In every consulting engagement I ask the same question: What is your strategy for addressing the large percentage of employees reaching retirement age in the next 3-5 years?

The typical reply is an acknowledgement of the challenge more so than a strategy to address it. "Yes. Mmm-hmmm. That is a pickle, a real predicament. It is quite the conundrum. It's a downright demographic mystery wrapped in a generational riddle!"

I agree.

If I'm a CEO whose primary responsibility is to forecast five years in the future and ensure my company is prepared to succeed there, this dramatic demographic departure of Baby Boomers is a top concern. While you cannot stop employees from retiring, you can take active steps to ensure the inevitable transition from Baby Boomers to Millennials doesn't set your company back a generation. You can proactively battle this Boomer Brain Drain by capturing their knowledge, experience, wisdom, and customer intel and use it to improve your company—now and in the future.

And battle you must. All you need is a gameplan, beer, and a smartphone.

When they retire, they're taking it with them
Inform your tenured Boomers that, given their vast knowledge, experience, wisdom, customer intel and potential flight risk, you have a plan to ensure all that intellectual property residing between their ears remains in your business. Some Boomers will be motivated by the idea of leaving a legacy. For everyone else, you're bringing beer.

Schedule mandatory training sessions every other Friday at 3:30 PM in the conference room. Inform the team you'll bring refreshments and the goal is to share relevant and meaningful stories to help future generations at your company. Not only will people learn, these "training sessions" will improve teamwork and communication at the same time. To limit stress and allow the best stories to be shared, distribute questions ahead of time. For example:

  • What advice do you wish you had been told when you were starting out in this business?
  • If you could only pass on 3 sales principles to future sales reps, what would they be and why?
  • What is your favorite story involving success?
  • What is your favorite story involving failure?
  • It's said in life that certain lessons will be repeated until they are learned. What lesson(s) took multiple attempts for you to fully understand?

To capture this intelligence for future use, the audio recorder in your smartphone will do just fine. Buying this mini-shotgun mic for your phone will ensure quality sound at a great price. Then download the audio files onto you company servers. Now, your digital training library has been born. Boomers talk, you record.

Millennials learn differently
Recruiting and retaining Millennials is not easy, but you're more likely to succeed if your on-boarding process involves more than marooning them behind the sales counter for their first 12 months.

With your burgeoning digital library of relevant, real-world stories from successful company veterans, you can begin to train your new hires with that content. This is ideal because Millennials are comfortable learning on their smartphones. Better yet, our clients have been merrily mystified at the frequency with which millennials engage in online learning off hours—during evenings and weekends. Millennials want to learn online and on-demand? Perfect. You've already got content ideal for both.

Most Boomers aren't selling anyway
Here's an open secret—veteran Boomer sales reps aren't selling. They are taking orders from long-standing clients. They are handling customer service issues. They are maintaining important customer relationships over lunch.

Important activities, to be sure, but unrelated to prospecting and proactively selling with the deliberate intent of growing the profits of your business.

Acknowledge this reality and propose a trade. You won't ask them to prospect anymore, nor will you badger them about updating their account they've successfully ignored for the past 18 months. In exchange, they will help you train the next generation of company leaders by sharing their knowledge and wisdom.

Our clients have reported this offer goes over well. Also, to ensure you don't lose long-standing clients once your Boomers retire, make the Mackay 66 v. 2.0 a requirement. Business legend Harvey Mackay came up with a list of 66 questions that prove customer intimacy. We recently updated it to help clients ensure all that client intel remains inside the company.

Hand your rep a hard copy and say, "Fill this out so we don't screw up the amazing relationship you've developed over the last 20 years with Johnson Homes."

Boomers: they're all around us
I recently shared the details of this column with an industry veteran who has been a mentor to me for years—my father. With 40+ years in the LBM industry, he retires at the end of the month.

"Of course that'll work," he said. "We did that with a top salesman before he retired back in the 80's. Great sales rep, generous with knowledge. We locked in his high salary for the last 2 years and we collaborated on a training program to share everything he knew. He watched over the careful transition of his accounts to younger reps and made sure his customers were happy. It worked beautifully."

I asked a few more questions to better understand the execution of that plan, scribbling copious notes while this cagey veteran shared his wisdom.

It was an example of what we all need to do—learn from the smartest people we know before they move onto bigger and better things.

Happy retirement, Dad.