Enterprise Continuity-Danger Ahead

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

As fall approaches and 2019 to 2020 planning becomes as a serious effort there are two demographic challenges that will have to be addressed simultaneously:

  1. The accelerated desire to retire of Baby Boomers whom while may they remain in the workforce will not be doing so as full time employees
  2. The painful awareness on the part of Generation X executives that the dreaded age of 50 is imminent prompting the likelihood that company/role changes, are being contemplated “before I get too old”

Boomer Executive Transitions
Discussion Partner Collaborative
began researching and providing Advisory support on Executive Transitions in 2013 primarily focused on creating a “soft landing” for both the senior leader and their company when the “Boomer” retired.

Both DPC’s research and client work with now over 500 executives suggest a much more generous interpretation of the word retirement is long overdue.

The reality is that most executives while leaving full time employment remain engaged in a myriad of capacities such as Interim Executives, Board Membership, Advisory Endeavors, Educators, and Entrepreneurs.

Given the Executives now feel “in control of their life and calendar” they engage in two to three endeavors usually on a part time basis.

Discussion Partner’s best selling book on this topic Executive Transitions-Plotting The Opportunity! will be reprised with a new book in 2019, Executive Transitions-Looking Forward In The Rearview Mirror!

Aging Dilemma for GenX
Beginning in 2016 via our research and advisory work in the Succession Planning/Executive Transitions area we became aware of a significant risk to enterprise sustainability and engagement.

The identified concern is the pre-supposition of most Succession Plans that the pipeline of internal candidates from the Generation X cohort, will remain robust.

DPC experience has concluded this degree of comfort is misguided.

In the strongest possible terms we suggest companies not presume longevity of Generation X executives as a given.   Our validated premise is as Generation X executives spy age 50 on the horizon, there is an overt desire for change.  This is not due to unhappiness with their situation, moreover it is the concern that when they hit this mystical age, their career trajectory options diminish.

The above is more prevalent in larger, well-established companies, where the executive has been associated for approximately 10 years.  However DPC has also seen in our Advisory work the same phenomenon in sectors such as Life Sciences and Technology where tenure as a rule is short lived.

As proof of concern in the 18 months after creating a service offering to address this issue, DPC has worked with 80 clients.

78 of the 80 with the average age of 47 were contemplating a company change!

The Ongoing Priority of Building The Bench
In our Leadership Effectiveness work Discussion Partner Collaborative has concluded that any attempt to avoid the need to a. build a bench within the enterprise and/or b. manifesting reluctance to self assess incumbent aspirations, is self defeating.

Perhaps it’s the feeling of lacking control that has made succession planning—the continuity and transitional aspects of this effort in particular— such a hot topic these days. After all, it’s human nature to want to contain the uncertainties in life while maximizing the opportunities—as contradictory as that may seem!

Urgency” would be a fair characterization of the feeling our clients have expressed towards the holistic succession planning process.

If you accept DPC’s conclusion that your organization’s future will benefit from a deep-dive review of its Succession and Continuity planning processes taking into consideration the “age 50 paradox” we believe your Talent Readiness position will avoid unpleasant surprises.

Notwithstanding pre-existing protocols, we are suggesting this review encompass the most generous interpretation of processes concomitant with experimental and disruptive solution sets.

       I. What skills sets will we need beyond domain proficiency to have a sustainable
growth oriented enterprise?

      II. How does our current population of Leaders and Future Leaders compare to
these desired attributes?

     III. How can we develop and/or hire sufficient numbers of people to address deficiencies
in the above?

    IV. What is the true nature of our Leadership bench in respect to Readiness?

     V. What is our contingency plan to be deployed if necessary?

In 1964 The Who recorded the song My Generation containing the famous lines “hope I die before I get old!”

Dr. Lynda Gratton of London Business School last year published The 100 Year Life a now best seller in Europe.

Reconciling the contradictory thematic is straightforward.  Executives want challenge and a feeling of relevance in addition to longevity.  While logic suggests that 50 is not in of itself a career crossroad, it is one of those ages where reflection is normal.

DPC’s suggestion is to accept the realities of aspirations of both Boomer and Generation X cohorts, and plan accordingly. It is better to channel the dialogue than be surprised by a decision.

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