In the workplace today, the generation known as Baby Boomers dominates the management and senior leadership ranks. And they are starting to retire. By 2020, in less than a decade, the number of Boomers in the workforce will have decreased by fifty percent and less than twenty percent of organizations have succession plans in place. The challenge for business leaders and Human Resources experts is not just the increase in the number of positions that will be vacant, but the expertise that will go out the door with them, particularly at the senior leadership level of organizations. We should now be developing and implementing leadership continuity processes to transfer the required expertise from these senior leaders to the next generation of leaders.
The next generation of leaders will most likely be dominated by members of Generation Y. By 2020, this generational cohort will have grown at twice the rate of Generation X (the cohort sandwiched between Boomers and Generation Y). So not only should we be concerned with implementing processes to develop future leaders, we should also be concerned with how best to do this when it is highly likely we will have to skip a generation to grow the next generation of leaders.
To ensure we have 2020 vision, we should consider the following three concepts.
1. ‘lost knowledge’ – the expertise our organization needs to continue to be successful that will go out the door with the retiring boomers;
2. knowledge transfer – of the critical skills required – between the generations, and;
3. recognition and reward to foster succession planning.
These concepts, when fully developed as part of our organization culture, will create leadership continuity, the process that we can use to continually develop the next generation of leaders. These concepts, when implemented effectively, will create a culture of motivation that encourages senior leaders to build a legacy of leadership expertise.
The concept of ‘lost knowledge’:
This involves developing a good understanding of the various costs associated with potentially losing the knowledge required to maintain and continuously grow the organization’s performance. Calculating the cost of lost knowledge – the expertise that will go out the door with the senior leaders – is what needs to be calculated to sell leadership on the benefits of investing in leadership continuity. We need to make sure we clearly identify which expertise, which skills and knowledge needs to be retained and which skills and knowledge will not be important in the future.
The concept of ‘knowledge transfer’:
As Boomers exit the workforce they will take their expertise with them unless we have in place a process to capture and transfer that expertise to the next generation of leaders. It’s important to get these current leaders to take on the responsibility for transfer of this expertise. This not only takes effort, but it takes time and dollars. When we consider transferring these critical skills we need to consider the differences in learning styles. And there are fairly significant differences in learning styles. When seeking to transfer knowledge, we need to be able to identify clearly who is the intended receiver of the knowledge.
There are a number of learning methodologies available but the most effective in this situation are those that involve both teacher and learner in active participation. The methodologies that encourage reciprocal relationships, sharing relationships and partnerships are the ones best suited for transfer of knowledge.
They are face to face methodologies and they recognize the expertise of the senior leader – demonstrating respect for their knowledge and skills as well as their contribution to the success of the organization. These methodologies reward future leaders with the mentoring and coaching they desire so they can get as much experience as possible and help them to develop the people/communication/soft skills they will need as well as allowing them to work on developing their emotional intelligence.
The concept of ‘recognition and reward’:
There are key differences between Boomers and Generation Y when it comes to recognition and reward. Boomers want to be rewarded for results and their contribution, Generation Y wants to be rewarded for learning and knowledge acquisition. Understanding these differences is vital to leadership development continuity – providing the environment where both cohorts can achieve the reward and recognition they seek.
In organizations where Boomers are recognized and rewarded for their expertise, they can develop a leadership legacy which encourages them to expend the time and effort necessary to develop the next generation of leaders. Continuity of employment is a form for recognition for senior leaders, learning and development opportunities are both recognition and reward of skill and potential for future leaders, and retirement planning is a reward for senior leaders. For future leaders, without providing learning and development opportunities, the message sent to both current and future leaders is that knowledge transfer is not a priority. Providing these opportunities will enhance the working relationship between the cohorts and motivate them to learn together.
2020 Vision and Leadership Continuity:
With 2020 vision we can ensure we develop Generation Y leaders by aligning the needs of both senior and future leaders.
For senior leaders:
- They need the time and resources to focus on skills transfer.
- The critical skills they hold need to be identified.
- Their past and continuing contribution must be recognized – they need to be valued for their passion and the expertise they bring.
- Encourage them to build a legacy. We all want to be recognized for our value and our contribution – remind them of their responsibility to the organization’s future by developing a legacy.
- Provide them with the tools to go into the future – retirement planning.
For future leaders:
- Help them learn about senior leaders, their contribution and their value. Educate them.
- Assess their current skills level versus the critical skills identified with senior leaders. What are the gaps and how will you help them to close these gaps?
- Match their skills needs to senior leaders’ expertise – help them to select the best methods for gaining these skills. Put in place social-technical mentoring – where both participants have plans in place to learn from one another. Continue to build the confidence and expertise of both parties.
- Be flexible – consider their learning styles and find ways to accommodate these styles. Make sure these future leaders have the information and tools they need to become future leaders.
To get started, we should prepare a risk assessment so the senior management in our organizations are clear as to the impact of not implementing a leadership continuity process. Once we have their commitment, the process can be kicked off by determining the best methodologies for knowledge transfer. With 2020 vision, we will be able to create a motivating culture where senior leaders are provided with the time and resources they need to mentor and coach the next generation of leaders, to actively participate in the knowledge transfer process, letting them know their contribution is valued and they have continuity of employment.