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Despite the acknowledgement by leaders and human resource chiefs that succession planning is a top concern and business imperative, much too little is being done about it, especially now as more Baby Boomers inch toward potential retirement and the recovering economy leads to more mobility of talent. There are several reasons, including inertia and wishful thinking that defections to other employers, deaths or illnesses, early retirements or dissatisfaction won’t happen – at least without sufficient notice. Another reason is fear of rocking the boat and the internal politics likely to arise as the succession planning process proceeds. This can be uncomfortable, disruptive and demoralizing to key players if a carefully considered process isn’t instituted.

From our experience, the important obstacles talked about less frequently are lack of confidence in the potential leaders coming up behind the incumbents – as well as leaders, particularly founders, who are too reluctant to “let go.” This article focuses on finding and preparing successors internally.

Based on our observations with clients and coaching assignments, the roots of expressed lack of confidence in naturally assumed successors may have a number of explanations, often distinct from insufficient professional competence including:

  • Personal chemistry between incumbent and potential successor, despite clients or other stakeholder’s satisfaction.
  • Work style or philosophy – Incumbent only feeling comfortable with a clone (often not the best choice).
  • Incumbent wanting to keep the potential successor with clipped wings to continue in a support role to him or her.

Factors around “like” and “trust” as well as discomfort with loss of authority and professional identity are often roadblocks. Here are some approaches to use if the potential successor needs more seasoning or the primary obstacle is an incumbent's inflexible mindset or largely emotional issues.

5 Steps to Address Lack of Confidence in Potential Successors

1 -             Surface what the actual issues are, avoiding stereotyping. Consider conducting workshops and individual coaching on understanding, bridging, and capitalizing on generational differences. Focus not only on the attributes but rather what’s behind them, implications and how to use related strengths.

2 -            Use training in personal behavioral style to bridge gaps (using assessment tools such as DiSC or MBTI). Find commonalities and how to resolve differences 

3 -            Reward leaders and managers for training, coaching and mentoring, and if needed, teach them how to perform in these roles so the professional development that will instill more confidence will occur. Adjust the reward system to a results and merit basis rather than just time expended.

4 -            Give younger professionals, managers and supervisors their own particular responsibilities (their own piece of the action) to prove themselves, have their own niche and the opportunity to shine as they develop their careers.

5 -            Identify those in power that just won’t “let go” and devise strategies to deal with them. In these circumstances, it’s not about the successor.

©  Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

 Please send your thoughts to pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com or comment on the Cross-Generational Conversation group on LinkedIn.





Currently overall about 70% of leaders and managers are male - mostly Baby Boomers and the older half of Gen X. The agitating about Millennials within organizations and in the media attracts a lot of attention, and most of the focus is on ways to 'fix' them or appease them rather than reconsider work practices, succession planning and knowledge transfer and the influence of compensation plans.

A Board Briefing from Richard Chaplin of Managing Partner in the UK on gender parity inspired me to create a checklist of recommended practices for an equally important and challenging issue: to guide decision-makers at all levels toward inclusiveness of all generations and development of younger leaders for a more profitable and stable workforce and a sustainable future.

Current and aspiring leaders have a pivotal role in implementing changes to achieve a more engaged and profitable work environment. Best practices involve the following changed approaches and positive actions:

  1. Monitor meetings closely for potential generational bias. Think about ways to ensure that people of all generations are being heard. Be aware and open to the likelihood that they might express themselves differently.
  2. Mentor and sponsor younger generations not only by providing advice but also by encouraging them to undertake developmental assignments.
  3. Make sure that you showcase young talent for their expertise and leadership skills.
  4. Watch your language! Monitor how you and others speak about and to all generations. Check which metaphors and adjectives are used and consider alternative language.
  5. Concerning hiring and promotion decisions, keep in mind that assumptions are not always correct - check yours and alert others to check theirs.
  6. Demonstrate support for associates, for instance, by attending group meetings, and taking responsibility for multi-generational inclusion.
  7. Talk about commitments from outside your work and how they will affect your work as well as how you handle time management. They seek guidance on balancing their work lives and finding opportunities to network and contribute to the greater good. This will be just as important to the next generation coming up.

