Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549


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Cross-Generational Perspective on Succession Planning – Part One

To achieve long-term success, it is extremely important to align succession planning with the strategic focus of the organization. Too often firms are not clear on their strategic focus, succession planning or both. Further, when these are undertaken, many important stakeholders are left out of the process. Organizations need to think in terms of both generational and other diversity challenges – two of the most difficult challenges in business continuity because both are totally human challenges.  These types of internal issues may also relate to client needs and preferences, so they can’t be ignored.

Most firms do not yet focus on the dangers of losing large numbers of Baby Boomers, who are seasoned, reliable, and have vast institutional knowledge.  And focusing on short-term economics, they often sacrifice the leadership training that young professionals require. Unfortunately, the appropriate sense of urgency has not yet registered.

Brain Drain: Employers Don't Get It!

A MetLife study on employers' attitudes about the forecast brain drain when older (Boomer) workers retire suggests that employers don’t adequately understand motivations.  When ranking factors that would keep older workers around long enough to accomplish knowledge transfer, employers placed little value on creating an inviting, positive workplace culture and other benefits. Responses in the study indicate that only 12% of employers believe workers desire to maintain social contact with colleagues is an important motivation to keep working. Only 5% of employers said their workers appreciate feeling needed for an assignment.

Employers seem to think the only important motivation is money, but studies before and during the economic turndown have indicated that is not so. The intellectual stimulation and social contact with colleagues as well as feeling valued and making a difference have been reported as significant reasons to keep working by workers themselves. This sounds like a significant disconnect!

New Roles for Boomers

Don't write off the Baby Boomers. These work-focused, highly educated achievers, the most competitive generation given their numbers (at least till the full force of the Gen Y/Millennials), are not going to take a traditional en masse retirement when they reach 65 or any other arbitrary age.

Savvy firms will find ways to capitalize on the retention of Boomers once their formal leadership roles are over. They can be valuable particularly as senior mentors in the professional development of young workers, as community ambassadors, and as referral sources.

Generation Y typically will seek guidance from Baby Boomers – as long as they feel respected – more readily than they will from Gen X. There are significant similarities despite differences in age and perspective given their formational worldviews. Both Generation Y and the Baby Boomers entered the workplace with optimism, belief in their ability to succeed, and a desire to change the world. They tend to be team players. Gen Xers, to generalize, are not inherently as good managers as Boomers, and many have not come equipped with the interpersonal skills and team collaboration talents that would help bond the generations.

A Role for Younger Generations

The crucial alignment of the generations with organizational objectives will require a greater focus on people at all levels, a greater representation of all ages and types of diversity, and a greater effort to harness the wisdom and institutional memory of the senior professionals and executives – all this while capturing the hearts and imagination of the best mid-level and junior-level people that the firm has.

Most people think that succession planning is a top-down activity involving management and seasoned professionals. I strongly suggest that it is better to involve the younger generations as well so that they can help create a vision for what the organization aspires to and for what it is looking for in long-term leadership – looking forward, not backward to a world that no longer exists. In order to retain the most talented young people, they must have a voice.

If you think of succession planning as a continual process, one way to involve the younger generations in the firm is to hold at least periodic meetings with junior employees (professionals and staff), invite them to ask questions, and encourage their input. By tapping into the collective wisdom at all levels they will learn a lot about what can make their firms more successful and what professional attributes and skills the organization needs to continue developing.

The younger personnel have a longer future ahead of them, and they see and experience the world in different ways. By engaging them in this ongoing dialogue, the firm will be more likely to retain the best talent.

At the same time, management should also be looking for leadership qualities among the younger generations. They need to encourage and allow junior people a chance to volunteer and take on responsibility for significant internal projects. In that way, they can prove themselves beyond mere technical competency. That initiative must be recognized in a way that is meaningful to both junior and senior personnel.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2014. All rights reserved.

Part 2, focusing on the Gen Xers and succession planning, will appear in the December 2014 issue of our newsletter.

Note: This article contains excerpts from Chapter 34 of The Rainmaking Machine by Phyllis Weiss Haserot (Thomson Reuters, 2014 edition.)

Please send your thoughts to or comment on the Cross-Generational Conversation group on LinkedIn.


* The generational chronology for easy reference: Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were in adolescence or early childhood. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

Traditionalists:                             born 1925-1942   

Baby Boomers                              born 1943-1962

Generation X                                born 1963-1978

Generation Y/Millennials            born 1979-1998   

Ask about our signature program “GENgagenenttm: 5 Things to Know About Each Generation that Will Change How You Interact, Persuade, Recruit, Retain and Sell.”

Struggling with how to achieve vital knowledge transfer among the generations? Ask about our highly praised workshop “Avoiding the Cliff: the Relationship Side of Succession Planning and Knowledge Transfer”

For coaching, training and special programs on inter-generational challenges for and among 4 generations in the workplace, attracting and retaining clients and employees of different generations, and maximizing the potential of young professionals and work teams, call or email Phyllis for an exploratory talk or complimentary coaching session at 212-593-1549 or

Phyllis is available to speak at your organization or at firm retreats on inter-generational relations and organizational effectiveness topics. Call or e-mail for a list of topics or to custom-tailor your own. 

Contact us about participation in Cross-Generational Conversation Day at your organization.