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Succession Planning Doesn’t Need to Be an Extraordinary Event

by Michael Tobin on

In previous posts, we’re shared our Model of Strategic Leadership which has at its core the leader’s responsibility for Talent Management.

The Model suggests that having very strong teams–comprised of top talent–is a key enabler for the leader to operate at the strategic level. That is, having a team the leader can confidently delegate to allows the leader to spend her time providing thought leadership; driving Enterprise performance and growth; building sustainable organizational capability; and driving transformation – the hallmarks of strategic leadership.

From a talent perspective, this leadership approach is highly dynamic: the top talent leaders are being acquired externally, while key internal talent are being identified and accelerated in their development to ready them for critical roles within the organization.

Succession Planning Is Not an Extraordinary Event

In the context of our Model, then, succession planning is not an extraordinary, one off event, but the natural outcome of good strategic leadership.

The mind and activities of the strategic leader, rather than occupied with delivering monthly results, are focused on inspiring, developing, and holding accountable talented teams whose tasks include delivering extraordinary results.

Developing, challenging and coaching talented direct reports (including the occasional deep dive into results to add value): these are accelerating behaviors of a strategic leader.  Such an approach to leadership will routinely build organizational capability in talent, and will, almost as a byproduct, result in some differentiated talent emerging to succeed the leader, or be exported elsewhere in the company.

Where to Start? How To Make Succession Planning an Everyday Event

While we at Vantage advocate for integrated, comprehensive talent management processes across the organization, a good place for an individual leader to begin is with the strength of her team.

While it is desirable to have rigorous assessment of each member of one’s team and to create development plans for each one; a leader can make a lot of progress by honestly answering 2 questions.

1. How confident am I delegating to each member of my team?

To get at this question, we recommend a “quick and dirty” assessment. Using a 5-point scale, with 5 being “Very Confident to Delegate,” rate each member of you team.

For individuals rated 4 or 5, delegate more to them, and hold them accountable for results. Coach them for accelerated development.

For individuals rated 1 or 2, make plans to quickly exit them from the company.

With individuals rated 3, provide feedback, raise expectations, and give them some time (2 to 6 months) to demonstrate that you can confidently delegate to them. Otherwise, initiate separation plans.

2. Do I have a ready-now or ready-soon (< 2 yrs) successor for myself on the team?

If you do not have a successor, hire in your successor. If you do have a successor, you should be exporting talent across the organization within a couple of years.

In general, seek to upgrade your team with great talent who can advance two levels in the company. As a strategic leader, you will help build the leadership talent pool by building organizational capability in leadership talent.

Meanwhile, with a great team to empower and hold accountable for performance outcomes, you will not only consistently deliver great results, but also be free to lead at a higher level, providing thought leadership and influence to help drive enterprise performance, growth, and transformation.

Succession Planning is the Outcome of Strategic Leadership

Seen in light of our Strategic Leadership Model, then, it is no longer necessary or even accurate to view succession planning as an isolated, narrow process focused solely on CEO succession. Rather, succession planning can be viewed in a much broader, integrated way: an enterprise-wide, dynamic leadership pipeline.

Ideally modeled by the CEO, guided and facilitated by Human Resources, succession planning can become the natural outcome and goal of Strategic Talent Management as practiced routinely by the business leaders themselves as they build, develop, and accelerate the talent on their teams.

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