Reserve a few minutes every day to reflect on the impact of intergenerational relations. Did you or others experience or notice any tension? What went well? What would you have done differently? How can you change things for the better for your firm and individual careers?  Please send your thoughts my way.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

DON’T FOCUS ON ONE GENERATION: The Business Case for Multi-GENgagement

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I’ll be blunt: Building your talent strategy primarily around one generation is a big mistake!

As the new and “radical” kids on the block, the large Gen Y/Millennial cohort has captured the attention of the ever-growing contingent of media, both social and traditional. Much of the coverage is misleading. One of the aims in my work is to provide context and perspective to the generational mix we have today and going forward and emphasize the necessity for more cross-generational conversation and collaboration by making the business case for doing so.

It is a mistake to go overboard focusing on Millennials (also known as Gen Ys) and ignore the needs and contributions of the still vital Boomers and Gen Xers. And beginning to learn about the Gen Zers soon to fill the pipeline for future planning is also very important. We already have evidence that they are different from the Millennials in significant ways. Laser-focusing resources and work processes on what Millennials want and need will leave you unprepared for other generations’ different views and behaviors and how to use them together to competitive advantage.

So, firms need to take a cross-generational approach – a multi-generational initiative that proves they have the flexibility to shift with agility as warranted to new perspectives and approaches without causing inter-generational resentments and exits from the organization.

Why? To avoid lurching from one direction to another and create an integrated, sustainable culture and business model.

Once explained, the business case for cross-generational strategy and collaboration is clear and compelling. It’s all about producing a continuous flow of revenue, avoiding loss of clients and turnover costs by maximizing the firm’s ability to:

  • Attract and retain clients and business alliances of different generations;
  • Attract and retain new talent of different generations to minimize undesirable turnover and its considerable dollar and time costs;
  • Transfer knowledge among the generations so skills and relationships stay at the firm;
  • Achieve effective succession planning for all critical roles to sustain client relationships; and
  • Avoid discrimination litigation and damage to reputation.

The challenge is to get members of all the generations in an organization into the same room with open minds. Let them get to know and understand each other and commit to ongoing dialogue. A 5% increase in employee engagement will generate an increase of 3% in revenue growth in the following year, according to a recent Aon Hewitt study. Isn’t that well worth the time and effort?

 pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com      www.pdcounsel.com



Recently I attended a panel on Millennials at which the moderator posed the question to the audience, ”Can Perspective be taught?” “How?” She said she had no answer.

The answer seems fairly obvious to me – simple, but not easy: Make time both informally and organically as well as in periodic planned occasions to converse, dialogue, and share revealing stories among the generations to create understanding of why and how attitudes and behaviors were formed.

The younger generations don’t generally have the perspective to appreciate the positive changes the Boomers accomplished and what our society and business world was like before. We have to teach that better so they understand and are aware of what they could stand to lose.

It’s not just about younger people learning from older and more experienced colleagues. Equally important is the reverse – that older, longer tenured colleagues and stakeholders learn perspective from the younger ones. I am referring to the value of understanding how different people see the world, what they view as new markets and skills for the future, and what it looks like to them to never know what things were like before.

This cross-generational conversation lays the foundation for more understanding, empathy and working out solutions together rather than holding on to rigid opinions that criticize without possibility of useful solutions.

One reason I find the negative things I hear about one generation or another frustrating is that often behavior that’s criticized became a habit because no one told the “perpetrator” what’s wrong with it and why. That is not something that should be left to shaming on social media, an action that doesn’t solve anything.

When I pointed out after the panel discussion that cross-generational conversation can make a significant difference, the moderator who raised the question of whether perspective can be taught responded that the young people (in this case) might listen but they don’t change their behavior. Well, that’s not been my experience if the conversation is carried on with a non-judgmental tone.

