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Succession Planning Real or Imaginary?

March 23rd 2017




Succession Planning March 2017

Every now and then I come across a leader that fancies him or herself as the master coach/mentor. I find this rather inspirational yet on occasions am forced to reflect on their response to the following question. Suppose a trusted industry colleague asks you to nominate an executive in your team that exhibits leadership potential; one that is presently stymied by a lack of opportunity in your organization. Now consider this colleague not to be a key competitor how would you respond to this question? 

The vast majority of executives have chosen to closely guard their talent in fear of losing them to another organization. When being pressed for their rationale I find the response to be fairly typical. "Why would I want to lose my own talent? The organization I represent and I will suffer as a result." Further probing has revealed the motives generally stem from self-interest, with little or no respect afforded the emerging talent. To be frank "what's in it for me."

I am sure many readers have witnessed or experienced this managerial conundrum and from a professional perspective in my professional opinion effective leadership involves having the courage to make tough and brave decisions. For instance at the conclusion of the 2016 AFL season, the much-lauded AFL Coach and industry pioneer Alastair Clarkson of the Hawthorn Football Club offered his two ageing champion players (that still enjoyed contract status) the opportunity to sign for rival teams for 2017 and beyond. Following some consideration both took up the option. In return the Hawthorn FC was able to recruit several well credentialed younger players that will form the nucleus of their team for years to come. Brave, radical and daring? You bet. The hallmark of a genuine leader that happens to have reigned over a very successful period in this club's history.   

When I turn to succession planning most leaders respond with enthusiasm and proudly refer to their many achievements. This is fine until I ask them to describe those specific actions they have put in place to ensure the "new breed" leader is both identified and developed. Generally, I am provided with bland commentary that clearly suggests succession planning is being considered and crafted however at token value only. So, who is to blame?

This is difficult to answer without an insider's perspective however I am of the view that for succession planning to be truly sustainable requires a top down approach, with Boards and executive management committed to this strategic initiative. HR is the key driver however they need genuine support for this critical organization wide endeavour to be really effective. Related to this desired outcome is the development of the brand for highly sought after employees are attracted to many factors inclusive of brand and culture. 

As a Headhunter that has been targeting talent for over 20 years I have found that top performing highly prized executives typically have several key factors in mind when sizing up a potential career shift. They generally ask the following questions relating to our client.

a) Tell me about the vision for this organization; at CEO and divisional level where I could be positioned?

b) Tell me about the prevailing organizational culture?

c) How do I fit into this vision and how might I contribute to its actualization?

d) Describe how their brand is perceived in the market?

e) Describe how I am going to be managed by my next boss; how might I be frustrated by him/her?

f) What is the career progression from this position, and how will I be groomed to succeed?

These are really important questions that will determine the willingness of an executive contemplating a possible transition. Those organizations that best respond whilst enjoying a truly effective succession programme are most likely to be successful with their hiring.

As a closing point and just perhaps, a well articulated and supported succession plan might result in the services of a Headhunter being required less and less in the future!








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