A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Preparing Successors: Experience, Education, Exposure

The following article originally appeared in the July newsletter to clients of Kiley Advisors, LLC.  Reprinted with permission.

This article continues the discussion of succession planning, reinforcing that it is the hallmark of all successful organizations, and that it is an inherent responsibility of senior leaders to ensure successors are in place for continuity and survival.

Last month we discussed identifying your talent pool, particularly your high-potentials and then assigning coaches and mentors as appropriate.  In this article, we will discuss methods of preparing those selected, in coordination their coaching and mentoring.

The most proven method is to give them experiences that are directly related to the challenges they will face in their next role.  Most companies do this now.  However, one absolutely essential experience for someone slated for a senior position is to manage people – to be put in a positon to have to make judgments about hiring, training, evaluating and firing, setting goals, and leading people to achieve them.  Project work can be the ideal laboratory to demonstrate these talents.  You want this experience to reveal the successor’s judgment and decisiveness – basic skill sets for the executive suite.  Can this person analyze options, risk and consequences, seek advice as appropriate, and pull the trigger: make the decision and own it?  Non-decisive people kill culture and morale; look at any bureaucracy.

The second option for preparing future leaders is targeted educational programs that address an area where the successor needs shoring up.  Maybe it is accounting and financial knowledge, or more functional areas (marketing/sales; field productivity), or emerging new methods or technologies.  Programs exist for all these topics in formats from webinars, seminars and workshops, to campus programs, like the superb executive education programs at Harvard, Stanford and Wharton.  Peer groups are another excellent and expanding means for seasoning successors, either external groups with mixed industries, a mix of companies from the same industry, or internal ones from multiple company areas.

Finally there are the exposures that come from being put in “the right room.”  Shadowing the mentor or another executive to present or negotiate; to lobby an elected official; to meet the banking, bonding and insurance people; the list goes on.  Association committee work is another opportunity.  Exposure is a simple, powerful, and often overlooked method for grooming successors.  Good organizations use all the tools in their kit.