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.


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.

Contingent by Choice: Understanding and Leveraging the New Workforce

Organizations will need to broaden their thinking and apply innovative strategies to attract the talent they need.  One of the talent pools organizations will need to learn how to tap more effectively is the growing pool of virtual talent labeled “contingent.” A 2009 Manpower, Inc. survey on the “Role of Contingent Workers” found that 34% of the 41,000 employers in 35 countries surveyed viewed contingent workers to be a key to the execution of their organizational strategy.  Not only is it strategically important, but the size of the contingent workforce is expected to grow.  Adecco in their 2010 white paper on the “Lessons of the Great Recession” highlighted that the contingent workforce is expected to grow three to four times the rate of traditional workforces, and is expected to eventually make up about 25% of the global workforce.  And according to a recent report from the BLS, contingents are expected to make up 40% of the U.S. workforce by 2019.

 As Daniel Pink pointed out in Free Agent Nation, contingent work has evolved into a deliberately chosen non-traditional employment arrangement.  Contingents may want to acquire new skills, experience different types of work environments, or build resumes using a broad spectrum of assignments.  They may want balance in their work and professional lives. Experienced workers may want positions that have a specific endpoint because they prefer to work only part or the year or a limited number of years in a particular project based assignment.  Younger workers may be using contingency to build a skill portfolio or pursue a personal passion.  The new reality is that contingent work has become a free-form career strategy that stems from an individual’s desire for flexibility, autonomy, and freedom.  Supported by new advances in technology knowledge workers, in particular, see contingency as “Plan A” NOT “Plan B.”     

 To take full advantage of this emerging cadre of workers, employers will need to change the common perception of contingent workers as being less important, less skilled, or less committed than “permanent” employees.  More importantly, they must abandon the idea that contingent workers are simply an economic play to handle temporary swings in employment. Contingent workers bring unique experiences, fresh thinking, and new approaches to problem-solving. Furthermore, research shows that contingents tend to be more satisfied and engaged with the work they do than full-time employees.  Independents recognize that completing the project on time in a successful manner is the key to gaining future assignments. 

 Indeed, organizations will need to change their fundamental mindset about talent to be successful in the future.  As John Boudreau points out in Retooling HR, “the idea that employment is the primary way organizations and their contributions interact is so instinctive that it many blind organizations to an alternative form of engagement.”  The role of contingency in organizations is still being defined and their importance being assessed, but as the numbers grow, employers stand to benefit if they include contingent workers as a permanent part of their overall talent strategy.

The Emerging Role in Human Capital

During our research for the book Talent Readiness-The Future is Now, our findings indicated that those in the CSuite want to see a fundamental change in how the most senior leaders are developed at the enterprise level.


What became abundantly clear during our research was that the current model for the HR function where Talent Management is at least 2 if not 3 levels down from the CSuite and with enterprise wide role architecture is suboptimal. 


This has led the Discussion Partner consultants to the conclusion that the current organization model in Human Resources impairs innovation, accountability, and sustainability for Leadership Effectiveness at the highest level of an organization.


To have a dedicated HR function for the most senior levels of an organization is not new.  General Electric and many other organizations have dedicated resources for the “Top 200”.  Essentially this approach focuses mostly on the high potentials possibly to the exclusion of B players, in critical roles or assigned mission essential projects.


Our point of view is there needs to be a more generous interpretation of this effort, one that requires a new title, reporting relationship, role architecture, and competency.


Our model for consideration aligns in the following way.


Title Chief Leadership Effectiveness Officer (CLEO)
Reporting Relationship(s)
  • Direct Line-Board of Directors
  • Dotted Line-CEO


Role Architecture
  • Succession Planning Top 3 Levels
  • Recruitment/Replenishment  Top 3 Levels
  • Development Strategy Top 3 Levels
  • Executive Compensation Strategy and Administration Top 3 Levels
  • Workforce/Continuity Planning Enterprise Wide
  • Thought Leadership Facilitated Access-Board, CEO and CEO Direct Reports(facilitate access to thought leaders for education/edification purposes


Desired Competencies 1. Strategic Planning Expertise

2. Executive Coaching/Facilitation Experience

3. Leadership Assessment Orientation(not necessarily Practitioner)

4. Working Knowledge of Executive Compensation Strategy and Programs

5. Thought Leadership Credentials(writing, academia, other)




One could reasonable assert the following two viewpoints:

  1. These Positions Exist in HR Already-True….but our point of view as to focus the importance of this effort it should be out of HR for practical reasons
  2. The credentials of this role exist: but among various incumbents-True again….but our point is that having this body of expertise and outlook resident in one senior position optimizes effectiveness


The hypothesis of the Discussion Partner consultancy is the time to debate the upgrading of heretofore sub processes into one role is timely.


Relationships Matter

For those of us in Professional Services it is no mystery our success is driven by the quality of our relationships.  If they are strong, our service offerings are more likely to be purchased.  For those in the employment marketplace it is also self evident that if during one’s career,  quality relationships were engendered, they are of invaluable assistance in securing the “next” position.

Relationships crave categorization for “marketing purposes.” 

  1. A List – They know you the best, and appear to be in the best position to be of assistance
  2. B List – They know you and may be in a position to be of assistance
  3. C List – They know you, and you are uncertain as to their level of desire, or position to be of assistance

Logic would say, you really don’t spend much time on your C List.  Yet a funny thing happened to me on both my consulting and personal journeys over the last year.

