Part 1: Boomers Building a New Life Stage

There was a wonderful article in the Chicago Tribune titled, “A ‘new self’ at 86.”  Lois Weisberg resigned from her job as Chicago’s Cultural Commissioner last year and is now using her considerable creativity to reinvent her career.  For many years, Lois was the “grand dame of Chicago culture” and “one of the most influential women to serve in local government.”  And while you may not know her personally, you know her work.  She was the creative energy behind Cows on Parade along with many other wonderful cultural events in Chicago.  But when she walked out the door, “she felt that she had lost not just the job, but herself too.  Because, truthfully, her job had been her life.”

We know, transitions are difficult; especially the ones that occur as we move from full-time employment into … well, something else.  We used to call it retirement.  But with longer life expectancies and improved health, more seniors have decided that retirement doesn’t suit them anymore.  They would prefer to remain active and on the job.  Yes, the recession has certainly led them to re-think retirement dates.  But not significantly.  According to a new MetLife study they may delay by 2-3 year years.  What they (boomers) know is that they just don’t want to be employed with you anymore and they are ready to get on to a new adventure.  The motivation to remain engaged runs deep … they know that staying engaged contributes to a broader sense of “wellbeing.”

Boomers will be the first generation to fully experience this new life stage – a prolonged period (perhaps 30 years or more) of healthy, active, non-child-rearing years.  This generation is already busy re-conceptualizing these years.  Most still feel young and have a desire to stay engaged.  A recent Gallup poll asked working people about their work preferences when they hit retirement age.  Of those surveyed, 18% said they expect to continue to work full time.  Of those, 1/3 said they would do so because they wanted to.  Sixty-three percent said they would continue to work part-time; with 2/3 saying they would do so because they wanted to, not because they had to.  The AARP Public Policy Institute noted that the employment participation rate for those 65 and older has dramatically increased from 10.8% in 1985 to 17.9% in 2011.

For Boomers, this is not just an economic decision. It’ also a decision about “in what ways they can best spend their time and leverage their skills in a productive way.” But when Boomers remain engaged, there are implications for other generations.  When Boomers hang on to jobs longer, they impact the leadership pipeline, making it difficult for Gen X’ers to find opportunities to lead.  And when they take lower level jobs for which they are over-qualified, they run the risk of displacing younger Gen Y’s.

Where can they best contribute in this new life stage?   And how to do that with traditional employment processes and polices?   In what ways can organizations best engage their Boomers in a discussion about their future?  It starts with a meaningful conversation.


The New Year “New” Resolution for 2012

As we all recover from a holiday weekend and bemoan the excesses of extreme socialization, the thoughts of many now are focusing on the “New Year.”  

A tradition many executives have is to make their “resolution list.”  The promises they make to themselves to be adhered to “absolutely.”

I was with a CEO recently who was showing me his list.  I noted that it was dated 1999 and with multiple write over…when the obvious question was asked, the response was “still haven’t finished.”

As the intensity of the global recession recedes, and a collective cautious breath is taken in the hopes that the worst may be over, DPC thought it would be helpful to do a quick “Pulse Survey” of CEO’s regarding their commercial resolutions for 2012.

We had over 20 responses and there are emerging trends the top 5 of which are herein listed.

  1. Understand Social Media – Many CEO’s acknowledge they do not understand nor appreciate this phenomenon.  This lack of awareness prompted expressions ranging from, “it makes me feel out of touch” to “old.” 
  2. Increase External Awareness – Many CEO’s have felt that during the recession they were “too heads down,” and “unaware of what’s new.”  One CEO stated regarding external trends  “unless it was on CNBC I missed it.”  The desire to end the information hibernation was expressed.
  3. Global Mindset – The refrain communicated most was “It is hard to keep track of the dynamics.”  There were specific references to the Euro crisis by domestic CEO’s and the “political crisis” in the US by rest of world executives.  The objective of those sampled was to “understand better” to be “less reactive.”
  4. Accountability – CEOs indicated that “shared accountability” has suffered during the recession due to “competitiveness” and “paranoia.” One CEO stated the desire “I want to put a stop to the mentality of ‘for someone to win, someone has to lose.’”
  5. Pace – This observation was DPC’s biggest surprise.   The focus on pace of life and work, and the desire for more balance were credited to the “new worker.”  “They have the right idea1”  A number of CEOs communicated that the need for enterprise flexibility in dealing with Succession and Continuity Planning is “high on the list.”

Our expectation is that the 2012 list will not be the 2022 list!

The above list is symptomatic of the reflection we have seen in our clients during the year promoting the mentality of “not only do I need to do things well, I need to think about life beyond my office” as well as “a different way of working inside.”

On behalf of Discussion Partner Collaborative and our Affiliates, our best wishes for a prosperous 2012!

