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Super Simple Succession Planning

Authored by: Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

Remember Name That Tune? It was and is a clever competition of knowledge, recall and wits. The winner is the one that can correctly name that tune in the least number of notes.

We need an equivalent for talent identification. What is the minimum number of employees you need to know about and be developing strategically to ensure a constant stream of strong talent on the back-up bench to assure the success of the organization over time?

While succession planning and leadership development are both complex and complicated, there is a minimum required to form the foundation for success.

Succession Planning Stipulations:

  1. There is a constant need for talent at the top. Just ask the ‘big five’ search firms.
  2. Quality of talent at the top (and elsewhere) accounts for about 40-50% of organizational success. Talent is a competitive edge.
  3. Survey after survey documents that top management is not satisfied with the quality of talent management and succession planning in their organization. They state that they are not doing enough and what they are doing is not working well.

Best Practice, Science-Based Talent Management Truths:

  1. As there are in many fields, there are individuals with a set of characteristics (Potential), when developed properly, can become legendary top leaders. Like in professional sports, scouts identify “Prospects” who, when developed properly, can become Hall of Fame athletes. Juilliard does the same with classical musicians. Music teachers identify “prospects” who, when developed properly, can get into Juilliard and turn into professional and even award winning musicians and performers. 
  2. It all takes time. For promising athletes, because of the physical requirements, it’s a 25-year journey from high school, through college, to professional, to all-star, to Hall of Fame. Golfers can last a little longer. Musicians can last a lifetime. Top leadership Prospects (High Potentials) first get noticed in high school, go on to starring in internships, move through a couple of individual contributor jobs, on to management and then on to top leadership – a 20–30-year career journey.
  3. For all these prospects across all fields, there are best developmental practices that, when applied to true prospects, bring about rapid and deep learning and performance gains. It’s lifelong learning. For leadership development, it’s 70/20/10 – use work as the classroom, add the right bosses giving palpable attention at the right time, and add readings and courses to fill the gaps.

Mindsets, Framing and Succession Planning Process:

  1. It takes a long time. It took 100 years to develop and implement statins, 40 years for stem cell treatments, 20 years (starting with Fleming) to produce penicillin, 20 years from a prospective oil find to producing oil. It takes 20 years to produce an effective  top leader.
  2. It takes a patient village to produce a leader. It’s a long play with many acts and actors. 
  3. If you don’t hire the right prospects, you won’t have leaders developed 20 years later.
  4. If top leaders are not engaged in the process from hiring to ultimate placement, you won’t produce leaders.

Succession Planning Actions:

  1. Fund talent management–always and forever. As with pharmaceuticals, there is a drug development pipeline. If you stop spending during down times, you will run out of profitable products 10 years later, during the good times. If you starve HR and TM during tough times, you will not have talent on the bench 10 years later. Succession planning is human R&D. 
  2. Hire top Talent Management professionals. Three requirements:
    • Are steeped in the science and best practices of talent management and leadership development. Are not attracted to bright shiny objects and fads, fashions and folderal. 
    • Have demonstrated success somewhere designing and implementing a TM system that worked (e.g., Pepsi. GE). 
    • Has presence in the Board Room and the C-Suite. Is respected and listened to. Can quiet a room. Can influence decision makers. Has a seat at the strategic table. Understands business as well as Talent Management. 
  3. A preferred practice, not exactly a best practice, is to separate talent management and succession planning and then facilitate the annual review process from HR and ER. Best to have it report to the CEO.
  4. All hands on deck.  Regardless of the pressures of the times, all managers, directors, VPs and top leaders have to be engaged in the process of producing the next generations of top talent. Turning prospects into Hall of Leadership Fame members.  The village has to do the work, fill out the forms, follow the process and be engaged.

The essence of Succession Planning:

  1. It’s important.
  2. It’s real.
  3. It’s clear how to do it.
  4. Few are good at it.
  5. Those that are, prosper.
  6. “Nike” it – just do it.

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