For context, how I leverage my C List is quarterly send an article, link, or a simple Checking In note “How are you doing?”

Three years ago in the process of setting up Discussion Partner Collaborative, I had occasion to spend time in Peru, which had been a target market of mine in a previous consultancy.  I had not seen my “clients” for over a decade… clearly they were on my C List yet as I had stayed in touch, I sought them out, and secured a number of them as foundational clients for the new enterprise.

Yet this is not my point… the weird part is a former client from 16 years past, with whom the extent of my interaction for years was Check in Notes of “How is it going,” prompted a one-word response of nothing more than “Fine,” recently became my wife.

I am sure there is an interesting moral in the above… you can draw your own conclusions… but mine is… without this protracted effort maitining C List relationships, I would still be single!

CEO Lessons Learned 3 – Dude: Where is my Money?

Tammy Erickson ( has written a number of books regarding the generational differentiators and in so doing has sensitized many to the difference in aspirations among the 4 cohorts in the Global workforce(Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y).

Generation Y or the Millennial group is and will be a managerial challenge for quite some time.  To those of us in the Boomer cohort effectively acting as mentors and managers of this group, it is exhausting. They ask the Question “Why?” incessantly and take unction when they are not consulted by the C-suite in respect to enterprise strategy.

At the risk of being pedestrian…. let’s follow the money….

There are emerging 3 truisms with respect to Total Rewards:

  1. Don’t hire anyone at my peer level, give them more money, and expect I won’t find out!
  2. Pay me at a level that is commensurate with my performance and self assessment of same…
  3. Forget the stock that will vest in 5 years……I won’t be here…

Einstein’s definition of insanity – “continuing to do the same things while anticipating a different result” – applies to many of the Total Rewards approaches in force globally.

 The lessons learned by many of our clients is that unless the Total Rewards strategy is sensitive to the aspirations of this cohort, and then Compensation will be de-motivational, and controversial.

Coaching for Peru

(The following is a recent interview of Tom Casey by the Peru American Chamber of Commerce on the topic of Coaching for Peru.)

 Tom Casey is an expert in the development of organizational transformation strategies for rapidly growing multinational or transitioning corporations. He has consulted in over 20 countries and virtually every economic sector. Moreover, he is the founder and Managing Principal of Discussion Partner Collaborative, an Executive Advisory firm with over 200 consultants in 19 locations.

 While on one of his many visits to Peru, he shared with us his point of view on how much our country has changed during the last few years, as well as the positive impact its economic boom has had on its professional management level. From his experience in Latin America, he applauds the good performance standards from Peruvian high executives, as he has personally worked with many of them, from sectors as diverse as banking, services, manufacturing, and construction. Although he tries not to compare directly, probably because of the evident different contexts, he cannot help but indicate that  Peru has much going  for it in comparison to other countries in South America like Venezuela where he has lived and worked. Truth be told, AMCHAM has to agree that for any American interested in international affairs (this probably goes for anybody from outside this region for that matter), Latin America is a perfect example of opportunities, tensions and extremes.  Tom indicated for him and his U.S. colleagues that after working in Latin America everywhere else seems boring!

Nevertheless, it comes clear to Tom what advantages Peru has in order to be regarded as a successful economic and business model for emerging countries. First of all, he points out that Peru enjoys the right strategy and vision to develop and prosper, thanks to highly skilled managers continuing to reach decision-making positions. A lot of Peruvians have correctly invested in themselves during the past couple of decades; evidence of this is the appropriate leadership style that Peru has adopted to improve both its international image, as much as the “system’s” image to common folk in most parts of the country.  Tom ventured that since 1994 when he first began consulting in Peru there has been tremendous change in how leaders position themselves to compete globally

Of course, one cannot talk about Peru without mentioning its tremendous potential with regards to its raw materials and acute financial services, as well as its wonderful tourist attractions, ancient history and renowned cuisine. Peru’s sheer size is a plus, both geographically and demographically: unlike many other emerging economies, Peru has the right population density, growth and age segmentation, in other words, we have the right amount of eligible young work force. What is more, and thanks to the economic sprint, the earnings potential vis-à-vis our country size has greatly improved (not to mention our per capita consumption figures have started to attract important investments, as more and more companies open offices as they see Peru is good business).

Notwithstanding, it is not all cheers and glory for us, as we do face many challenges with regards to our top executive human capital. Despite all the improvements, Tom does sense Peruvians have to work on a number of managerial skills. For instance, he has seen good project management skills, but they could certainly be better; and a person’s performance may not always be duly recognized, nor bad performance sanctioned. Women’s talent is not fully exploited, as seen on the percentage of those with university and advanced  degrees (one of the lowest in the region). Last but not least (and most countries in the region can relate to this), the never-ending accountability issue (the lack of a Spanish word for it does not help either)…which may also explain our unpunctuality.

Tom stated that the biggest change he has observed is his enthusiasm whereby managers are now aggressively challenging their strategies, business models, subordinates, and themselves to ensure that our tremendous opportunities are exploited. 

When asked for suggestions for Peruvian managers, Tom had a number of them: “Think globally as Peru is clearly a player in the regional and world economy; continue to assertively develop talent inclusive of expanding opportunities for female executives; reinforce the need for managers to hold themselves accountable for achieving expectations; and finally to reinforce motivation, by differentiating the reward strategies allocating the monies to those who have performed the best.”