Leaders: Succession Planning Matters
Wayne Kehl | March 19, 2013
As a matter of age and evolution, every 10 to 20 years or so almost every business is forced to find new leaders to carry it into the future. As older leaders retire, replacements must be brought in to carry on their work. In some cases leaders quit, die, are promoted or transfer elsewhere. In all of those cases, they must be replaced if the business is to survive. Despite that inescapable truth, many businesses and organizations I work with are not properly prepared to replace their outgoing talent.
Often there seems to be a “head-in-the-sand” mind-set wherein, decision makers choose to leave well enough alone and hope that their current personnel structure will last forever or that a new, exciting leader will fall out of the wood-work on cue, when necessary. Unfortunately, wood-work is often populated by termites, ants and beetles...none of which offer any great organizational leadership potential.
In order to build a valuable and effective succession plan, decision makers must firstly,“always” be on the lookout for future leaders. They must be thinking at all times about perpetuation of their organization and what will happen when their current good or bad leaders move on. Succession should not be an emergency decision. It should be like a cougar on the hunt...ready, alert and waiting to pounce when the opportunity arises.
Here are some things to think about when planning for the perpetuation of your organization:
- In order to identify your future leaders you must accept that it is not always a good idea to buy your talent at the head-hunter store. In many cases, people who register with head-hunters have issues that have prevented them from finding work through other channels. You might want to consider them your last resort as they may be your potential undoing.
- Always try to promote from within. This is a commonly accepted business principle that is often avoided or overlooked. It takes much less time to bring an existing employee up to speed than it does an outsider. Current staff members know your business, your culture and your brand...and you already know them.
- Always promote or hire leaders who already possess your corporate values rather than trying to teach them your values after the employment contract is signed. Perform some professional skills and talent testing and utilize solid investigative interviewing techniques before you give them an office and an email address.
- Never promote people out of obligation. Organizations of all types tend to offer promotions to people who have hung-in-there the longest regardless of skills, talents or value. Tenure is NOT necessarily an indication of leadership ability and it should not be rewarded with a leadership position unless the person is actually a good leader.
- Always be on the lookout for “keeners”. Keeners are people who love their jobs and quite naturally encourage others to excel in theirs. These people often offer advice and counsel to other even when not in a formal leadership role. There are many of them in many organizations and they often go unnoticed by the decision makers. They may or may not thrive in an elevated leadership position but if they are ignored or passed-over they will never realize their full capacity for leadership. Be a talent-scout within your own organization.
- Once you have identified a potential leader, talk to them. Let them know that you appreciate their work and that you see a bright future for them. Human beings of all personality types and skill levels love to be encouraged and they appreciate knowing that they have a future.
- Put your future leaders on a “career path”. Most people of the current younger generation want to know where they are going and how long it will take them to get there. Work with them to create milestones and expectations so that when the time comes, they can easily slip into a new leadership position. Really-good future leaders want advancement and if you don’t provide it, someone else will.
- Provide leadership training to future leaders. Although some people possess almost“natural” leadership skills there is a lot to be learned about leading that cannot be gleaned through osmosis or exposure to ones immediate supervisor or manager. Formalize your leadership training and offer it to anyone who wants an opportunity to learn.
- If you hire a new leader from outside of your own firm, never hire based on your“gut instincts”. Your guts might help you in a fight–or-flight situation or when you are selecting an item on a restaurant menu, but they don’t work well for talent selection. Always utilize good talent assessment tools and have a panel of your peers and/or employees participate in the interview process so that your decision is not tainted by your guts. Job applicants almost always adapt their behaviour to the interview process and what you saw is seldom what you get a month or two after they have settled into a new job.
- Never hire in your own image or enforce your own leadership style. Most of us tend to feel comfortable with people who are most like us. However, it takes many types of personalities to make a great team and one leadership style is not the “best” or the “only” way to lead. Take your personal feelings out of how a new leader should lead and allow them to deal with people in the way that works best for them. Give them an array of leadership tools and then stand back and watch them soar.
What have you done to ensure a successful succession process in your organization? If you have not started to build a leadership plan for the future, now is the time.
In an increasingly competitive world you must have the best-of-the-best leaders if you want to have a commanding presence in the new millennium.