Here are 5 Tips for Teaching Perspective:

  • Check your attitude. Refrain from being judgmental.
  • Use a neutral tone of voice. Don’t lecture. Assume a friendly demeanor and an open mind for discussion.
  • Explain in the context of a conversation you are having. Be concrete. Tell a story with a meaningful outcome.
  • Don’t be defensive if there is pushback. Explain that you want to better understand each other.
  • If the learning doesn’t appear to be happening, try again later with another story or approach.

It may take a few repetitions and illustrative stories, but gradually it sticks. If not, the individual is just not open to learning, and that can be manifest at any age.

The alternative is continued frustration and less than optimum productivity or performance. Let’s face it, those are the people you have to work with. So unless you get off on just being able to claim you are right…give the conversation a try.

Please comment and share your thoughts and experiences. How do you deal with teaching perspective?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com



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            For years one of the primary ways to call attention to a diversity issue and to build strength for a specific “minority” group has been to create an “affinity group.” The group would aim to build networks, confidence, and educate both members and other stakeholders outside the group. I believe that once a certain level of awareness is created, the separateness approach stands in the way of, or slows, progress in achieving desired goals. We can achieve much more progress collapsing the gaps reinforced by silos and forming alliances and coalitions to expand true opportunity and equity together

Let’s take serious efforts to break down the silo walls and ally generations, gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ, differently-abled and other identified affinities. That doesn’t mean getting rid of affinity groups entirely, as they still serve useful purposes. I would prefer to see them as collaborators that can plan to ease themselves out of existence as the need declines.

Some corporations have seen the light, particularly around gender.

Here are examples of specific actions toward gender inclusion:

  • A consultancy, White Men As Full Diversity Partners LLC, coaches men to shift mindsets and behaviors to achieve a more inclusive work culture. Catalyst’s initiative gets men to recognize the influence of unconscious bias on the workplace and has used this group for their programs.
  • National Association of Female Executives (NAFE) included men for the first time at its meeting in December 2014, and men pledged to urge male colleagues to champion women. First actions were around mentoring. Historically men have feared being criticized or stigmatized for helping women get ahead. And even some women resent the help as making them look inferior.
  • At Cardinal Health, significant numbers of men have been attending the women’s networking group. The sales manager hopes his active recruitment of internal women for promotions will lead to more sales.
  • Rockwell Automation Inc. has developed “change inclusion teams mostly run by white men aimed toward accelerating retention and advancement of women and minorities. These have changed the nature of company socializing events for employees at the company or conferences.
  • American Express has instituted a mandatory one-time course for one division’s senior management on how men’s and women’s brains work differently and affect decision-making about going for promotions. Women now get more ongoing support both in seeking and after promotions.
  • A Dell male VP now tries to be conscious of how scheduling affects opportunities and has joined the women’s network, encouraging male colleagues to do so also.

These are good steps toward more gender equality. We need to see breaking down the silos between other diverse affinity groups as well. Generational collaboration is a great place to start since different generational attitudes inform and influence attitudes about other aspects of diversity and inclusion and individuals’ worldviews. Generations are the universal affinity.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com



The mistakes and misconceptions fall into 4 categories:

  • Timing

          Not starting early enough to identify and groom successors

          Not allowing sufficient time for overlap and transfer of responsibilities

  • Role behavior analysis

         Looking for a clone

         Not involving younger generations in creating a vision

         Considering the biggest business generators to be the best leadership material

         Undervaluing interpersonal skills and coaching for new leaders and successors

         Lack of transparency

  • Client involvement

        When the role is a client/customer-facing role:

          Not soliciting client views on what makes good leaders and managers

          Not asking what the client wants most in a relationship

          Not involving the client in the transitioning process

  • Not being inclusive

          Not inviting input from all generations of stakeholders

          Not making criteria known

          Undervaluing diversity in all its aspects

©  Phyllis Weiss Haserot  2007.  Revised 2015.

    pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com    www.pdcounsel.com 


To achieve long-term success, it is extremely important to align succession planning with the strategic focus of the organization. Too often firms are not clear on their strategic focus, succession planning or both. Further, when these are undertaken, many important stakeholders are left out of the process. Organizations need to think in terms of both generational and other diversity challenges – two of the most difficult challenges in business continuity because both are totally human challenges.  These types of internal issues may also relate to client needs and preferences, so they can’t be ignored.

