When people have been around a long time, you tend to take what they bring to the table for granted and you don’t realize what you lose until they go.
I remember the havoc raised by the retirement of our family company’s store manager in Piraeus. He was intimately familiar with every single one of our customers all over Greece, their distinctive preferences and whims. If it was a customer’s birthday you saw their name on the top of his daily to-do list.
He was able to combine respect and familiarity in communicating with customers and he knew how to apply his sense of humor. I often got the impression that clients shopped in our store more because of the pleasure of interacting with him than because of the quality and price of our products. It was fun to do business with Gerassimos Antzoulatos.
We realized that his replacement, although one of our most successful and trusted salesmen, would be unable to fill the gap his absence created. He simply didn’t have the ability to connect as well. My father and I discussed how we could recapture Gerassimos’s empathetic approach to business.
Our solution was to make his retirement gradual: start by staying away one day a week, then two, then three, and so on. He was happy with the arrangement because he dreaded not coming into work as much as we were dreading not having him. We gave him the title of “Company Coach” so that he could have an official transition role and be clearly focused on training, and gradually, over time, he was able to pass on his approach to managing to his successor.
The Gerassimos experience made my father and myself aware of the importance of preserving the skills of our retirees. On our side, the company needed to ensure that the departure of trusted and experienced people would not deprive it of their valuable skills and know how. In order to prevent this happening, we needed to get retirees like Gerassimos involved in coaching their replacements and monitoring their performance. So we created a “retirement kit” for retiring employees, along the lines of the deal we had worked out with Gerassimos.
Of course, “gradual retirement” through coaching replacements didn’t work with everyone so we were flexible, adapting the kit to accommodate individual needs. Some people, for example, wanted a clean break when retirement came. So the HR Department would explain the process to people approaching retirement and, as needed, tailored the deal to the needs and preferences of each person. I can remember asking one employee to write down in detail of how he carried out his job. In all cases, however, an extra fee was paid for the retiree’s extra work.
We started the process a year ahead of each employee’s retirement. We would involve retirees in the selection of their successors and discuss with them what skills needed transferring and what the best way was to go about it. During a coaching period, the retiree would give us regular updates we would get regular feedback regarding progress and offer suggestions for follow-up coaching and development.
When the final retirement day arrived, we hosted an event in the retiree’s honor at which we presented him or her with a company award and a certificate acknowledging their contribution. We also encouraged them to attend company staff gatherings after retirement. In this way they could feel that, although their careers may have ended, they still remained an integral part of the business.
About the Author
A former businessman and consultant, Charalambos A. Vlachoutsicos is an Adjunct Professor at Athens University of Economics and Business in Greece.
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