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Boomers at the (exit) gates

Heather Hughes

We’ve all heard it - the baby boomers who have filled the corporate offices, populated the boardrooms, and presided over meetings for the last 30 years are getting ready to retire. They are checking their retirement packages, examining lifestyle changes, contemplating a life of travel and relaxation, to the point where some are winding down now - well ahead of their official departure date.

Simultaneously, the up-and-coming leaders, the Gen X and Gen Y groups are gearing up to take over. They are using the Internet and social media to connect with their peers like never before.  And, instead of quietly waiting in the wings, these emerging leaders are actively seeking other opportunities where they are able to jump in, make high value contributions NOW - and learn, learn, learn.

So instead of the seamless transition from the old guard currently at the helm to the capable hands of their existing middle managers, many companies are facing a major drain on their talent pool coupled with a crippling loss of corporate memory.

Can corporate life thrive or even survive in the midst of this churn?

Regrettably, many managers have not stopped to consider the impact the loss of long-time employees will have on their organization.  It appears they don’t appreciate how the lack of a strategy to capture and preserve essential corporate knowledge can quickly bite them – until they find themselves in a crisis situation.

We have visited organizations that are taking a close look at what’s required to make the transition with minimal disruption:

  • Preparing middle management teams by partnering them with mentors and coaches.
  • Budgeting and allocating both time and money to support the work that needs to be started now.
  • Taking steps to retain the historical information that will be crucial to their future success.

The Challenge

So the challenge is this: How can organizations re-energize and engage their soon-to-depart employees?  This is a group who will not be with the organization much longer and will not be implementing the long range plans.  Simultaneously, they must retain highly talented people who are keen to influence the future and take over at the helm so they can make their mark?

Is your organization taking action to address these issues?  Are you aware of any unique or highly successful programs to retain both institutional memory and young talent?  Or have there been efforts that have no traction and are looking like failures?  We would love to hear your stories in the comments below!


Heather Hughes CMC, is a Certified Management Consultant with over 30 years experience in organizational change, succession planning, leadership development and employee engagement. She is a Senior Consultant with Delta Partners and brings a global perspective to her clients that emerges from her work in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK . Heather also has a strong industrial background from her work in the forestry, transportation, fisheries and mining sectors. She is the author of “L is for Leader, that’s you” a resource for business leaders.


In a recent project, I interviewed a number of people who were scheduled to retire. It was very clear that a huge store of tacit knowledge resides with these individuals as a result of their long experience. I felt a bit of panic myself as I became more and more aware of this in discussion. Much of this knowledge will simply be lost unless job shadowing or other mentor arrangements are in place long before retirement. In addition, perhaps there are other options such as phased retirement so that all this experience is not lost all at once.  Otherwise, organizations will be left quite vulnerable.

By Diane Thompson on 2010/08/16

It’s a very interesting dilemma with no easy solution as a few of the potential retirees I’ve talked to are planning to do some consulting work post retirement, so keeping their knowledge is to their advantage. The very thing they are being asked to pass along is their ‘ticket to entry’ as a consultant. Additionally, a few who are ‘scheduled for retirement’ and who have been mentoring others, now find themselves re-considering retirement as it looms closer. Some say they are enjoying the mentoring role, while others speak to the fear of isolation from long time colleagues, and yet others have still got young children in school or university a result of a later marriage. Perhaps the biggest dilemma of all is helping those season veterans of the workplace to recognize what they know that is relevant today and will be useful in the future. Frequently they do not see the unique aspects of their role; their experience is taken for granted as common knowledge, or is done with little thought as it is second nature to the job at hand. Their question, “What do you want to know?” assumes we know what to ask for. I’m sure there must be a way to help with this transition. If you know of any system that uncovers the tacit knowledge I’d love to hear about it.

By Heather Hughes on 2010/08/16

Clearly the retirement of senior, exeprienced staff is a challenge.  A strategy some organizations have undertaken is to transform their services or business.  While it improves focus on their clients and customers and creates efficiencies, this strategy also serves the purpose of a new knowledge base, developing emerging leaders and mitigating the impact of retiring expertise.
Not all organizations can execute a transformation strategy, but it is one worth considering.

By George Barnhart on 2010/08/17

George, this is exactly what I am seeing with a current client and while the transformation in services is working well and fits their long range objectives, that too has added to the churn. Some of the employees now find themselves without a role for their specialized skills (engineering which is now being outsourced)so they too are now planning to leave - creating yet another gap. I’d like to hear how it’s worked well and how you can keep great employees and have them engaged in the change process.

By Heather Hughes on 2010/08/17

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Posted by Heather Hughes
Posted on August 13, 2010

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Categories: hr & talent management, knowledge transfer, public service renewal