I’m on a roll with the topic of succession planning lately. Funny how that happens: one person asks about it, and not too long afterwards someone else has another question, and then it gets me thinking even more. The most recent piece of advice I gave was about succession planning criteria.
It’s always my recommendation first and foremost to dedicate the time and effort needed to strategically design (or re-design) any experience to be had in an organization, including something as important as succession planning. Design of Work Experience (DOWE) provides the framework to do that. However, I recognize that time, money, and other resources may not always be available to do that for everything. My warning: every experience that doesn’t reflect your intended culture has the potential to erode it--which has a negative impact on your business.
Startups—you may think it’s too early to think about succession but you know as much as I do that people come and go all the time. During this seminal phase in the life of your company, do you want lack of planning around critical roles to impact your business?
All that aside, the latest inquiry was likely looking for something fairly quick when they asked, “Anyone have good sample criteria you can share for determining critical positions for succession planning purposes?” It’s one thing to be curious about what other organizations have used. However, criteria should be derived from the unique context of the organization--what's important in one place may not be as important in another. There are plenty of examples of this. What works in one place fails spectacularly in another. Why? Context.
The other thing—it’s important to distinguish between criteria for critical roles vs. criteria for critical talent—they are not the same. Sometimes that’s forgotten. For the purposes of identifying critical roles, try this fairly quick approach and see how that compares to your current criteria:
1. If it’s a hierarchy structure, force rank the roles by level. Otherwise, try by function or by impact for achieving the business strategy. If you have the opportunity, try it all three ways and see how similar or different they net out.
2. Align the top leaders around the ranking through rigorous discussion. If people aren’t on the same page it simply won’t be successfully implemented.
3. Reverse engineer the criteria based on the discussion. What are the common themes that emerged? What does that say about what the organization values? How does reality differ from aspiration? Where do culture and strategy connect or disconnect?
In the absence of a comprehensive approach, what this exercise does is elicit engagement and discussion often neglected in many organizations. Most are focused on the task of completing the process as a routine, and they’ve forgotten the strategic value of why they are doing it. As many of us experience as we get older, we tend to want to focus our energies on only that which is most worthy of our time. Forget mindless routines that lack purpose and look for meaning in everything you do—including succession planning!
Photo Credit: Piotr Lohunko
Bravo! It’s always an achievement to have a great culture. The hard work required to attain what most organizations struggle with should be recognized. The biggest mistake you can make now is to get complacent. Like the concept of entropy in physics, what isn’t maintained deteriorates. That is so very true in organizational life. Here’s what to do next:
Double-check to make sure you still have a great culture and determine its direction. Is it getting even better, or is it eroding? The way you find out is to feed organizational self-awareness through an experience study. That is, engage with employees and leadership alike to deeply explore what influences the culture and its people. Find out about the current state and how it’s lived. Identify opportunities for continuous learning and improvement. Develop/update your strategy and take purposeful action. Like a healthy lifestyle, the quality of a culture must be conscientiously assessed and managed. It’s not (just) about repeating what you think works well. Rather, it’s more about managing to the same results. There’s a difference.
2. ENSURE CONSISTENCY.
That being said, there are foundations that must remain consistent as hallmarks of the organization: vision, mission, values, and the behaviors that reflect them. This requires consistently managing your culture. Everything else is fluid and flexible.
If your organizational structure is separated by function, siloes, location, or some other factor, it takes concerted effort to ensure consistencies while also balancing what makes every work group special. Remember to leverage the unique strengths that come from the diversity of your employees.
Continuing to have a great culture is determined by the degree to which your organization can cultivate it on a long-term basis. Developing and following through on strategies helps to anchor day-to-day management of your culture with direction, purpose, meaning, and impact. These are unique to your organization and its context.
Needless to say, no amount of discussion or advice will help without true effort behind it. If you’ve already got a great culture, you’ve got the talent and ability to keep it. Best wishes on the New Year!
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