I have participated in and reviewed hundreds of succession planning sessions whose results indicated that there were several qualified leaders ready to step in to most, if not all key positions should they become vacant. While I have not tracked the data, my belief is that outsiders were brought in more than half of the time. This is both demoralizing to the organization, and the data shows that fifty percent of new hires do not succeed – not a winning strategy.
Many reasons are offered including “Frank is great, but it’s too soon”, “Barbara does not have the sales experience the job requires”, “Bob said he cannot travel due to his being a single parent” and so on. These may be disqualifying factors, but why was this information not used in the planning process, which is done at least annually? After the planning session, was Barbara given sales responsibilities to develop her skills? Was Frank told what specific goals he needed to achieve and in what time frame to be ready? And did someone look for a role for Bob that does not require travel? This is succession planning.
Succession planning is vitally important for a company to grow. The annual review session is simply a meeting to discuss possibilities, and it is only as valuable as the work that goes on all year to identify, coach and engage with your teams to enable them to personally and professionally grow.
Here are 5 Tips I have used successfully that every leader in your company can use:
1. Engage with them
Really get to know they folks you have identified as high potential leaders. Visit with them at the jobs and see them in action. Find out more about their ambitions and goals and how far they are willing to stretch. Learn more about them – see if any have limitations for future positions like Bob. Spend time with their employees and get a sense as to what they are like as a leader, and share that feedback with them so they are both aware of these concerns and can begin taking steps to fix these issues.
2. Challenge them
Push them out of their comfort zone and see how they react. Assign them projects that will further develop their strengths, but also force them to work on their weaknesses.
3. Evaluate their collaboration skills
As you take on bigger leadership roles, you need to rely less on your personal skills and more on your ability to collaborate effectively. This is where many leaders miss the mark. I love working with companies that have a “no a##hole rule” which really calls out people who cannot collaborate. Assigning leaders to cross-functional projects is a great way to break down silos.
4. Give them clear goals and actively monitor performance
All of these activities need to be clearly articulated, with clear deliverable and dates. You want to see how they perform and whether the flag issues in advance and recommend corrective action, or they simply explain why they are late. This piece is really important for you to evaluate whether they are capable of leading at a higher level.
5. Give frequent, honest feedback
Throughout this process, you should be providing feedback as well as eliciting their thoughts and comments. Remember, this is a process, not an annual meeting. When you provide your leaders with open and honest feedback, you not only give them the opportunity to make changes, but you gain valuable insights in terms of how they accept feedback.
If you utilize these 5 Tips, you will have a much greater “feel” for your leaders, and you will be working directly with each of them to address whatever needs they have to grow, both personally and professionally. When it comes time for the annual succession review meeting, the conversation will be more robust, fact based and actionable. And when the next person leaves, you can say with confidence, “John is perfect for this job, and he can start on Monday”.