Future of Work: B2B HR succession planning

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There is a generational shift taking place in society. Millennials are now surpassing Baby Boomers in the active workforce. The shift has a massive impact on the future of work and B2B. Last week we profiled how to recruit and attract millennials, this week we touch a bit more on what this transfer will look like and how B2B has, or hasn’t, been planning for this shift.

The Pew Research Centre and the Social Security Administration peg Baby Boomer retirement at 10,000 people a day over the next decade and a half. As more and more Baby Boomers delay their retirements these numbers may be skewed. Half of the Boomers polled by Gallup in 2014 plan to work past 65, 10% say they will never retire. However, by 2029 the last of the Boomer generation will turn 65. The economic reluctance and real struggles of Boomers in the workplace, goes unchecked in rosy success stories of Boomers who work past retirement, but it is creating a messy bottleneck in succession planning.

This plays out in many complex ways in the B2B world as the generational gap mirrors a skill gap and the way that these groups understand and prefer to do business is typically very different. Unsurprisingly, Millennials prefer phone/email contact, Boomers like face to face. Without guided or intentional strategies for transition businesses will struggle meeting the new demands of clients, while also struggling to internally hold onto important institutional knowledge and skills. These two are typically presented separately, the Millennial recruitment and the fear of the “Baby Boomer Brain Drain” but realistically they cannot be separated. Doing well with just one group won’t ensure success.

MBA@UNC has a definitive inforgraphic for trying to get a full picture of these shifts with regional US break down, employment sectors and lots of great insight. Most startling, their data shows that the business world is slow to acknowledge these very obvious trends at all – 68% of employers surveyed do not track workplace demographics, 77% have not analyzed retirement trends, and only 19-37% have any intentional strategies to combat the Boomer brain drain. On the flip side, they show that Millennials are overwhelming interested in mentors – 75% want a mentor, 58% of those look to Baby Boomers over Generation X counterparts.

This is where analysis can get tricky though. The easy solution would be to pair “emerging talent” with soon to be retired leaders. The complicating factor though is that without focus this would fail to recognize that massive difference in how business will be done moving forward. How useful will it be for an emerging leader to be schooled on how to work a trade show, or how best to make an impression face to face if the vast majority of their communication moving forward will be via phone or email? What can millennials learn about workplace culture from Baby Boomers if their future will look remote, and nothing like a 9-5 with a cubicle or desk? The solutions look like marrying these trends, identifying the boomer drain alongside successful millennial recruitment but also identifying the relevant skills to transfer.

Moving through an effective succession planning strategy, B2B companies can first recognize the emerging problem, track and analyze their own demographics, and identify and pair millennials with Baby Boomer mentors with specific focus on transferring relevant skills for the landscape they will encounter. Most who recognize this trend acknowledge the need for flexibility for recruiting Millenials, but few recognize that Boomers also want more flexibility. 94% want special work arrangements, only 37% have one. Businesses that are the most responsive, and that can offer this kind of autonomy, will thrive when it comes to succession planning.

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Dylan Powell

Dylan Powell

Dylan Powell is a writer from St. Catharines, On (Canada) with a background in new media and social media development. He has been published in various advocacy outlets and journals, in the Hamilton Spectator and Two Row Times, and been covered by CBC Radio, CTV, and the Toronto Star on various advocacy issues. He spends his free time lending his skills to his wife's roller derby league as PR Chair.