Someone asked us recently what advice we would give if they wanted to implement a succession planning program in their organization. The answer was simple. Work on the entire pipeline. I know, that doesn’t tell you much, so let me explain in a little more detail.
Often times when working with a senior executive about succession planning or development programs, we hear that developing future leaders is critical to the organization. That statement is usually followed by a request to only focus on a certain level of leadership and above. Most notably, vice presidents or directors and above. There are too many reasons to name here for a request like this, but if you work in an organization that feels this way, we’d love to hear what the reason is in your company. The problems with this approach are numerous as well and deserve some attention in this space.
The pipeline analogy gets used in business in a variety of contexts. Sales departments use it most often, and they are the ones that usually have the secret of the pipeline figured out. Good salespeople know that if you are only working on the prospects that have the biggest potential and are closest to closing the deal, you are in a very tenuous position. If one of those large prospects drops out of the pipeline (bad), or makes a purchase (good), your pipeline gets small in a hurry. Therefore, they realize that the pipeline needs to be as full as possible with a wide range of prospects who are in different positions in the sales cycle. You keep adding people to the front end of the pipeline and you will never run out of business pouring out the other end.
Translating this to leadership development is easy. If you only focus on the people who are already at the upper echelons of the organization, you are developing a group of people who have limited opportunities for advancement. If they decide to leave while waiting to fill one of those limited positions, who will be ready to replace them? So you have to ask yourself the following questions. How do front line employees learn to be managers and supervisors? How do managers and supervisors learn to manage a business unit? How do business unit leaders learn to lead the entire organization? The answer to all these questions is the same. You develop everyone so that you have a constant supply of individuals who are ready to help your company grow.
In our experience, if you focus on all levels of the organization, your succession planning worries will diminish quickly. It’s a pretty simple process. Let everyone know that development is their responsibility. Give them tools to use in the pursuit of that development. Feedback, both formal and informal, is a critical part of the process. Follow up any formal feedback process with a support system that enables them to create a development plan and begin making meaningful change. Finally, strongly encourage development discussions on a regular basis between managers and their direct reports.
Leave a comment with a succession planning or development success or horror stories and contact us if you’d like to discuss employee development in your organization.