A Role for Younger Generations

The crucial alignment of the generations with organizational objectives will require a greater focus on people at all levels, a greater representation of all ages and types of diversity, and a greater effort to harness the wisdom and institutional memory of the senior professionals and executives – all this while capturing the hearts and imagination of the best mid-level and junior-level people that the firm has.

Most people think that succession planning is a top-down activity involving management and seasoned professionals. I strongly suggest that it is better to involve the younger generations as well so they can help create a vision for what the organization aspires to and for what it is looking for in long-term leadership – looking forward, not backward to a world that no longer exists. In order to retain the most talented young people, they must have a voice.

If you think of succession planning as a continual process, one way to involve the younger generations in the firm is to hold at least periodic meetings with junior employees (professionals and staff), invite them to ask questions, and encourage their input. By tapping into the collective wisdom at all levels they will learn a lot about what can make their firms more successful and what professional attributes and skills the organization needs to continue developing.

The younger personnel have a longer future ahead of them, and they see and experience the world in different ways. By engaging them in this ongoing dialogue, the firm will be more likely to retain the best talent.

At the same time, management should also be looking for leadership qualities among the younger generations. They need to encourage and allow junior people a chance to volunteer and take on responsibility for significant internal projects. In that way, they can prove themselves beyond mere technical competency. That initiative must be recognized in a way that is meaningful to both junior and senior personnel.

 Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

Note: This article contains excerpts from Chapter 34 of The Rainmaking Machine by Phyllis Weiss Haserot (Thomson Reuters, 2014 edition.)



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I am frequently asked about the potential for conflict between older and younger people in the workplace “Why won’t those Boomers realize it’s time to go?” some of them think.

Boomers are sticking around for two credible reasons: 1) they like the fulfillment, feeling of making a contribution, challenge and social opportunities work brings; and 2) they may very well need the money. In some cases there is a third reason as well: uncertainty that successors are well prepared to shoulder their greater responsibilities.

Economic reality meets career desires. The Great Recession had given many organizations a breather from brain-drain threats. At the same time, many Boomers would like to keep on working for a long time more, even if they can afford to retire. Surveys in 2004 and 2005 when the economy was robust and retirement funds were healthy revealed that about 80% of Boomers wanted to keep working after age 65 in some capacity – reinventing retirement.

While personal priorities will dominate each individual’s decisions, there’s a bigger picture need for restructuring. Even if we should see a booming economy, things won’t go back to what they were 20 years ago because the generational cohorts have different worldviews and expectations for their careers and work lives. And, significantly, they don’t understand each other’s perspectives and influences very well. When that understanding is achieved and accepted on an emotional level, we can move to greater cross-generational respect and collaboration.


Achieve role shifts and transitioning that benefits clients/customers and the organization as a whole. I am not in favor of involuntarily removing productive people, who do not wish to retire. Yet for the sake of providing opportunities to the generation waiting in line, senior professionals’ and executives roles and responsibilities need to shift at some point.

Shifted roles must come with respect attached. The transitioning process requires employers to rethink value and compensation for functions that were assumed to be provided gratis in the context of professional roles. Too often financial rewards come only from performing other functions that leave little time for knowledge transfer, mentoring, training and coaching. Financial disincentives need to be eliminated to reduce conflict.

And oh by the way – a word to Boomers and senior professionals: Gen Y/Millennials have discovered and seek out role shifts and lateral/lattice moves that keep them learning and doing new things. It energizes, engages and provides more choices and marketability for the long term. So why not take a lesson from them and explore that avenue to extend a career while giving those experienced and waiting a chance to move up? Consider it an opportunity.

The trick is to capitalize on Boomer knowledge and experience without alienating the bottlenecked Gen Xers and later, Millennials. One answer is to pay Boomers still in place now to transition their valuable acquired wisdom, contacts and skills before they up and leave with these precious assets or fail to pass on the baton and client bonds. That will prepare Gen Xers to thrive when the bottleneck opens as Boomers transition out over time.

