Replacing a retiree

Posted on July 19, 2018 by oliverb | Recruitment

How do you replace those retiring ‘Baby Boomer’ employees in a buoyant market short on talent?

How do you replace 40 years’ experience when that stalwart employee, that old guard leader and bastion of reliability decides that it is time to retire? It can literally be a nightmare, a commercial enigma that is often frustrating and costly at the same time. Where organisations often go wrong is right at the very beginning. The following is my tried and tested guidance on how to achieve your goals as painlessly and as accurately as possible:

Do not make any assumptions, do not think there are short-cuts.

Do not just assume that you can hire like for like, it’s highly unlikely you can, primarily because anyone else with that level of experience is either already retired or retiring. I recently met with a company who were trying to replace a Regional Sales Director in the Middle East. They took the retirees existing job specification, sent it out to a dozen recruiters in the UK and Dubai; sat back and waited for the CV’s to begin streaming through. This approach is pretty much guaranteed to fail. It will fail because fundamentally the bullet points on a job specification are probably less than 10% accurate to the role itself anymore. As individuals we adapt our jobs and the way we do them constantly, regardless of how our role is defined. We develop it, add to it, short-cut parts of it that don’t fit our style, personality traits and character. In the case of my client and their Middle East requirement, one of his most important skills which wasn’t listed on his job description was negotiating with a whole raft of complex issues around customs and agents across the region as the Middle East had developed and grown. To appoint someone who didn’t know how you got things done in Bahrain, how you expedited customs in Saudi Arabia would have been a disaster, a very costly one. You must completely redefine the role from scratch and the best place to start is by interviewing your retiree.

Work with the retiree, usually they’ll love being involved.

Get all the people involved in identifying the replacement to individually interview the person who is leaving, this includes your preferred external recruiter if you are using one.  Ask this person what they think is critical in terms of skills, experience, style of communication, everything. Seriously focus on asking them to identify what made them so good at their job; more importantly, try and get them to determine what traits or skills could have made them better. Listen to them, even better video their responses and watch that video back together as a team. When working with our clients in these scenarios, we organise and enable this process for them.

Once you feel as though you have created a template of the hard skills and experiences required and agreed this between the team, then actually test the job, test the role and define the personality traits. At GrassGreener we do this for our clients by using on-line assessments. We ask the person retiring to complete this assessment and up to 3 of the key stakeholders. From this we create a composite picture of elements such as character, problem solving, levels of resilience, creativity and team work amongst many others. Ask us, and we’ll complete one free of charge for an existing vacancy you have. 

Compromise but define what and how you can compromise early in the process.

It’s very often the case that having someone retire from your organisation presents an opportunity to restructure, maybe you can redefine the role to water it down a little bit, move one or even two people up the career ladder and share the responsibilities, playing to their own individual strengths. This is what I did for my client in the Middle East. It worked exceptionally well. We wouldn’t have been able to determine this course of action without all the work previously mentioned and especially the participation of all parties. We did however still begin a recruitment process to draw in external candidates for consideration at the same time. Complacency is a killer, better to spend a little money and have a strong contingency plan running in the background now, rather than realise you need that failsafe position 4,6,8 weeks down the line.

How to keep everyone smiling but keep your options open. Career progression is a winner for everyone, it reinvigorates employees who realise that there is a route upwards or even sideways into new and different opportunities. However, ensure that you test those potential candidates just as rigorously as you would any external candidates. My advice is to run and test all potential candidates in parallel, test them alongside each other and keep your options open. Go back to your original online assessments and the composite benchmark of the role. Ensure that all the possible candidates under consideration, both internal and external complete the same assessment and compare the results against your composite picture. The very worst thing that happens here is that one or two of the possible internal candidates will not be suitable, but the process will highlight to both you and them, clear personal and professional development goals and objectives previously unknown.

Commitment to the process is key, define predetermined timescales

Often in my experience where things go wrong is because individual stakeholders let things slide, timescales drift by and then the focus is lost. I’ve witnessed this as a consultant when delivering an assignment for a major construction company. We ran parallel activities testing and assessing internal and external candidates. Out of the blue about two thirds of the way towards completion, a former employee decided he was interested in this senior management role. Three weeks drifted by, a hiatus ensued, whilst the former employee engaged in a long process of interview and negotiation with HR. The former employee was under a misguided assumption that they were the front runner for the job and played tough. They were wrong. Unfortunately, during this time one of the internal candidates took umbridge and felt they’d been misinformed and entered an interview process with a competitor. We also lost the second-choice external candidate who felt that the time they had invested was somewhat wasted. All ended well, but wherever possible keep to the plan, maintain momentum and try your best not be derailed.


It’s never easy replacing those tremendously important, often long serving employees. In an industry where the baby boomer generation are retiring in ever larger quantities every week and when we already have a significant skills and experience shortage it is critical that you plan for these eventualities. Act early, my advice is for a Senior Manager / Director level position begin at least 6 months prior to the date of retirement. For positions that have a significant international element, especially if the role is overseas from your organisations physical HQ or operations, I’d suggest 12 months. I hope the above strikes a chord with some, offers a sense of light at the end of the tunnel perhaps. If you have any questions, need additional insight on different aspects please do not hesitate to contact me directly, I’d be delighted to assist if I can. If you would like to run a free assessment process to see just how valuable they can be, click here