Do You Have Enough Gen Xers in Your Succession Plan?

by Judy Stubbs

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When it comes to the U.S. working population, all age groups are not created equal. There are significant differences in the fundamental values and predominant work styles of different generations. That raises a wide range of talent-related issues for direct selling organizations, including how to attract, develop and retain executives at different stages of their careers. However, there is one overarching challenge today: finding and hiring executives in their mid-30s and 40s with the potential to become tomorrow’s CEOs, CFOs and other C-suite executives to lead direct selling organizations into the future.

Three Generations in the Workforce

Today, the U.S. talent pool is substantially larger at the top and the bottom of the working-age demographic groups than in the middle, according to a recent report from Pew Research Center, Generation X: America’s Neglected ‘Middle Child.’ The Pew report outlines the clear differences between the three generations now in the workforce.

By 2015, over one-third of our work force will be retiring.

At the top are the 77 million members of the baby boom generation, who are now in their 50s and 60s. In most organizations, the senior leadership team consists largely of boomers who have accumulated decades of on-the-job knowledge and experience, but are steadily leaving their careers behind. In fact, more than 10,000 baby boomers retire every single day. By 2015, over one-third of our work force will be retiring, according to a 2013 Social Security Administration report.

An even larger demographic group is now entering the nation’s workforce: the approximately 83 million millennials, including a large percentage now in their 20s and early 30s. Because these millennials are beginning their careers, few of them have developed the experience necessary for the responsibilities that come with a position in the C-suite.

In between these two generations are the 65 million Gen Xers, who range in age from 34 to 49. Gen X executives are in mid-career, developing skills and experience that can be groomed to prepare them to ascend to the C-suite. However, based on demographics, direct selling organizations will face a shortfall in talent in the next decade unless they make succession planning a top priority.

Fresh Perspective in the C-suite

Even as the relative scarcity of Gen Xers creates talent gaps, it also creates new opportunities for farsighted organizations to remain close to their customers as consumer habits evolve. For example, giving Gen Xers a significant presence in the C-suite can spur the development of new sales and marketing strategies, including innovative tactics based on the growing confluence of digital, mobile and social media. It can also provide organizations with fresh ideas and perspectives on changing customer values, attitudes and behaviors.

Direct selling organizations are not the only entities facing a transition in demographics—virtually all consumer and B2B markets are undergoing similar changes. Companies whose succession plans are aimed at moving Gen Xers into leadership roles are likely to have an edge on their competitors in serving their steadily evolving markets.

Understanding Gen X

The different perspectives, viewpoints and motivators of each generation can often result in misunderstandings and missed opportunities—especially in the workplace—and can be a recipe for disaster. Yet for all the media focus on the differences between the work styles of boomers and millennials, Gen Xers have received far less attention. Direct selling organizations need to take into account the values, motivations and drivers for mid-career executives in this age band, because there are some distinct generational differences in their work styles and motivators.

As the Pew report observed, “In most of the ways we take stock of generations, Gen Xers are a low-slung, straight-line bridge between two noisy behemoths. From everything we know about them, Xers are savvy, skeptical and self-reliant; they’re not into preening or pampering.”

There are some common factors to consider in recruiting, hiring, developing and retaining these mid-career executives. In many cases, Gen Xers value freedom and autonomy to a greater extent than either the boomers or millennials. Like the boomers, they are hard workers while still valuing family and personal time, and like the millennials, they appreciate an enjoyable workplace along with flexible work hours and location. All three generations share the value of trust and respect.

Also common among Gen Xers is a desire for self-sufficiency. Having grown up during a time of corporate downsizing and economic and political instability, they can be less attached to their employers—particularly companies that fail to engage them on a personal level. That makes it imperative for recruiters to highlight the company’s highest values and point out opportunities for senior executives to become involved in community, charitable and other causes that can make a positive difference in the world. Once onboard, these Xers need to continue to feel personally engaged and enriched in order to feel satisfied in their career.

Fortunately, most direct selling organizations have a readily available source of information about what drives Gen Xers today—their internal talent pool of managers and sales professionals in their late 30s and 40s. Online surveys, focus groups and individual interviews—as well as participation in various organizational activities—can provide invaluable insight into Gen Xers’ attitudes and behaviors and play a key role in developing an effective succession planning program.


Strategies for Succession Planning

One of the first steps in succession planning for direct selling organizations is … Click here to read the full article at Direct Selling News.


Judy StubbsJudy Stubbs is Vice President and a retained executive search consultant with Pearson Partners International. With previous experience as the chief human resources officer of Mary Kay Cosmetics, she has been helping her direct selling industry clients build strategic leadership teams for more than 25 years.


About Direct Selling News
Direct Selling News Magazine has been serving direct selling and network marketing executives since 2004. Each issue of Direct Selling News offers content on topics that shape the dynamics of our industry.

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