The Challenges of Human Asset Unsustainability

As Executives who are focused on Enterprise Growth and Differentiated Sustainability, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How can the Enterprise replenish its leadership population if it’s Succession Plan is based upon incorrect assumptions?
  2. How can an Enterprise exploit the talents of, and secure the institutional memory from, Boomers if Human Capital programs are not tailored to balance their unique situations in the context strategic intents?
  3. How can an executive maximize their contribution if as they approach retirement they are distracted by the reality that they are bereft of a comprehensive a personal non-financial Transition plan?

The exercise is likely to promote, appropriately, significant concerns?

The two most recent editions of the Harvard Business Review are wake up calls for managers in respect to the emerging challenges in addressing the aspirations of the Baby Boomer age “cohort”.  

Several data points contained in the articles are consistent with recent Discussion Partner Collaborative research and client experience:

  • 50% of Fortune 500 Board Members are dissatisfied with the their companies Succession Planning process
  • Succession Planning is an insular process usually achieving a level of “seriousness” approximately 18 months before transition
  • The rules are being broken in respect to the age of Board Members whereas in 1987 only 3% were age 60, now 30% are 64 or above indicative of both the shifting demographics and enterprise desire for the preservation of institutional memory
  • The median tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is 3.5 years some roles such as CIO’s even less reinforcing the need for disciplined Succession Planning scenario’s

 As reinforcement, DPC research conducted in the Third Quarter of 2011 encompassing  150 Global CEO’s and over 2,000 Executives over the age of 55 concluded the following:

  • Succession Plans, if they exist at all assume, without executive consultation, that all will retire at age 65!
  • The reality is that Executives have a “range” from “62 to I don’t know but later than 65”
  • Over 90% of the Executives in our study would prefer to have a gradual “phase down in time commitment” beginning at age 62 and ending at 66
  • Over 80% of the Executives indicated that the existing Human Capital practices did not allow for a “phase down”
  • Over 50% of CEO’s stated that they would embrace a phase down strategy if “I could keep a key Executive longer” while an additional 9% stated…..”not sure but should be explored”
  • Over 70% of Executives stipulated that the comprehensiveness of their Transition Planning was  predominantly if not exclusively Financial

Research Conclusions

Our research, led us to a working hypothesis focused on the integration of Enterprise and Human Asset Sustainability. We refer to as Human Asset Sustainability.

Our Conclusions are that to be achieved, Human Asset Sustainability, must embody the following Principles:

  • Succession Planning cannot be realistic unless those whom are deemed “inclusions” (executives and those in key roles) are consulted in respect to their contemplated retirement timing “without prejudice”, in other words they can change their minds
  • The principle of flexibility is a Succession Planning “must have” to maximize leverage and create the most options for the enterprise, executive, and potential replacements
  • Human Capital processes must embrace the concept of Phase Down and other manifestations of flexibility to optimize Human Asset Sustainability
  • There is a disciplined approach for Institutional Memory preservation leveraging the stated desire of Generation X and Millenials to be mentored by Boomers therefore becoming the repository of their knowledge 
  • Transition planning support is highly desired and should be provided to key executives and those in critical roles beginning at age 58…..provided the above Principles are embraced!

There is no question that those of us in the Human Capital domain, whether we are researchers, consultants, or practitioners, need to challenge our assumptions and be more innovative if we are to influence vs. be influenced by, the rapidly shifting demographics. 

We see four major assumptions that require a “re-think:”

  1. There is a “set age” when people plan to retire
  2. Organizations to be effective require full-time commitment
  3. Executives have a well-thought-out Transition plan
  4. Human Capital programs currently possess the flexibility to meet the challenges of the Baby Boomer age cohort

The truth that is self-evident is that Enterprise Sustainability will be disenfranchised if Human Asset Sustainability is not an embedded strategic priority.

Board or Bored?

As Baby Boomers contemplate retirement there is the inevitable question being contemplated: “What do I do next?”

A recent CNBC segment referred to 2012 retirement planning as the “no huddle offense.” Essentially there is a need to accelerate not only the economic preparation for retirement: but also the determinants as to how one would spend their time.

Tammy Erickson’s books on Shifting Demographics forcefully remind us that traditional perspectives regarding retirement are outmoded.  In point of fact Boomers are likely to remain active by engaging in multiple activities.

A recent Pulse Survey of over 2000 executives conducted by Discussion Partner Collaborative  posed 2 questions. “How far evolved are your retirement plans” and  “how will you spend your retirement time?”

 The overall answer on preparation was of concern as it indicated that while there had been some time spent “thinking” there was an absence of “planning.”

 The top 4 answers on “time commitment” were as follows:

  1. Generate income through part time employment
  2. Spend time with the family
  3. Focus on physical well-being primarily by playing golf
  4. Seek Board opportunities

The focus while clear was not supported by disciplined thinking regarding the “how” other than playing sufficient “golf” in the pursuit of lowering ones handicap.

