You Don’t Fix the Roof When it’s Raining

According to the Kauffman Foundation, one-fourth of all new businesses that were started last year were founded by people between the ages of 55 and 64.  In fact, the number of people in that cohort who have struck out on their own has doubled in the past two decades.  So what, you ask?  Only this: every one of those people leaving your shop is taking with them decades of experience, a bevy of contacts, and the institutional knowledge on which your enterprise runs.  The question isn’t “so what?” It’s, who is going to take their place?

Apparently, it is not going to be the Millennials, where the outlook drifts from pretty bad to frightening depending on the metrics being used. There are plenty of alleged boogeymen who are more like straw men:

  • unpaid internships (even though those are mostly about connections and are short-lived)
  • a lack of entry-level positions (even though the departure of senior-level people would, by definition, create openings)
  • baby boomers not having the decency to retire and make way for the young ‘uns (looks like someone did not read the Kauffman report referenced at the top).

Time for a Vince Lombardi moment and a bit of strategic thinking common to sports: next man up. It means when you lose a player, someone must be ready to step into that role. Next man up is not a suggestion or a good idea, it is a defining principle of how an organization moves forward when reality strikes. And the reality is that everyone will leave a company at some point and not just to start a business.

At a networking event I attended earlier this week, a 50-something member told us that she had just taken a job with a competing firm. Now, maybe she’s right and the company she is leaving is so large that the relationships she has built won’t be missed, that someone has been groomed for her job and that person’s position also has a ready successor, and on down the food chain to the entry-level position that will be created for a Millennial to fill. But what if she is wrong? Because the evidence, for the most part, says she is.

We talk a lot here about talent gaps, about engagement, about workplace diversity, about the “human” aspect of human capital, usually topics that focus on the present. There is not as much material on the future and I get that. Organizations tend to live in the now; it’s what pays the bills, drives promotions, and makes headlines. The present just by its nature is more real than the future and people like to see the results of their planning, which is more readily done in the short-term than the long. Still, between the veteran workers and those joining the workforce, there are positions that will come open and budding talent in need of direction on how to fill them.

Some of you, no doubt, are aware of an upcoming event on this subject. And it’s a concern north of the border, too. Stories like the ant and the grasshopper represent simple truths and unheeded, simple truths can devolve into malicious truths. One need look no further than the juxtaposition between Apple and Hewlett-Packard with regard to forward planning. One company had a clear plan for the future, the other did not. Which would you rather be?


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