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Pierre Somers
Pierre Somers


The succession planning crisis: How to transfer your legacy to millennials Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Of the 2.3 million small businesses in Canada, most were founded and are still run by boomers on the verge of retirement. So what happens when these boomers retire? According to a 2012 forecast by The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, over the following decade, approximately $1 trillion worth of small-business assets would change hands.

The problem: For every two retiring senior executives, there is only one suitable successor waiting in the wings.

And the ratio is even bigger for small businesses. It should therefore come as no surprise that we are in the midst of a succession planning crisis.

Many of the potential successors are millennials – an entire generation that tends to be overlooked by boomers. More than 54 per cent consider this demographic of twenty- and thirty-somethings the most challenging to lead and engage. There are no doubt generational differences that need to be bridged but they can’t be ignored. Cliché as it may be, they are the next generation of leaders and need to be embraced and integrated seamlessly into the team.

The big question is how can this be done?

At Walter Surface Technologies, we quickly learned the value of giving millennials a chance to show what they can bring to the game. Through the creation of our innovative internship program, Next to Succeed, we provide them with the chance to work closely every day with senior executives in the company, including the CEO.

When given the right opportunity, they hit it out of the park. Key to the internship is the opportunity to work on a major assignment and have access to upper management. Make no mistake, the interns do not make coffee or file documents. Our interns take on meaningful roles on major projects. The goal of the program is to contribute to the creation of a generation of qualified leaders by providing them with an opportunity to showcase their skills and witness what qualities are needed to be part of the C-Suite.

The internship is not only helping to shape the business leaders or tomorrow, it has helped us address our potential succession planning crisis.

The following are some of our key learnings on how to engage millennials and ensure the next generation is ready to lead your company:

Identify the leadership potential within the company

Perhaps you already have young talent on your team and don’t need to actively recruit them. If so, assess their capabilities of taking on a leadership role and find opportunities to mentor them to develop the skills and experience needed to succeed as a leader. If you don’t have young talent in-house, explore the idea of an internship or other programs to introduce them to your company.

Give them a front row seat

Spark their intellectual curiosity by making sure that the work you offer them is meaningful and challenging. If you’re looking to develop the next generation of leaders then you need to offer them opportunities that will enable you to see if they’re suited for the role and to help them develop the skills needed to succeed. Include them in management meetings, take them to site visits and invite them to see your operations abroad so they get a good understanding of the company and can start to visualize where to take the company.

Take a chance

Delegating tasks can be nerve-wracking when you’re dealing with a new member of the team, particularly an intern. If you have done your due diligence when recruiting, you should be able to put your confidence in them and their abilities to deliver. Give them the opportunity to lead a large-scale project with tangible results for the company, working under the direct supervision of a senior member. They have as much to lose by failing as you do.

If you’re a boomer and haven’t yet considered your succession plan, don’t delay. Pro-actively transitioning your company’s legacy could be the most significant leadership decision of your career. Conversely, ignoring it could be your worst. We can’t lose sight of the fact that investing in young leaders will not only strengthen our own companies, it will have a ripple effect on the entire Canadian business landscape.

Pierre Somers is the Chairman & CEO of Walter Surface Technologies, which provides specialized mechanical tools (abrasives, tooling and power tools) to the metal fabricating industries.

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