How do you feature in your organization’s succession planning? Do you have a plan for you and for your direct reports? Can there be growth without one?
Succession Plan (Audio)
Do you have a personal succession plan? That is, have you made provision for someone to succeed you? Where and how do you feature in your organization’s succession plan? How can you “move on” if you leave that to someone else manage?
Wikipedia suggests that succession planning is a process for identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key business leadership positions in the company. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available. Taken narrowly, “replacement planning” for key roles is the heart of succession planning. Effective succession or talent-pool management concerns itself with building a series of feeder groups up and down the entire leadership pipeline or progression (Charan, Drotter, Noel, 2001).
That is obviously a very organizationally focused definition. I consider this topic as an extension to last week’s blog Secure job? in that I believe succession planning isn’t something other’s should be responsible for, but that it could well form part of your Who is driving your bus?.
Organizational succession planning
Most well run organizations have a succession plan process in place. I remember meeting for a whole day at least annually in my peer group with our boss, where we went through every person in our shared services Division together with someone from HR. Each of us had to have someone we’d put forward to succeed us if we were to “fall off our perch” as well as outlining our plans for the development of likely successors, thereby considering the inputs from everyone around the table in terms of their perceptions of the individuals under discussion. Of course this process dovetailed with the company’s “talent pool” initiative as well.
It was firmly in that organization’s culture that it was as much each individual’s responsibility to have developed appropriate successors if you wanted to make yourself eligible for promotion as it was in the company’s interests. With other words, don’t expect to be developed into bigger and better roles if you aren’t doing so with your own direct reports.
One of the most visible scenarios for succession planning is the traditional family business. The media is full of stories of intrigues and speculation around succession issues in some of the more well known family businesses and celebrities.
We so often hear about the parents of a family business wanting their children to take it over and continue running their business “for them” after they have retired, don’t we? Only often to be met with flat refusal by the kids on the basis of: “what, do your job you have been suffering through all my life? No thanks, I’ll pass”….
And if they do, how many times have we heard of those patriarchs or matriarchs then not being able to let go, causing all sorts of pain and frustration, sometimes (or should I say often?) leading to a significant “falling out” between the family members, including the implosion of the business.
However I have also coached a few situations where the father / son handover is working very well, but have to admit that this is rarer than the other way around.
I don’t think we can discuss succession planning without mentioning delegation. This always features in my leadership and soft skills grooming, because I have learned that one of our objectives as leaders is to develop others around us to grow their skills and confidence so that we can move on to bigger and better things. Those new to delegation often struggle with “giving enough rope” and certainly need some time to learn to differentiate accountability from responsibility from authority, and I’m sure everyone reading this will be able to relate to that.
My clients learn that one of the objectives of “raising your game to another level” includes “rationalizing yourself out of your job”. Numerous of my “professionals” clients that have come to me “to be coached into leadership” have struggled with this notion where they may not yet have the personal confidence of marketing themselves into that next (leadership) role, and without realizing how much impact this “fear” can have on them unconsciously, don’t do a good job at delegating as a result.
Consultants and contractors
So far we have spoken about company related succession planning initiatives, big and small. How does this relate to all those professional consultants and contractors that aren’t tied into an organizational “pecking order”?
I have learned to believe that “what goes around, comes around” and long before I became a coach, always made a point in my consulting days to practice Leading from behind whereby I made it my business to recognize really good talent and help them look good. In my blog Managing Up I also speak of “making the boss look good”. Both have always served me well in driving my agenda while helping them achieve theirs.
So while you might not be able to participate in delegation per se because of the role you are engaged in as a professional, these have become important professional leadership tenets, which I have found serve to be “asked back again”, or be better recommended to others.
But I am a “one man band” – how should I develop a successor I hear some of you saying? Good point. I’m in the same boat and hence I am collaborating with a few selected business partners where we leverage our individual and collective skills and services orchestrated into a consortium, where the sum of the parts provides a much bigger whole for our clients. The ability to interchange and represent each other helps provide consistency and continuity for our clients. That way the likelihood of continuity and the development of an asset that outlives our individual value is also enhanced.
Personal succession planning
And after moving from large organization through small business to individual professionals in this discussion so far, I would now like to reiterate what I think really matters when it comes to your own personal succession planning.
Firstly I believe it is a good thing to have one. 26 years in a complex, global matrix organization taught me that “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me”, and gave birth to my notion of what I wrote in Are you a “fetch” person? I didn’t wait until I featured in a succession planning exercise somewhere – I made sure I had my own plan in place and ”that I was on the right lists”.
In that context I learned always to be on the lookout for my next opportunity to grow my skills and experience (and in the corporate chapters of my life – also my next role) and then to “fetch” what I wanted, which even included our migrating to Australia to find it. That included me having to be “expendable” in my then roles, so that I had clear passage into the next. Not having developed appropriate successor(s) would have been an obstacle.
I also spend much time in each coaching program teaching the need for and the wherewithal to harness the benefits of personal networking. It is just as important to be able to find and recommend successors from your network as it is to develop those in your employ or control.
So let me ask you the question: what have you done to “create clear passage” for you into your next role? What people or talent have you found and developed that can “fill your gap” so that you can move on?
Is this something you are aware of as an opportunity or the absence of as a potential threat? What might you want to do about this in your career, if you haven’t already started?
What if you could?