Tips to help you align your future leadership.

By Herb Greenberg 
Great leaders are few and far between, and often their departure leaves a company reeling. Remember Lee Iacocca? Do you remember who came after him? Of course not, because it was someone who went on to have an unremarkable career and left Chrysler in tatters. Jack Welch? When he left, he did not leave a clear successor, and three executives ended up fighting for the number one position in the wake of his departure. The loser? GE shareholders.

So, what is your company doing to plan for the future?
This question is crucial, given today’s uncertain global economy. While leaders can’t control the world markets, they do have the power to set their organization up for success from within—and it all starts with succession planning.

Succession planning in any organization must focus on identifying and grooming potential leaders so that they may move seamlessly into leadership positions as they open up. It is all about setting up top talent for advancement and ensuring that they are prepared for the next level. This is both a strategic and economic necessity: studies reveal, after all, that a staggering 66 percent of senior managers hired from the outside fail within the first 18 months.

It is important to take measures to improve retention and identify leadership potential at time of hire. Having the “bench strength” to fill openings at the senior level from existing staff ultimately saves time and money, as well as ensures that the incoming leadership shares the vision, goals, and values of the organization.

How can you ensure that your organization is on the right track for the future? Here are some basic tips and techniques for developing and implementing an effective succession plan.

Gain Support
Succession planning needs to be a part of the organization’s shared goals. Assessing your organization’s current and future business strategy, understanding your competitive position and your goals for growth, and defining your future leadership needs are key to gaining support from current senior management.

Tacoma, Washington-based Franciscan Health System looked to a management consulting firm to help implement a succession plan with leadership development as its primary objective. The executive team had previously participated in some leadership training, but they now wanted to develop an on-site program for directors and mid-level managers. They counted 5,500 employees and a medical staff with more than 1,200 members, so gaining support for the plan was crucial. To accomplish this, several executive meetings were held to present the challenges of promoting from within and the reasons for implementing a succession management program.

Identify Candidate Drivers
Once shared goals are established, creating a leadership task force or a succession planning team to own and manage the process can ensure that the company establishes strategies for identifying and accelerating development of high-potential talent and defines key processes and best practices for managing the succession system.
Are your employees able to respond effectively to urgent issues? How well do they work with their teams? How can you measure these important factors in an objective way?

The information from an in-depth personality assessment can provide executives with vital information:
• An overview of a team’s strengths and areas for development;
• A basis for the creation of an action plan; and
• A baseline measurement against which future progress can be assessed.
By incorporating the insights from an in-depth personality profile into a succession planning process, a consultant can help leaders discover whether an employee has what it takes to grow in leadership positions. A consultant can review the employee’s underlying strengths, motivations, and any areas of concern that could affect their leadership potential.

A consultant can analyze an employee’s level of resilience and then review situations where the applicant might have struggled. Through this kind of in-depth exploration, leaders can discover which individual or individuals might be well suited to leadership roles. And it could save the organization from making a costly mistake.

Once personality assessments have been administered and evaluated, it’s time to put the plan into action. At Franciscan, for instance, invitations to join the “Accelerated Development Program” were extended to and accepted by a select group of high-potential employees from the 105 who initially took the test. A timeline was created that clearly outlined the steps and roles of the key players implementing the succession management program. The process involved developing leadership competencies specific to the organization, training mentors and managers, creating a baseline process for filling open positions from within the organization, diagnosing development needs for high-potential employees, and implementing development plans.

Putting professionals on a succession management track is an evolving and measureable process. To be certain that you have the people you need waiting in the wings, leadership development needs to be a continuous process, not a series of one-time events.

People can make adjustments and develop new skills if they are motivated and provided with the required resources and support. Developmental learning has a much greater and more lasting impact than conventional training, since individuals in your talent pool would be expected to grow and would observe their growth measured over time. During this phase, specific strategies to address your particular business needs can be implemented—including, but not limited to, executive coaching and team-based projects.

The mark of a great leader is that he or she cares enough about the company to lead in a way that ensures it can go on without them. While it is great for leaders to turn a company around and bring it back from the brink of insolvency, setting it on a steady path for after they leave is an even bigger achievement. Take the late Steve Jobs, for instance; hopefully the business world will take notice of Jobs’ behind-the-scenes succession planning and heed this lesson.  

Herb Greenberg, Ph.D., is the founder and chief executive officer of Caliper.

Tags: Employee Engagement, Recognition & Rewards, RPO & Staffing, Talent Acquisition

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