Longevity and the Future of Work: A Book Review

The Talent Revolution is the title of a new book by Lisa Taylor and Fern Lebo (with what we always expect in a business book) the sub-title Longevity and the Future of Work. It is that part that I fixed my mind onto in my read, as it is what distinguishes this well constructed book apart from the enormous stacks of books and articles (and my office library is full of them)on the subject of talent and the future of work.

In 1997, the consulting firm McKinsey produced a report, with its military tone, The War for Talent. It woke up the “corporate America” landscape with a call to arms – in a fast changing world of work – “you must elevate talent management to a burning corporate priority.” Twenty odd years later, after many shifts, trends, and crystal ball projections in the ever rolling future of work, from what was then called the information age to the present digital age, the war is now a revolution.

With that radical tone, our minds are set up early on in The Talent Revolution to remember that the world of work has experienced revolutions before and that “revolutions follow patterns, even when appearing to be disorganized.” So what is different now other than the obvious march of technology, and even the “march of intellect”, which I musingly entertain has been in progression since the early 19th century?

Demographics & Longevity, one of Five Drivers in this revolution

Lisa Taylor, who is the founder and president of Challenge Factory based in Toronto, has laid out her framework for 2020 and beyond by defining the “Five Drivers” in what she calls this long revolutionary cycle: Demographics Longevity, Career Ownership, Freelance Economy, Platform Environment, AI and Robotics. Leaving the last four aside for the moment, what Taylor and Lebo ask us to focus on are these demographic shifts and longevity.

For me, Taylor and Lebo’s work builds smartly and instructively on this theme as I extract from Lynda Gratton’s contemporary reset in 2011 – The Shift: the Future of Work is Already Here. Gratton leads with her “Five Forces” of change: technology, globalization, society, energy resources, and no surprise – demography and longevity. She says that this, above all the other forces, fascinated members in her research consortium the most. One of her points in The Shift is – “an increase in productive life… will allow millions of people over the age of 60… to continue to make a contribution to the workplace.” This dovetails nicely with Taylor and Lebo.

The promise of longevity, a term I have long worked with, has led many people – particularly in the so-called Boomer cohort – to view working longer than a formerly imposed retirement benchmark age of 65, as a matter of choice, desire and/or need, one way to contribute to a meaningful later life. Implanting this reality, (which has been growing organically in collective conversation now for at least the last eighteen years or so), into a talent management strategy for organizations has been a struggle.

Leverage an intergenerational workforce while opportunity is here

We still wrestle with the hangover of long held expectations and mixed messages around the retirement of legions of Boomers, which also has fed into the wriggling discomfort in the discussion of ageism in the workplace. McKinsey’s 2001 summary document on The War for Talent didn’t help the situation by perpetuating this notion that an exodus “will leave companies exposed when these older managers retire in large numbers during the second decade of the millennium.”

Well, we are here now in the countdown year into a third decade and the revolution is on; and as Taylor & Lebo highlight in one of their light bulb pop outs in the book – longevity is a catalyst in the talent revolution.

Throughout the book, this premise is supported by “observations from the field”, shared by Taylor and Lebo from their work with organizations in Canada and the USA. The authors encourage business leaders to unpack the myths about the hiring, performance and retention of “older workers” (another phrase we’ve been jerking around with for years), and leverage the dynamics of an intergenerational workforce while the window of opportunity is here.

Don’t make assumptions about longevity timetables in “talent escalator” conversations

While this book is written for “three distinct categories of actors in the talent revolution – CEO’s HR leaders and frontline managers”, the case for longevity as a career catalyst also gives an individual a vocabulary to help articulate their motivations for working longer, perhaps contributing differently at work than before. Reading this book could help in framing a braver value-based conversation at work rather than sending unintended messages around retirement.

Taylor’s ace in the hand – for delivering this enlightened view of longevity and her call to cease the day in the future of work, is a metaphor that drives home the point about the cost to organizations if they are not prepared for it – the concept of the Broken Talent Escalator.®. Assuming that career paths in organizations are still old model escalators, what is the cost of not appreciating the value of those at the top end of the flight, before the step off as it were?

“…the people leaving or about to leave your organization are talking about you – so they better be saying good things, because what they say is part of your organization’s brand.”

The Talent Revolution provides any organization that cares enough to leverage the advantages of longevity and the future of work, with action steps at a cultural, strategic and operational level for those three audiences the book mainly speaks to – CEO’s HR leaders and frontline managers.

Eventually a later life transition off an organizational talent escalator will happen and people will fashion their own portfolio of work options should they choose, but in the meantime, organizations should not make assumptions about longevity timetables and collaborate openly in those talent escalator conversations to find a way to maximize the best of their talent regardless of age.

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