What is an Elder in Residence Program and Why Does Your Business Need One?

In a previous post (Here’s How Older Generations Can Reinvent as Elders and Continue Their Impact) I talk about the importantance of older generations reinventing themselves as elders. I refer to two fantastic examples of individuals joining high tech Silicon Valley companies when they are in their early 50’s. Both have had a profound effect on their respective businesses: Fred Kofman at LinkedIn and Chip Conley at airbnb.

These are relatively ad hoc arrangements and testament to the foresight of the CEOs of those companies for pioneering this path. And then it struck me: what if this was formalised and crystallised into a program that other companies can follow, add to and learn from?

And so I began thinking: when I was at NICTA I had a problem – 600 very, very smart scientists on staff and a remit to create an entrepreneurial culture and commercialise their research. How was I going to help these academically-driven people reinvent as entrepreneurs? And I needed to do so on rocket boosters as we had enormous pressure to produce results.

One of the most successful things I did was to set up an Entrepreneur in Residence Program. I recruited a number of serial entrepreneurs to join us for a year. In this time they firstly acted as mentors to our scientists and secondly identified a project they could work closely with to fast track a spin out. If they were successful in spinning out a new venture they would take the CEO role and lead it through its growth.

The result of this EiR Program was a definite boost to the organization’s entrepreneurial culture and a slew of venture-backed spin outs in record time.

My aim is to take this learning and apply it to creating an Elder in Residence Program. I see the benefits to a company, particularly one that is growing rapidly and dealing with how to scale leadership, being:

1. A close trusted confidante for the CEO – part adviser, part mentor, part CEO coach;

2. A leadership program that will boost compassion, resilience, wisdom and, ultimately, increase diversity, engagement and organizational transformation.

CEOs often have excellent advisers and investors in their milieu, but I see this to be a role more embedded inside the business – working closely with the CEO one on one as well as building up the leadership team for the purposes of scaling – as they transition say from 150 to 300 staff it is imperative that they are ready for this growth inflection point and the rule of 3 and 10 (at 3 and at 10 things change in any organization and as it scales simply add zeroes onto 3 and 10 and the principle continues to be applicable).

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