I was speaking in Baltimore, Maryland, at a Healthcare Finance conference. Because I was the closing keynote, I flew in the day before so I could spend some time connecting with some attendees and listening to the other speakers.
As you can imagine, the topics the speakers covered ranged from leadership to technology to government regulation—pretty standard line-up except for one guy, the speaker who was on before me.
A professor at the University of Maryland by day, he had started keynoting based on a new book he had published about the future of business. He called himself a futurist, someone who studies the future and makes predictions based on trends.
He spoke about everything from the disappearance of full-time employment; to the role robotics will play in replacing traditional manual jobs. While I did not buy in or agree with all of what he said, when he started talking about the workforce and the future of employees and talent going forward, my ears perked up.
Beginning with what we all knew, finding great help is hard to find, and there is a virtual war on talent. He then shed some new light on why. He said that today’s workforce, while eager, is far less prepared than our parents’ generation.
With baby boomers retiring at rapid rates, either because they want to or age and health are making that decision for them, there is just not enough talent to take their place. The natural succession plan would be Gen X. Roughly ages 38 to 53; they are the smallest of the generations, so just by sheer numbers, there are not enough of them to move into these vital leadership positions.
In addition, after the recession that started in 2008, many Gen X men did not return to the workforce. Having been hit hardest by layoffs and downsizing, many opted out of the job market, and, unfortunately, it looks like they are staying out for good.
That leaves Millennials (roughly 21 to 37); while they are an even larger generation than the baby boomers, they are not nearly as experienced, according to our futurist speaker. He shared that things like organized sports, helicopter parenting, and the fact that most of these activities involve adult supervision. Millennials have missed the opportunity that lack of parental involvement provides for developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Boomers grew up in a time when kids walked to school, sports were self-organizing, and parents backed up the teacher no matter if he was right or wrong. Those taught boomers early on how to persevere, be resilient, and how to solve problems. Skills that would prove invaluable in the workforce.
Millennials bring amazing skills to the workplace, they are just different, and some of these foundational skills still need to be developed. That changes everything about how we view succession planning and the new role they need to play in our corporate culture. We used to have the luxury of waiting to do a succession plan when a leader was actually ready to retire or was thinking about stepping down.
In today’s world, succession planning is an ongoing strategy and one of the most vital elements, the core competencies you need to have in place to ensure sustainability and long-term success. Also, it is a strategy that is never complete and needs to be continually updated, communicated, and invested in.
So, where do you start, and how do you get your succession plan moving?
Take Inventory –
First and foremost, you need to understand where you are. What talent you have, what talent you need, and what talent is available in your marketplace. In other words, you need to take inventory. You need to get a clear perspective of what it takes from a talent perspective to run your company effectively. What roles could easily be filled with existing talent, and what roles will you need to recruit for?
Create Criteria –
You need to develop your criteria your standards. What do you future leaders need to have in terms of skills, talent, and values? Develop criteria of what it really takes beyond experience and job history to lead your company.
Start Small –
Succession planning is not an easy task. There are many moving parts and a lot of required investment in terms of time and resources. So there is no need to develop the entire succession plan in one sitting. Feel free to start small. Begin with the most critical positions. Those most vital to the organization and/or those with leaders most close to retirement. Get those succession plans in place, see what is working, and what is not, and adjust and continue your succession planning strategy.