Got Baby Boomer Executives? Here's the Succession Planning Solution

Forrest Christian Managing, Organizations 2 Comments

You’ve got a problem: your executives are all “baby boomers” and about to hit retirement. That wouldn’t be so bad, but the lower executive ranks are also filled with boomers, and they aren’t likely to stay on, either. They aren’t just walking out the door with their gold watches, either: they’re going to take with them the cumulative knowledge necessary to run your business.

Think that you can avoid it? If you work for a large company, you’re just dreaming. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 76 million people will leave the US workforce within the next five years. These “baby boomers” will also put extraordinary strains on the social welfare system for retirees in America, including corporate programs.

You have a plan to address your ballooning pension requirements. Are you planning for the implosion of your executive office? As these positions become empty, highly qualified staff will be able to write their own tickets, commanding massive salary and benefit increases. If your company can’t keep up with them you won’t have a chance in the job hunters’ market.

What can you possibly do?

The good news is that for large companies there is a simple and easy way to create a large pipeline of younger staff with the capacity to do these jobs. If you’re a company willing to take on this program, the better news is that your competitors will never do it.

Want to know why?

Because it takes mining the high-flier gold in your lower ranks.

In every large company I’ve consulted to, I’ve been able to find numerous very high-potential individuals who have gotten stuck in the lower ranks. These people have the capacity to do executive level work but need training and development to have the capability. These people missed the “tap” to be the next executives, and are stuck working for managers who are “smaller” than they are, who have smaller work capacities.

That’s why you can’t trust your lower level managers to bring them to your attention. Managers are incapable of seeing overperformance within a role and have a tendency to see these higher capacity persons as “attitude problems”.

You will have to put a system in place for identifying them and getting them built up to being effective managers. I’ve done this for my clients in the past, and there are certainly several others in the field who have done it on an even larger scale, including PeopleFit and MVC International. What’s amazing is that with proper training, many of these intractable “attitude problems” (as Michelle Malay Carter calls them) become sterling executives, dedicated to the company and with strong knowledge of the actual operations since, as one-time low level employees, they know how things actually get done and who actually does it.

The risk here is that grabbing someone from the lower ranks can cause some severe political problems if your company has had strict promotion ladders. There are ways of addressing this (The Manasclerk Company has put together a few itself) but they all take courage and leadership. It may be that your competitors are too weak to mine their lower ranks. Which means that you can do it for them and get industry-experienced executive trainnees at rock-bottom prices.

Because, as I’ve said before, we’re the killer app.

Comments 2

  1. Forrest,
    The problem you define is all too real. Last week my view of the issues enlarged. The US power industry is a key example of the wholesale aging out of executive leadership. What I had not realized is that a disproportionate fraction of the power generation and transmission infrastructure is also aging out. So its not just the leadership, it is the technology as well. I spoke with an executive within a leading edge equipment supplier for that industry and they are expecting 25 to 50% annual growth in their production. This is also creating a capability shortage within their ranks.

    So the depth of the issues is far deeper that the problem presented on the surface.

    The tools are available to do what you suggest, however it seems that few at the needed level of influence are responding. When this gets rolling, it will make the mortgage “crises” look insignificant.

  2. Post

    Cities like Chicago have already felt the pain of their aging infrastructure. I was in the Chicago Board of Trade during the blackout in the Loop caused by a failing power station. (Exploding may be a more appropriate word.)

    Christopher B. Leinberger, in a recent article in The Atlantic (“The Next Slum?“) makes a point that Stewart Brand and others have made for years:

    “The experience of cities during the 1950s through the ’80s suggests that the fate of many single-family homes on the metropolitan fringes will be resale, at rock-bottom prices, to lower-income families—and in all likelihood, eventual conversion to apartments.

    “This future is not likely to wear well on suburban housing. Many of the inner-city neighborhoods that began their decline in the 1960s consisted of sturdily built, turn-of-the-century row houses, tough enough to withstand being broken up into apartments, and requiring relatively little upkeep. By comparison, modern suburban houses, even high-end McMansions, are cheaply built. Hollow doors and wallboard are less durable than solid-oak doors and lath-and-plaster walls. The plywood floors that lurk under wood veneers or carpeting tend to break up and warp as the glue that holds the wood together dries out; asphalt-shingle roofs typically need replacing after 10 years. Many recently built houses take what structural integrity they have from drywall—their thin wooden frames are too flimsy to hold the houses up. ”

    The infrastructure of the 1950s through today is not as robust as the century old infrastructure in Chicago. The sewer pipes in my area of northwestern Indiana are all deteriorating quickly, and we’re not alone.

    This is yet another reason to find some of these high mode folks who have yet to be spoiled by their own success and still have low associative barriers.

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