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Executive director, The Ivey Academy

When businesses consider strategy, their focus tends to be on technological disruption, but that emphasis on what the future may bring is keeping them from preparing for a different type of disruption, which stems from the events of the past.

Now 10 years since the financial crisis, we’re reaching the point at which executives who put off retirement after the crash are feeling ready to make an exit.

It’s a shift we’re seeing with the recent departures of major bank chief executives, and one that will accelerate across all industries in the next three to five years.

Some executives hung on to help steer the company through the turbulence of the years that followed the crisis, while others chose to do so for financial reasons. Whatever the case, many of the firms that have benefited from these key managers’ guidance haven’t put much thought into how they’ll prepare for those inevitable departures, focusing instead on what they perceived as a more imminent danger: a changing economy and new technologies that threaten to upend their whole business model.

Perhaps, it’s fair to say Canada’s robust banking system and stricter regulations created a false sense of security. As a result, firms north of the border may have confronted succession planning with less urgency.

While this speaks to the value of the safety nets we, as a country, benefit from, it’s also a trend that risks putting Canadian companies at a disadvantage when competing globally with foreign companies better prepared for this coming change.

However, it can also be difficult for companies to feel they can justify investing time and money in training when there’s an increasing focus on productivity. It may seem counterintuitive to send top performers away for a day to develop skills for a future time – especially when disruption seems to be an urgent threat to the company’s very survival in the short term.

U.S. companies that face this same disruptive threat of mass retirement in a more competitive, less regulated environment understood earlier on that they can – and should – tackle disruption and succession together.

The same holds true in Europe, where learning and development has been a part of the business culture for so long it’s something companies naturally think about as part of their yearly planning.

While Canada’s reaction has been slower, leadership schools such as the Ivey Academy have been working to address the training gap by running parallel programs on disruption and succession to ensure future senior managers and CEOS are ready to lead in a changing corporate world.

By integrating strategy into leadership programs and customizing those offerings to deal with the strategic changes companies are considering, corporations can better prepare the future generation of leaders to focus on disruption – or to become disruptors themselves.

It’s an approach that ensures companies can continue dealing with the short-term threat of technological disruption, while still developing the key talent that will one day run the show.

Our research has found that executives at all levels want to keep learning. While nearly two-thirds of CEOs don’t currently have executive coaching, almost all of them want it, and the same holds true for the half of senior executives who aren’t receiving any advice.

In the lower ranks, many employees are coached, often by coaches they have found themselves in the hope this will help them move up in the organization.

While that desire to grow professionally should be applauded, the level of training they receive will range wildly based on the qualifications and skills of the person they chose. If that wish to learn and develop is there, it would be worth investing, as a company, in the more cohesive training they could receive through a formal business school program.

Whatever stage of succession planning your business is in, you should opt to, as a company, be pro-active and deliberate in identifying the people you want to keep and do everything you can to get them to stay.

In the long term, losing great employees and executives could be more disruptive to your business than anything technology can throw your way.

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