If knowledge transfer and coaching is not built into transitioning roles which are made attractive by according them respect and providing work/life flexibility and engaging challenges, how will the next generation of leaders and managers get prepared to succeed? Willingness to prepare the next generation and shift roles through gradual transition can avoid generational conflict as both generations reap the benefits.

The real enduring challenge is building sustainably strong organizations that engage and retain the most productive talent of every generation. It will take frequent dialogue, listening, mutual mentoring and empathy. Organizations have to assess and re-think the connections between attitudes and expectations and the policies and financial and non-financial incentives that foster attitudes in order to prevent tensions among the generations and provide continuing opportunities for all to make meaningful contributions.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com



Have you ever found yourself literally bolt up awakened by an idea that just kept coming and wouldn’t quit?


My inspiration for Cross-Generational Conversation Day was the stunning example of determination and resiliency of a 36-year-old friend and star teacher, Karri Ankrom, to jump back into life after episodes of a series of daunting illnesses. The idea of declaring a “Day” literally woke me up with a fountain of details pouring out of my head. It was the morning after celebrating an almost miraculous “recovery” of her then most serious set of medical complications.

Somehow my subconscious associated the two – or probably relieved of the immediate worry, freed me to birth the idea I had conceived of two months before, told one person, and then forgot about. The mind can be full of surprise associations!…. I felt if she could persevere facing all her difficulties, I can be committed enough to implement my vision. It and she continue to inspire me.

Once it was quickly outlined in mind-maps and notes on two pages of lined yellow paper, I was determined to take the concept to reality 

I know in my gut that the world and virtually every organization need cross-generational conversation as an integral part of its culture and business model. I had been working on programs and using the phrase in consulting work, writing and speaking for several years. What would create more awareness and urgency for more action in all types of organizations? We needed something dramatic – a focal point, a trigger that would capture attention… So unanticipated, the “Day” concept was born!


Think about it! What is it worth to you to invest a day or even half a day of your team’s time if the outcome would be greater insight, productivity and reputation as a best place to work for the top talent in all generations? 

Contact me to find out more about Cross-Generational Conversation Day and prepare to participate in this groundbreaking process of multi-generational insight and collaboration to grow engagement, competitive position and revenue. 

pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com    www.pdounsel.com


A panel of senior (in status) Boomer and Gen X law firm partners and corporate counsel imparted, with both wisdom and humor how they mastered their career trajectories at the Women in Law Empowerment Forum’s (WILEF East) March 19, 2014 program. The women, in several cases, described how their careers evolved in surprising ways, sometimes the opposite of what they thought they wanted until they gave it a shot.

Here is a collection of sound bites (not necessarily in their exact words) from the discussion that I found both appealing and valuable for the lawyers in the audience and even beyond the legal profession/industry.

  • Opportunity favors the prepared.
  • Listen for your boss’ priorities.
  • Have your boss’ back so he/she can trust you.
  • Propose solutions; don’t just do the rote thing with an assignment.
  • Be your authentic self and try to assure that everyone perceives you the same way.
  • Never say “never.”
  • Don’t consider what you at first perceive as failures to be failures.
  • Don’t cover up mistakes. Own up to them and immediately suggest a solution.
  • Show you are constantly thinking beyond what is required.
  • Never confess (especially to a man) what you don’t know. Go find it out.
  • Always look for both mentors and for opportunities to mentor others.
  • Wisdom only comes from an accumulation of experiences.

 On the theme of POWER:

  • People give up power by thinking they don’t have any
  • Men define power as control. Women define power as influence.
  • Assert yourself from the beginning when you negotiate compensation.
  • People perceive power from symbols
  • Project a sense of self-respect to be perceived as powerful.
  • Power is when people more experienced than you respond and do work for you.
  • Act confident and you will attain power.

Which ones resonate with you, whether you are a lawyer or not, a woman or not? Share your thoughts in comments here.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot            www.pdcounsel.com

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