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Your Company's "Brain Drain"....

28 Jan 2010 | Posted Under Boomers

According to a recent international study, the biggest talent challenge that companies face in the U.S. (60 percent), Europe (57 percent) and Asia (57 percent) is gaps in the leadership pipeline. In the U.S. the problem is largely driven by the concern that many Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) will begin to retire in the coming years.

This news item, read around the world, bodes of the latest and possibly most pernicious problem facing businesses large and small: It’s called the “brain drain” referring to the substantial loss of Boomer knowledge and expertise gleaned over decades of experience, upon their retirement.

Unfortunately, many employers are ill-prepared for the impending exodus of 78 million baby boomers from the workforce. And with 25 percent of all U.S. employees at or nearing retirement age, the window of opportunity is quickly closing for companies to develop a solid long-term strategy.

Even more unfortunate is the tendency of many companies to dismiss this shot across the bow as mere scare-tactics, so they don’t follow the lead of the likes of Procter & Gamble, GE, and IBM, three of America’s largest companies that developed programs designed specifically to mitigate against the huge losses they know are coming if they don’t prepare well for the mass retirement of their Boomer talent. 

Think that what impacts such huge corporations doesn’t apply to you?  Then consider Madonna University in Livonia, MI.  Up until about three years ago, they were an employer without a formal plan. Then they took a closer look at their employee demographics and found that 40 percent of their workforce is nearing retirement age according to Ernie Nolan, Vice President for Academic Administration.

Now they have a long-term plan in place with a number of programs designed not only to retain older workers, but also to help them transfer knowledge/skill-sets and organizational culture to younger, less experienced employees.

Now, back to the likes of GE and IBM.  Given that these companies, and the others of their caliber that are doing the same thing, are not prone to recklessly throwing away revenues on whimsical initiatives, it is clear that any company not investing in a program that fully prepares them for such a loss, will be paying much more for it down the line. 

So let’s move to the good news: what you can do about this now.

There are proven and cost-effective programs that you can adopt and then tailor to your specific company needs.  The first is “phased retirement”; the second is “knowledge hand-off”.  The former is perfect for companies wanting to both pass on information and keep their Boomers on staff but in a different capacity; the latter is for those who will not be keeping retirees past their last day on the job.  And both require the expertise of someone who is well versed in handling generational workforce issues.

One final thought.  Contrary to popular belief (or wishful thinking…) this drain is not adequately addressed through traditional succession planning which is designed to groom next generation leadership rather than pass on key industry skill-sets and knowledge.  Don’t fall for this with your company’s biggest investment. 

Do it right now.  It is an investment that will pay for itself in the time it takes for your Boomers to say adieu for the last time.

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