Nine Questions about Baby Boomer Retirement that your Company Must Answer

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Can you answer these questions about Baby Boomer retirements at your company? The first five are about raw numbers:

How many people at your company are eligible to retire in each of the next ten years?
The odds are good that not everyone who is eligible to retire will do so. But it's a good idea to consider how many people could leave at a moment's notice and when they're eligible to do so.

How many of your senior managers are in that group?
Senior managers have mission critical knowledge and experience. When they leave, they take it all with them, unless you've created alternatives for them to stay on, or work as a consultant.

Review your succession planning. Identify the less experienced managers that are best qualified to move up. Help them with personal and career development, especially growth assignments, so they're ready when their time comes.

How many of your key technicians and craft workers are in that group?
We're talking here about the kind of hands-on technical work that it's hard to outsource or offshore. Many of the pipelines for technicians and craft workers have been slowly drying up over the last couple of decades. Union apprentice programs have been hit especially hard.

How many of your first line supervisors are in that group?
Your front line bosses have more impact on morale and productivity than any other group of people in your company. Make sure you're ready to replace retiring supervisors with qualified new supervisors who'll get the benefit of solid supervisory skills training.

How many of your knowledge connectors are in that group?
Knowledge connectors are vital to your operations, but they don't have that title on any organizational chart. Knowledge connectors are the people other people call for help because they're experts or because they know how to find people or knowledge to help solve problems. You can do a social network analysis to find out who they are, or just ask around.

I call the problem the "Boomer Brain Drain" because of the loss of knowledge and experience when Boomers retire. If you've answered the questions above, you have an idea how big a threat this is to your company and you can start to work on responses. The next four questions deal with different kinds of responses to the potential Boomer Brain Drain.

What human resources measures are you or will you use to meet the challenges of Boomer Brain Drain?
Human Resources (HR) responses to the challenges of the Boomer Brain Drain include everything you do to modify your recruiting, training, retention and succession planning. They also include changes to policies and procedures and may include union negotiations.

Since Boomers may be starting to flow out the back door, it's logical to plan on increasing the flow of recruits in the front door. It's logical, but it's dangerous.

Generation X is the generation next in line behind the Baby Boom. It's only about half the size of the Baby Boom generation, so you've got a smaller pool to draw from. You can't count on simply increasing recruiting to fill the spots left by retiring Boomers.

Several companies are investigating tactics such as having people return to work after retirement or stay at work past their official retirement date. There's some evidence that this will work since studies by financial services companies tell us that Baby Boomers don't have a lot put back for retirement.

Older workers are great hires in lots of ways. Their turnover rate is lower than that of younger workers. When CVS compared their older workers to younger workers, they found that older workers are far less likely to call in sick.

If you choose some set of retire late/come back after retirement solutions, there are issues to consider. Start with your current pension and retirement policies. Can Boomers continue to work without losing benefits? This may be something you need to have a dialogue with your unions about.

You may also need to modify your policies and procedures for part-time work. Retired Boomers may want a different kind of flextime than younger workers. They might prefer the ability to take more time off, to accommodate medical appointments and visits to children.

Analyze your corporate culture. Do you see older workers as contributing members of the workforce, or do you see them as workers with their eyes on retirement and one foot out the door? Do you provide training to older workers the same as you do to younger one?

You should also think about how you'll need to change your work processes to make them friendlier to older workers at the same time as you find ways to get more productivity out of fewer workers.

How will you change or adjust your business processes to meet the challenges of Boomer Brain Drain?
Older workers may be great workers, but they tend to have more physical limitations than younger workers. You may have to modify either processes or equipment so they're older-worker-friendly. You'll be in good company. Toyota has been doing this for some time.

Make sure, for example, that the gauges on equipment are easy to read. If instructions are conveyed orally in a workplace, make sure they're loud enough for older workers to hear.

You can also make changes to business processes that make Boomer retirement irrelevant. If you eliminate some specialized equipment or standardize on fewer kinds of equipment, you may be able to increase your scheduling flexibility and handle more equipment with fewer workers. You can also use technology to capture the knowledge of experienced workers so that it's available to younger workers.

How will you use technology to meet the challenges of Boomer Brain Drain?
Knowledge management technology is often touted as the way to capture Boomer knowledge and put it to use. In reality, most of the knowledge that Boomers, like other workers, have is in their heads and will go out the door with them. But you can still do some things to capture important knowledge if you start now.

Consider job-shadowing as a knowledge transfer tool. Think about investing in people to chart and document processes that do not currently have formal documentation.

Use simple technological tools, such as electronic discussion groups to capture "shoptalk" and the knowledge that only comes with time on the job. Use social network analysis to identify which people get contacted to solve specific problems.

There are three rules to follow in using technology to capture knowledge. The first is that a tool that no one will use, because it's too complex or time-consuming, is a useless tool. The second is that culture always trumps technology. Rule number three is that technology that adapts to human habits works better than technology that demands that humans change the way they work.

Have you conducted a "Threat Assessment" to give you an idea of where you need to concentrate your efforts?
Before you move on to planning for Boomer retirements, take the time to do an accurate Threat Assessment. It will make your efforts more productive in the long run.

Assess every position in your organization. Determine when the person in that job can retire. Evaluate how important the position is to accomplishing the mission. And assess how prepared you are to replace the incumbent.

These questions are just the start. Your next step will be to develop a strategy for dealing with a potential Boomer Brain Drain. But the sooner you get started, the sooner you'll see results.

Wally Bock
Three Star Leadership Enterprises


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