I was recently asked my two cents on executive succession, so I thought I would share them with all of you too. These thought starters are by no means exhaustive, but taking action with these in mind can improve the effectiveness of your succession programs.
First of all, there’s lots of research out there that spans the range from big firms to academia. They offer good foundational knowledge of the concepts, but they fall short of considering context. That’s because it’s up to every organization to incorporate—only many don’t. They skip this critical next step and go straight to implementing best practices. I believe what's missing is organizations' ability to uniquely define what they need out of their current and future leaders. This is why a leader might be successful in one place, but a failure in another. I make the argument in the book to begin with building organizational self-awareness and a deep understanding of the context. That way, solutions are customized for the needs of the business and its people. This is the initial approach to my client engagements.
There should also be integration among succession planning, leadership development, workforce planning, and other people strategies and programs so everything reinforces one another and aligns around common objectives that ultimately support the business mission and strategy. In many organizations these functions live in siloes, each working on different things. All you get as a result is a lot of fragmentation. I recommend the creation of holistic people strategies using Design of Work Experience (DOWE) as the process to drive a common talent agenda.
If your company uses personality assessments or surveys, they should be treated as one of multiple data points for the purposes of building self-awareness and developmental plans. Using them for "predictive" purposes--i.e. to determine whether someone would be a successful leader in the future (or not) has been proven to be problematic per research. If you are going with assessments, choose ones that use or are based upon the Big 5 Personality Traits. They’ve stood the test of time and remain in practice after rigorous scientific study and validation. This is also why Myers-Briggs remains tried and true.
Coaching at the senior levels can be of help (also per research), as long as they are managed well strategically. It can be a costly program from a time and money standpoint, but it does help those that are "lonely at the top" and lack the support systems to gain broader perspectives beyond their own. The challenge with coaching is that there is such a broad range of specialties, providers, and--quite frankly--capabilities. Add in the individual situation of each executive to be coached, and you can imagine how hard it is to make the right pairing. Proceed with caution and celebrate successes.
Just for fun, if I were to choose just one competency to foster, it would be learning agility. This falls under the Big 5's openness factor. Current assessments out there have not been fully vetted, but the new instrument coming out of my alma mater, Columbia University, shows a lot of promise and has been created with academic integrity. Led by one of organizational psychology’s icons, W. Warner Burke (of the Burke-Litwin Model of Organizational Performance and Change), you can learn more from this previous post and stay tuned for updates.
Speaking of organizational performance and change, consider the design of the executive transition experience, and change management for their new and old organizations. This helps to avoid potential pitfalls that prevent smooth transitions. I’m sure many of you out there have examples of where these have not gone well, so I won’t belabor the point.
I also recommend organizations follow though with learning and development AFTER succession--all the way up through the C-suite. I wrote a post back in February that speaks to this very point. Think about what happens next, once they get there.
Start with these six, and you will undoubtedly uncover what else your organization’s needs. As usual, feel free to connect or discuss with me further. Thanks for reading!
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