford to be led by people who are mainly concerned with framing the issues in terms of their tactical solution suite.
  • Retention is crucial, obviously. But if you’re looking at this problem end to end (and clearly neither Birkman nor Manpower are) you have to realize what a small piece of the overall puzzle it represents. At best, retention-only approaches are stop-gaps aimed at emergency knowledge transfer. Sure, these kinds of initiatives prove my point about how corps have allowed the glut of Boomer talent to squeeze out Xers and prevent their training, but where is the language that acknowledges the needs of the Xers who are going to be taking over? Birkman knows their audience, at least…
  • Work styles assessment is a great idea – deep research into the different generational mindsets is something I strongly recommend. But simply keeping Boomers around isn’t a long-term solution – you need to be evaluating the tendencies of the Xers who are going to be moving into leadership, because it’s these characteristics that are going to engender broad organizational crisis.
  • Finally, since we know that financial necessities are going to keep a lot of Boomers further down in the organization around for awhile, why don’t we start talking about how that wisdom can be put to work training the front edge of the Millennial Generation? This frees up the Xers currently in lower and middle management to move ahead and allows Mills to learn from a generation they’re more comfortable with.

As a small strategy shop, it’s always a help when the big dogs start acknowledging the reality of the things you’ve been howling in the wilderness about. There’s still a long way to go, though, in getting the whole story in front of the right people.

A long way to go, and a short time to get there….


3 responses to “New report notices that Boomers are retiring; offers band-aid for sucking chest wound…

  1. It’s a lot to ask of any Boomer, to start thinking of him/herself as a knowledge repository which needs to be structured, ready for handoff, rather than king/queen of the walk.We’re a generation who has always been center-stage, and our way is the way of the world 🙂

    But even beyond that, the task is not easy. I’m a learning specialist/instructional designer who has recently gone into partnership with my (nearly 27 yr old) son, who has an MBA and owns a satirical newspaper which serves the 18-30 year old demographic. We’ve developed programs on how to train and manage Xers and Millennials, understand multi-generational workforces etc. The most interesting part of it is how a pile of books, articles and web-info, plus a Boomer-lifetime of expertise in sustainable learning doesn’t give the full picture of exactly how the structured transfer of essential knowledge can be done between generations without including breathing members of the younger GenX/Millennial cohort to fill out the picture.

    We’re also finding that the issue of how to manage, retain and engage the 18-30s has required us to completely deconstruct business culture and behavior and every aspect of management in more detail than ever before.

    So maybe Birkman is acknowledging the same issue as many companies are facing… they don’t really know what else to do? (And the Boomers don’t want to do it anyway:)

  2. Pingback: Scholars and Rogues » The “dumbest generation”: sloppy thinking, maybe, but it’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Gen X·

  3. Pingback: The “dumbest generation”: sloppy thinking, maybe, but it’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Gen X | Scholars and Rogues·

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