This was particularly true regarding affiliation as a Board member.  The survey participants while clear on what they could offer as a Board member were less clear as to how to go about securing positions.

The good news is that Boards are valuing the talents of Boomers as an example the October 2011 edition of HBR suggests the rules are being broken in respect to the age of Board Members whereas in 1987 only 3% were age 60, now 30% are 64 or above indicative of both the shifting demographics and enterprise desire for the preservation of institutional memory.

However, for those whom have never been a Board member, it is not analogous to a Field of Dreams “if they know I am available they will come”!

Based upon our experience we would recommend for both NGO and/or Commercial Board opportunities the following steps:

  • Proactive networking with all in your “Rolodex”
  • Establishment of relationships with entities which match Board needs with aspirants capabilities
  • Explore Social Networking sites on NGO’s with the “assumption” that a need exists for advisory support
  • Play a lot of Golf while you are securing the opportunityJ!

Avoid the “It Could Be Me” Feeling

One pundit stated recently that blogs are “drivel with punctuation.”

As many blogs are written by consultants it is often our sector that struggles with making salient points in a compelling way.

The rule of thumb is to make your points as if they were “sound bytes”. 

In the recent past there has been an intersection of Discussion Partner research with a phenomenon that lends itself to these iterations.

During a recent survey of over 2000 senior executives regarding level of non-financial planning in advance of retirement:

Over 70% of the executives indicated they have some overall ideas: but lack a concrete plan.

When DPC research indicates an interesting finding we test it with selected clients.

Suffice it to say that the findings were supported by the input from clients replete with anecdotes:

  • “One executive did not realize he was retired…he kept coming to work to socialize”
  • “An executive told me that the implementation of his plans only took him to 10:30 AM every day”
  • “One executive became a serial board member to the point he forgot which meeting he was attending”
  • “The concentration on lowering his golf handicap led him to AA”
  • “His wife got so sick of feeding him she boycotted the kitchen”
  • “Her husband was pleasantly surprised to realize how in shape she could be in post retirement and joined a gym himself”
  • “The female executive became much more aware of her husbands fascination with Big Screen TV’s”

When we met with executives whom were still working we identified three escalating levels of sentiment when dealing with retired colleagues:

  • Poor Guy-I hope he finds something meaningful
  • I don’t have time-seeing the guy repeatedly is now a distraction
  • Self-Awareness-uttering the words “it could be me”

 Now that I have your attention another sound byte from the research-82% stipulated that if they neared retirement without a disciplined plan, their engagement level would go down and their distraction level would go up.

Punctuation aside, the intent of this blog is straightforward, whether you are the executive or enterprise you should assiduously avoid the mantra “it could be X”!

Who curates the information you consume and what have they done for you lately?

I was going to write a blog about “content curation” anyway … but when I read Tom’s most recent post i knew i had to “get going.” He’s right … we need to think deeply about our information networks in a conscious and thoughtful way.  Who and what are you relying on to help you focus amid the information overload?

Over the weekend, Jonah Lehrer wrote an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal on “Learning How to Focus on Focus.” The essence of his piece was that in an age of information overload, focus or attention is a scarce commodity.  Instead of being enlightened by vast volumes of information available at our fingertips, we often become overwhelmed.  His point is that it is possible to become more effective in dealing with the excesses of information and proceeds to describe how we can develop higher level capabilities in the area of executive focus.   This is an interesting challenge for corporate learning functions as they develop the next generation of leadership.  How do you help executives learn how to manage the flood of content in an effective way?  As I interface with c-suite executives, I’ve noticed a subtle change in the way in which they are interfacing with organizations like Moxie Insight.  As Jeff Cobb points out “there is such a flood of new content pouring through the Internet pipes these days that being aware of all of it and sorting it out in meaningful ways is simply not possible.” Yes, there are powerful search tools, social bookmarks and community review options but they are no longer adequate.  We are finding that executives tend to rely on colleagues or experts to “curate” content in areas of interest. 

So what makes a great curator?  Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ray Weaver suggests we use the museum curator as the model … “Many museums have enormous collections, so the possibilities are endless, he says.  And most patrons don’t know anywhere nearly enough to make these decisions on their own, and even if they were armed with some relevant information, most don’t have the time or inclination to pour over it.  So while we sometimes think that particular curators have missed the mark, in general we understand the role and appreciate that an expert who functions as our decision making proxy makes for a much better museum-going experience.”  Good curators don’t randomly put “stuff out there.”  They expertly review a particular field and make choices about what to put in front of the executive.  Furthermore they educate the executive as to why they should care or why it matters in the context of their specific business. 

