I’m hoping you either own or work for a good business. Maybe you’re an accomplished hedge fund operator, or perhaps you employ the largest number of balloon-twisting artists in the world. You managed to weather the last recession (a time when both hedge funds and balloon animals were about equally fashionable), and perhaps you’re in even better shape than you were five years ago. You deserve to be proud. I’m proud of you. If I could I would high-five you right now.
But just when you thought you could sit back and relax, PriceWaterhouseCooper had to go and screw everything up. Because according to a recent survey of theirs, 63.3 percent of U.S. executives will be eligible to retire in the next four years. Repeat – two-thirds of your executive team is likely to leave in the next four years. You might succeed in convincing some of them that retirement is way less enjoyable than getting up at 5am everyday, and it’s also possible that some of them hate their families and are hoping to work right up until their death. But there’s still a good chance that half of your leadership will be gone soon.
By itself, that’s not a big deal. The real problem is that in their place will be stepping some of the younger members of your current staff. Several of the future leaders of your company will be of the generations that invented ADD and cynicism and duck-faced selfies. If you’ve ever taken the time to think about it, then I know the idea of allowing all those young people to run things has kept you awake at night.
But you’re going to need them, because you’re going to be yachting or playing squash or cultivating avocados or whatever it is retired people do. So here’s how you can prepare yourself for this inevitable transition of power.
Prep Your Younger Workers Now
You might think that young workers aren’t interested in being loyal, but that isn’t true. Like all of us, they simply want to know that their loyalty will be repaid to them, and for that they’re absolutely identical to the young person you used to be. If you point out to some of those high-potential youngsters that they’re very likely to be running things in the next decade as long as they continue to perform, many of them will see that as an excellent reason to stay – and more importantly, to work hard while they’re there.
Actively Encourage Your Existing Leadership to Act As Mentors
It’s extremely difficult for any motivated individual to plan for his or her obsolescence. In the perfect succession plan, your existing leadership makes itself less and less essential until – if done properly – nobody even notices the day they’re no longer around. As you can imagine, most people aren’t excited about that prospect. So you need to promote a culture in which mentorship is seen as the final, and in many ways most important, stage of your executives’ career. The more you can make mentorship into an enviable quality, as opposed to a necessary requirement, the better the transition will be.
Recognize That The ‘Age Is Relative’ Argument Goes Both Ways
Older people are inordinately fond of saying things like “you’re only as old as you feel” and “50 is the new 30,” which is only true if you plan on living until you’re 127. I’m willing to concede that many older workers feel young and energetic, but you simply must concede that many younger workers feel similarly old and responsible. Nobody’s going to say “25 is the new 53,” but there are legions of ambitious and capable young workers who feel as though they have more in common with their older colleagues than with their same-age peers. Figure out which people those are, and you’ll be well on your way to solving your succession issue.
One of the most fundamental human impulses is the desire to build something greater than ourselves. That drive underlies the imperative to have children, to build cathedrals, and to create companies that outlive us. You’ve worked hard to get where you are, but it’s just as important to work hard to make sure it keeps going once you’ve moved on.