Time for Knowledge Transfers

It’s obvious that baby boomers are retiring in droves daily. This huge demographic of workers once dominated the workforce, until millennials came along. Statistics show that 10,000 people reach retirement age daily–and research suggests that this number also reflects how many people retire every day. Good thing this mass exodus isn’t all from one organization, but it does beg the question, are you prepared for boomer retirements? Not only in lower-level staff, but boomers in executive roles.

According to Joe Ungemah, North America practice leader, talent management and organizational alignment at Willis Towers Watson, HR executives and employers should begin preparing for boomer retirement well in advance, but organizations often leave succession planning to the last minute.

“Organizations assume a few meetings to download existing workload or priorities is all that is needed [for leadership knowledge transfers],” he says. What’s much more effective is creating opportunities for experiential learning, where new leaders are given exposure to the topics and decisions experienced by the incumbent, allowing for mentorship and conversation.”

Approximately 80 percent of S&P 500 companies’ CEOs are baby boomers and nearly one-third of this population is 65 and older. Generation X, on the only hand, only comprise 10 percent of the C-suite. By 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts most of our workforce will comprise workers ages 25 to 29.  Is Generation X getting bypassed when it comes to filling necessary leadership roles?


One reason Gen X may be overlooked is the sheer size of the boomer population–Gen X isn’t big enough to fill the shoes of retiring baby boomers, but combining Gen X and millennials will yield a surplus of qualified potential.

According to an article in the New York Times, baby boomers, though retiring in droves, are also working longer. Even as they reach age 65, they aren’t necessarily ready to call it quits.

“ … [O]lder Americans have always been far more likely to be satisfied with their finances, they’re also riding a wave of increasing dominance on the income scale and hanging onto high-paying work, keeping some of those slightly younger 45-to-54-year-olds from ascending to those jobs,” wrote Robert Gebeloff in the Times piece.

Though there are negative consequences of this population working longer, particularly for younger workers, it could also be a great opportunity to begin leadership knowledge transfer, which can take years.

“The breadth of topics to transfer should be widened beyond the typical mechanics of a business unit or department to consider all the social relationships and stakeholder groups that can determine how successful a new leader will be. The legacy of a relationship can extend well beyond the departure of a leader,” says Ungemah, who adds that it’s important to recognize intergenerational differences in leadership approaches to fully boost the knowledge transfer process.

Danielle Westermann Kinghttp://
Danielle Westermann King is a former staff writer for HRE.