It is all about the conversations

At the very core of a strong succession planning program are executive team and senior management team level conversations about leaders and leadership positions. The framework for the discussion questions does not need to be unique to the organization. The answers to the questions are always in the room. Conversations guided by a relevant set of management judgments around a short list of questions results in compelling outcomes. The outcomes are viewed as highly valuable by the teams engaged in these conversations. The first implementation consensus meeting typically ends with the meeting chair who might be the Chairman, CEO, President, Division Leader, or Agency Director saying in their concluding remarks ‘this is by far the best meeting we have ever had to discuss our people”.

The questions that comprise meeting agendas change over time as the process matures. The initial plan forms a snapshot of the leadership team in place, the strength of the leadership bench, and predicted position openings in next 12 months. The first cycle also provides prioritized development (or reorganization or merger or reduction in force) planning at the strategic level. Later cycles in the process quickly and painlessly update changes in the base succession plan data and conversations shift more toward reporting progress on tactical leadership development / change initiatives. Metrics surrounding the key objectives for succession planning are reviewed and the way forward charted.

Process grounded in conversations from front to back works. It is how executives work. Many practitioners have learned the hard way that an approach involving a booklet of instructions with forms to complete and reports that don’t provide value to the executive team fails miserably. Succession planning viewed as an annual event is doomed to failure. Success involves introducing an ongoing and evolving process of manageable conversations that efficiently uses executive’s time and delivers value far in excess of the investment.

Our customers report that the leadership team culture improved as a direct result of implementing succession planning. The collaborative approach to discussing what begins as unilateral ratings of subordinates and ends with team consensus (with the group’s chairperson finalizing) increases the accuracy of information and creates positive peer pressure to hold each other accountable for timely execution of action plans. The old culture could be characterized by decisions about leaders and leadership roles that are reactive, based upon isolated decision makers with compartmentalized perspectives; with other key leaders reacting with surprise and disappointment following announcements. Lack of accountability to peer review in the old culture allowed chronic weak leadership situations to continue indefinitely. The new collaborative culture predicts and plans for change. The executive’s jobs are easier, there is group confidence in the plan, fewer mistakes are made and metrics to measure and celebrate success reinforce the effort.

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