Succession Planning is a Gold Mine for High-Potential Development – If You Mine it!

Bob Hewes, PhD, Senior Partner Outplacement, Executives, Retirement, Talent Management

Succession planning efforts have a wealth of leadership development information embedded in them, especially for high-potential development efforts. The key is to identify it, distill it, and translate it into your high-potential development efforts.

Many companies and organizations conduct succession planning efforts. This work examines critical roles and critical people and describes what is needed as a leader. At the same time, organizations design, create, and run high-potential development efforts. Those high-potentials could and should become the next successors. The challenge is to capture and utilize all that good, insightful information on leadership that succession planning efforts reveal and bring it into high-potential efforts. You need to identify it, distill it, and translate it into those development efforts. This blog will describe three practical areas to tackle so that you mine your succession planning efforts well and find that development gold.

Idea 1: Identify

Throughout a succession planning effort, all kinds of leadership information is described, used, discussed, created, and even revealed. Each organization has its own definition of leadership. It is often built around good, commonly known profiles of what a good leader looks like. However, there are those unique, particular elements that describe your organization and what successful leadership looks like – what a leader does and how they communicate. This brings us to our first idea: identify those leadership descriptors.

As succession planning work and discussions happen, be on the lookout for those leadership descriptions and capture them. Seriously, write them down. This is the type of thing that if you wait too long, it gets forgotten. Don’t worry about completeness or which ideas will be ultimately used; consider it brainstorming. That is the key idea at this point – collect, collect, and collect some more. This is shows you what makes incumbents and successors strong leaders and that is important to know and capture.

Idea 2: Distill

This brings us to the second idea – distill it. All of us know, or should know, brainstorming can be quite productive and helpful – that’s what you did in the first part. We’ve collected many ideas – too many. This is a critical point because as the saying goes, we don’t want to and can’t “boil the ocean.” It’s not helpful to the high-potential development effort to have ideas all over the place covering everything. The key thing is to distill the various aspects of leadership into those critical few attributes. This is hard! It means making choices – and that is not easy. Many times, we like all the ideas. The identify idea has the attribute of being and staying open. The distilling idea has the attribute of choosing, selecting, and closing. The way to make choices easier is to keep the end in mind. Use the end point of high-potential development to select key themes and leadership attributes for high potentials.

Idea 3: Involve Senior Leaders

With key leadership themes and attributes identified and distilled, it’s time to bring them into your high-potential development efforts. We won’t go into full design ideas in this blog, but we want to highlight and describe a particularly powerful one that goes overlooked and underutilized: involving senior leaders. It’s powerful to have senior leaders talk about specific leadership attributes and how they work with it. It brings the ideas to life with stories and examples. It engages your high-potential audience. Having your participants hear from senior leaders on how they tackle a specific leadership attribute shows others what it means at your organization. Often leaders share war stories and participants identify with those instantly.

Bringing the Model to Life

There are many ways to bring this role model idea into the high-potential efforts. In fact, this is a spot to get creative! For example, they could be a guest speaker at a group workshop that’s part of a program. It becomes a section on the agenda devoted to hearing from and interacting with a senior leader role model. Alternatively, you could design a stand-alone talk or webinar using the topic. That creates variety in learning delivery approaches, which can resonate with certain participants. Taking that idea one step further, you could design and make it a panel of role models. There are many ways to go about it.

You don’t need to do this with every topic being used in a program. We’ve utilized a senior leader for just one select topic that was critical to an organization at that time. The power of this is that it brings to life key leadership attributes in direct, real context of your own organization.

There is one critical preparation idea to mention. You need to work with the senior leader ahead of him or her participating in a program. Don’t do this on the fly or cold. The key idea is to work with the senior leader so that they have the full context of the development efforts, know what to emphasize, and can illustrate and talk about their experience with it.

As an example of identifying, distilling, and using the above, one succession planning effort at an organization we worked with kept revealing how successful leaders were proactive with their communication. In example after example, there was a proactive element that successful leaders demonstrated. In the distillation phase, it became “Communicate Up, Down, and Across.” This had real meaning for this organization, and we designed it into development programs for many years. In fact, communication role models were used several times!

The critical idea is to take advantage of the good information from a succession planning effort and translate it into high-potential development. Remembering to collect, identify, and distill will align your succession planning efforts more tightly into your high-potential development efforts. Succession planning is an opportunity-rich environment if you remember to see and utilize it – that is, mine it!

Keystone Partners: Your Partners in Succession Planning

Keystone Partners has over 40 years’ experience supporting organizational succession planning through every stage, from assessment to action. Those that wait for major disruptions to occur lose the advantage of time to develop a successful transition. Interested in learning more? Contact us today to find out how we can help your organization realize the full potential of your people.

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