Are Baby Boomers Back Seat Drivers in the New World of HR?

Are baby boomers back seat drivers in the new world of HR?

I have been a senior-level HR practitioner for over 20 years and I just hit the cross section of wisdom and aging out the other day. I was doing a consulting assignment with a major corporation when that moment happened. I was on the phone being grilled by a couple of snappy and newly minted MBAs from a top-five consulting firm. They asked me about my perspective on the top talent HRIS systems and I mentioned one that no longer exists. Well it does, but like many other HRIS systems that were founded around the same time, it was acquired by a bigger ERP software provider. Then there was dead silence. It felt like an eternity, however it was realistically only about 5 or 6 seconds.

HR Changes Used to Be Gradual and Obvious

The kids had caught me spinning a tale from my past that was no longer relevant. I did a brain freeze too. Think cold ice cream, brain freeze… you know, when everything locks up for about 20 seconds and there is nothing you can do about it. The conversation continued, although the last five minutes felt like a dark cloud.

This has never happened to me before. At least I don’t think it has. I am up-to-date on most things HR, a field in which most things change gradually. On the rare occasion when a change is sudden, it is extreme, and everyone takes note. But this was different…this incident was related to technology.

Today, HR Technology Changes Constantly

Although I am savvy with HRIS systems and ATS programs, the rate of change is continual and often goes unnoticed. One day something just isn’t there anymore… you could go months or years without noticing that unless you’re using the product, and that’s exactly what happened to me. In my defense, I try to do demos whenever I can to stay informed with what is new or different in the marketplace. Call it tech window shopping, if you will. But I was misinformed and sharing bad information during that conversation. When you are wrong you need to own up…which I did, sort of. I am good at pivoting and I gave some type of half-baked excuse for my misstep. I think they bought it, but it bothered me that I did this.

Are We Aging Out of the Workplace?

Now I am on occasion hard on myself, but this one really hit me. It made me think about how my daughter, who is 23 and a civil engineer from a prestigious university, might look at her dad or someone of her dad’s demographic in the workplace. Am I aging out? Is this the plight of other baby boomers? Are we playing defense more than offense? There are a lot of people over 50 and 60 in the traditional HR space. Many of us have moved to consulting and teaching, but the majority are still in the game. Is my experience happening throughout the HR landscape? And the next question is, has the next generation stepped into our shoes? Are the Gen Ys moving the profession forward?

The Students Have Become the Leaders

I have been teaching grad school classes and an occasional undergrad class in HR at a local university for close to a decade. For the past few years, I have thought of my former students as inexperienced practitioners, but many of them are now managers and directors in their respective organizations. They are the new leaders. The baton has been passed to the next generation. And yes, the next generation is now behind the steering wheel of progress. Baby boomers are back seat drivers now. So, what is my role in the future of the profession? And what is the role of my peers, most of whom are on the north side of 50? Is this what the beginning of obsolescence feels and looks like?

Lifelong Learning is Key

I am not about to give in based on one blip on the radar screen and neither should you, if you are a boomer feeling like you’re at a similar point. It is no more than a learning moment on the other side of the bell curve. In the old days, many of us believed you learned and grew on the way up the ladder, but the reality is we never stop learning… and this was a learning moment for me. I will do a better job prepping and crossing my T’s on future conference calls. Relying on experience is not enough to get by in the new world of HR…learning on the down slope is important too. But I still have a lot to offer and so do you.

The lesson learned: If you’re a baby boomer and a senior-level executive, you can still make mistakes and learn from them. You can also still add value. Just don’t stop doing your homework and due diligence. No resting on your memory or experience allowed.

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Mark Fogel

Mark S. Fogel is the Co-founder of Human Capital 3.0, a Human Capital and Organizational Leadership advisory firm servicing a broad range of industries with a focus on assisting businesses identify and grow its talent strategically. As a former CHRO for Leviton, Marcum, and Success Academy Charter Schools, Mark was the recipient of several national awards including SHRM’s Human Capital Leader of the Year and HR Executive Magazine’s Honor Role. Often Quoted in national media, Mark brings a refreshing point of view to every HR discussion. Follow him on the SHRM blog, and on Twitter @HC3.


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