It occurred to me this past week that our experiences with new leaders, succession planning and all that transpires in-between really can define who we are and how we see the world – at least our world at work.
I’ve participated in several leadership changes over the course of this past year – good, bad and indifferent – and the experiences with each of them have been exhausting, rewarding, challenging and needed. The process however, really differs based on the outgoing leader, the incoming leader, the organization in which it happens as well as those that are impacted by this change.
Question is should it be different? Should there be set way in which succession planning is done that makes it successful? Does succession mean successful? Why is it harder for some companies than others? How are these new leaders selected and just because they are “in-line” for succession, are they the best fit now – people change right? Six years ago, it might have seemed like a great plan for Joe to take over the company, but since then, he’s remarried 4 times, has 9 kids, and only shaves on Mondays.
The Grooming of Joe
If an organization has really thought about a strategic plan that goes beyond planning for this year’s holiday party, and has put people in place to be the next CEO, President, or Board Chair, that is one step in the succession process. But it doesn’t stop there. You don’t just check that off the list and say, “We’re good on succession planning.”
How do you keep that person continually engaged in the company regarding decisions, planning, ensuring the customers, partners and employees understand what their role is? Is there an evaluation process that helps you gauge success and integration? Or, do we just hope and pray all goes well for however long it takes before the current leader or leadership moves on?
I support the idea that each company, association or otherwise should have culturally unique ways of succession planning that makes sense to their company culture and structure. But I also support the idea that there are definitive skills, expectations and timelines (soft and hard) that must be in place in order for succession planning to actually work:
Commitment to the Plan
Those who are part of the plan, affected by the plan and executing the plan are committed to ensuring the process is adhered to and the results/outcomes are supported. This commitment needs to be confirmed on a regular basis with the senior leadership.
The innate ability to know that you as part of the outgoing leadership or incoming leader are held accountable for all that falls under your watch. The trust of the process, people and employees will be the gauge of success.
The senior leaders that will be most impacted by this succession plan must have bought into the how/when/why of the plan. These people will be the champions of the change, philosophy and progress – ensure they support the plan and can communicate that.
Leadership change is inevitable if you are around a company long enough and it’s needed in order to continue to grow and be competitive in the market. Most times, it comes with little surprise because the succession planning is quite extensive and requires commitment and buy-in while leaders are still in the early stages of their careers. Sometimes the changes happens because of the failure of the current leader and with succession, the “next in line” is prepared to takeover – interim or not – and sees the company through to better times.
Abrupt leadership change, without buy-in, trust or commitment can be disastrous to the organization’s reputation, employees and overall culture. While there is always an exception as to why abrupt changes occur, typically there is irreversible damage done and the fallout can last a long time.
So, are you participating in the company succession plan? Is there such an animal? Do you know the long term strategy for your company or are you hoping and praying that Linda the receptionist, Joe’s third wife, is not in line for the COO job?
Carol McDaniel is the Senior Vice President at Kinetix – a Recruitment Process Outsourcing firm. Carol’s background combines extensive Human Resource consulting, recruiting, marketing and advertising expertise. With her strong understanding of the many challenges in today’s competitive labor market environment she is considered a subject matter expert in the employer marketing and branding process. This expertise has proved to play a crucial role in the development of talent management and acquisition strategies for her clients. Carol is a frequent speaker at HR and SHRM events, national programs and training seminars to focus on the areas of talent acquisition and talent communications. Carol also volunteers her time with the HR Florida State Council and serves on the Executive committee as the the President-Elect. Read more from Carol here.