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People are Our Biggest Asset! Really?

In 2015, 15% of the American and Canadian population will be 65 years of age or older. This percentage is growing each year. People will be retiring from their jobs over the next 10 years more than at any other time in history. Although the financial meltdown may have postponed some of these retirements, economic indicators are beginning to point in the right direction and baby boomers are beginning their pilgrimage. In addition, consider the number of people who change jobs along their career path. It is estimated that people will have 6 significant job changes through their career. When you estimate the total number of job transitions, and add in retirements, the impact of the compounding workforce transition is staggering. This impact is felt by organizations in many key areas:

  • Client relationships

  • Key skills and competencies

  • Transition time between incumbents and new staff

  • Bottom line results

Of course all this translates into productivity. So how are organizations dealing with this? Not how you might expect. Armed with a bucket load of legal precedences, and a contact list full of outplacement firms, corporate leaders take the safe route. They replace common sense with efficiency and employee workplace dignity with remote detachment. All too often, involuntary exits are quickly ushered out the door with signed agreements and banished to the island of silence and solitude. Voluntary exits are given a gold watch and a few weeks to remove their belongings from the office. Voluntary and involuntary staff exits are part of the corporate landscape, but leaders have choices in how they manage through these stages.

Inscribed on plaques, and the battle cry of every senior executive, the corporate ‘mission’ always talks about how ‘people are their greatest asset.’ Based on the collective performance of succession planning, it sure doesn’t sound that way. In fact, employees left in the wake of these surgical cuts are often considered ‘survivors’. Like witnessing a murder, they share their regret, guilt and remorse for their colleagues. They keep their silence in fear of reprisals, and vote with their feet when the next good job surfaces. Employee satisfaction levels plummet, and HR professionals tally the collateral damage at the scene of the crime. And when 100% of staff turnover and they dip statistics from the new pool they marvel in wonder at the improving results. Hmmmmm.

Ok, now that sounded bitter. Agreed. Through this article, I have drawn some sweeping conclusions for affect. Some might call them over exaggerations and unfair. Others might chuckle at how closely they mirror their past or current experience. Here’s the point:

Consider retiring employees. We have a responsibility to both our bottom lines and the people who have entrusted us with their career to pass along their learning to new staff. Respecting elders and their collective wisdom is celebrated and considered honorable in societies around the world. In our eagerness to create the right corporate culture, shouldn’t we at least meet the minimum requirements of the human culture. When people have committed their lives to your company’s growth they are proud of their accomplishments, and passing the torch is a ‘right of career passage.’ Here are some unique approaches to consider:

  • Allow the retiring employee to help hire their replacement

  • Create a job shadowing/mentor program with the new and retiring employee

  • Help the retiring employee create a legacy document that shares with future employees insights and learnings that are timeless. Include passages from this document in your employee handbook.

  • Place a plaque on the wall honoring all retired and retiring employees, and place an ad in the local newspaper publically thanking them for their service.

Let’s deal with the stickier issues of involuntary exits. Sometimes people need to go. Most employers follow the standard process. Consider an alternate process. The first question that needs to be asked is: Does this need to be an adversarial process? If employees are being let go for just cause it’s usually clear cut. But in many instances that’s not what keeps lawyers busy. There are 50 shades of grey in almost every dismissal. So let’s deal with the grey. If the employee is a willing participant in the layoff then there are several approaches to optimize their exit:

  • Allow the employee to stay on as a consultant as and when required but still pay them severance.

  • Allow the employee to talk with staff and put closure to the process.

  • Legitimately help them find alternate employment. As a leader in your community, you have power and influence. A few quick calls can make a big difference.

  • Create a link with the exiting employee until they get back on their feet.

  • Keep the relationship positive and open. Just because they are not required in your company today, doesn’t mean their skills are meaningless to other employers.

This is a big topic and I would love to hear other perspectives. I have a world of respect for business leaders and HR professionals who have to deal exiting staff every day. It’s not easy. I hope this article inspires a more balanced approach to succession planning. Please feel free to provide your opinions through my blog.

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