Okay, so maybe I sensationalized the title a skosh, but in the world of integration, “grandfathering” is a term that should bring a chill to your spine.

We see the term used all the time, whether it’s disguised in other catchy memes like “amnesty,” or “legacy,” but the fact of the matter is that the concept of grandfathering exhibits poor leadership. Most often, in the world of Human Resources, we see this concept occur any time a significant change happens in the business; acquisitions, mergers, integrations, downsizing, “flattening,” or redeployment. It’s a corporate way of saying, “We’re chicken.” For example, “Grandpas” are allowed to retain their current status en todo in some or all of the following occurrences:

  • Positions are regraded based on a job audit (i.e., lowered). With a lower grade, many jobs receive lesser benefits; except, that is, when Grandpa swings his deadly cane and retains all the rights minus the responsibilities.
  • Salary/commission structure is reconfigured. Only new hires will be held to the new standards, because the future of the company depends on immediately disengaging the fresh blood by compensating them less for the same position.
  • Manager titles retained despite direct reports being removed. Usually manifested in the form of “Directors” reporting to “Directors” or “VP’s” to “VP’s.”
  • Additional headcount retained despite the absence of need. This happens a lot as people approach retirement eligibility ~ the hilarity ensues when the “retiree” decides to prolong their career several more years. Who wouldn’t stick around when you have less to do, no expectations, and job security?

The decision is made to suspend change for an individual in the hopes of making for a smooth transition; you’d be amazed (or perhaps you wouldn’t) at the number of Grandpas you discover when conducting due diligence pre-merger. All the skeletons of chicken management come to roost when a company exposes itself to an objective review. Even then, some of the Grandpas are grandfathered again as if they possessed diplomatic immunity.

While the policy may seem empathetic or humane, the expense is far more severe to the greater good. Companies become “fat,” or top-heavy, as opposed to lean and efficient. Sub-par performers are retained while High-Potential employees seek opportunities outside the company ~ for someone who feels “blocked” in their advancement, it’s better to start over somewhere new than wait for the hearses to line up in the company parking lot (old joke, possibly over the line, but completely based on fact).

The good and bad news in this situation is in identifying the responsibility for changing this unofficial policy. Are you a strong (i.e., brave) HR Business Partner? Strong enough to stand up to your boss, their boss, and maybe their boss’s boss? We need you to fight the good fight, stand strong, and fight Grandpa toe to toe.


“Bring it.”

Of course, that means we need to tidy up our own house first, but that’ll be another post…..

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. And for the record, I love my Grandpa.

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