While there are different models of content curation, we are finding that executives are looking for their content “experts” to be capable of:

  • Aggregation:   The most common form of content curation is aggregation.  In this case the curator “aggregates” the most relevant information about a particular topic into one location on an on-going basis.  The value of aggregation or bundling comes from the act of locating information, evaluating it, tagging and easing the information consumption for the busy executive.   
  • Chronology:  In creating a chronology, the content curator brings a historical perspective to the topic or field.  This perspective is most useful when our understanding of the topic has shifted over time.  Using informational artifacts, an effective curator can bring a different level of insight or understanding about a topic by re-telling its history over time. 
  • Distillation: Executives often look to others to distill the vast amount of information in a way that only the most important or relevant ideas are shared.  To Jonah Lehrer’s point, rather than being consumed by the vast pool of information available, executives value the distillation of information because it creates a focused view. 
  • Elevation:  The most challenging and perhaps valuable type of content curation is elevation as it requires deeper expertise on the part of the person doing the curating.   In elevating content, the curator is identifying new insights or trends from the disparate the pieces of information they are constantly collecting.  Expert curators are able to create a new or unique view on a particular topic or set of topics.  For an executive this becomes quite valuable as they try to find “over the horizon” insight that will help create future competitive advantage. 

I think our (Tammy Erickson Associates) combined work in the “generations” space is a good example of all four curation models.  We have certainly aggregated a great deal of information about generations for member use.  We’ve documented those insights in a variety of ways … on-line and in person, in reports, and in books.  The work is on-going.  As the generations have moved through various career stages we’ve revisited our assumptions and insights.  This fall we are starting work on the newest generation, the Re-Generation (or Gen Z/Gen Next).  Next year we will revisit Boomers as they enter a new career stage. We’ve distilled our insights, applying different lenses, enabling members to apply the information in the context of their unique organizations.  Generations also benefit by a chronological view.  In doing so, one understands that on a global basis, generations differ by geography.  This fall we published a popular “Generations in Geography” series.  Finally, we’ve elevated our understanding about generations to create new and unique insights.  By way of example, we just finished research on Gen X and their development needs now that they are entering leadership roles; in another piece we explored the impact of Gen Y’s digital activism on the workplace.

As the amount of information created continues to explode how will you increase your ability to focus?  Are you, like other executives, relying on others to curate your information flow?  If so, who are you consciously or unconsciously relying on to sort information and share in a meaningful way?   Is your “curation” network sufficient for the requirements of your business… now and in the future?  Who do you need to add to that expertise network?  Are your curators not just “aggregating” but also “elevating” the content?  And are you actively consuming the curated material provided … or are you letting important insights pass you by because you are too busy. I think Jonah Lehrer is right; one of the most important executive competencies we need to develop is “focus.” What and to whom are you paying attention to?

You Can Assess Competency by Starting at the Backs of an Audience’s Heads

I recently attended a seminar sponsored by a potential alliance partner for our firm.  The objective was to hear their   “thought leader” present their enterprise point of view on “The Implications of the Aging Workforce on Employee Engagement”.

As is the wont of air travel these days I arrived at the session late and to avoid being rude or conspicuous I slipped into the back of the room.

The presenter although polished in style, and aggressive in expressing “my point of view”, was bereft of any recent data to support their conclusions.

In point of fact their data would have been more aligned with the times if their attire had been a lime green leisure suit.

As I was settling in thinking, “well this was a brilliant idea” and wondering “can I get an earlier return flight”, I had an epiphany.

I realized many in the audience were entranced with the “facts” being put forward…..they were lacking in context and how no clue that the data was no longer even useful in the context of a) a global workforce, b) engagement levels that were declining even before the recession, c) the challenges of managing a workforce with four cohorts all of which desire different levels of support from an employer, and d) the emerging complexities of managing the digital tribes promoted by the emergence of social media.

How did I know, psychic that I am not, it was the “tell” from watching people nodding their level of interest and agreement.  MANY of the HR professionals in this particular audience were learning of the aforementioned human capital challenges for what appeared to be the first time(look for the nodding of yes and neck leaning forward)

Be reassured that there were those like me who had the glaze of boredom and were also unobtrusively looking at their watches (look for the head dropping straight down or to the left to look at the wrist).

The torture ended eventually and insincere as I am I was gracious in my thanks and compliments…..yet I was struck by a line from Michael Douglas in the American President (don’t go there), “serious problems require serious people to create serious solutions”.

Like a lot of Consultants I have been on the platform and candidly live in dread fear that my audience is in possession of more relevant or timely data than I therefore making my effort pedestrian.  It is the intellectual curiosity of the audience I rely upon to keep me honest.

My conclusion from this unscientific polling technique is that those of us in leadership positions, particularly in Human Resources have to have higher standards for what constitutes “thought leadership”.   The alternative is we will be treated to a steady stream of presentations by those who really have nothing to contribute in pushing us to address some very serious issues.