Type in the words ‘succession planning’ into a Google news search. Most likely, you’ll find several articles discussing succession planning, or lack thereof, at Apple, Inc.
Now, I don’t mean to pick on Apple here, but the issue of succession management appears to serve as a constant woe to Apple stakeholders and the company’s board.
Apparently, it is no easy task to find a successor to the man behind the iPhone and iPad. Of course, that’s understandable – those are big shoes to fill. Companies have to be careful though not to allow the difficulty in finding the right people turn into an excuse to not plan accordingly.
The reality is Apple, and every other firm, public and private, large and small, needs to have a game plan for succession management. Yet, only 14 percent of 1,098 senior managers and executives say their organization is “well prepared” to deal with the sudden loss of its key leaders, according to a new survey by American Management Association.
Like death and taxes, the eventual departure of the CEO and upper management is inevitable. It should be obvious that succession planning is crucial, particularly with the expected retirement of the baby boomer generation. So, why are so many companies struggling with the topic of who will be next in line on the leadership front?
I mean, I get that succession planning is not an easy endeavor to properly execute. It takes time, money, not to mention an overall talent management strategy. And I know that we could spend days analyzing why many companies are without a proper succession plan in place – but let’s not.
Instead, let’s take a minute to discuss one of the important side effects of a lack of succession planning – lack of confidence. The reality is that people don’t like uncertainty. It scares the heck out of most of us, and leaves many in deer-in-headlight mode. No need to look further than the recent debt ceiling debate (Debacle? I’m being nice here) to witness the anxiety and frustration that accompanies a big decision where the ultimate impact is unknown. Point is, companies can’t afford to wait until the last minute.
So, if you aren’t sure where to begin in preparing a succession plan, one key way is to commit to the development of your company’s emerging and high potential leaders.
Yeah, I know identifying high potential leaders is easier said than done. And even after you’ve identified those HiPos some have no aspirations to take on leadership roles. While others are extremely enamored with the idea of obtaining a leadership position, but don’t have the skill sets to back up the ambition.
After all, there are essential skills required for future managerial success. Those with high performance on those competencies are most likely the employees that are prepared to make the transition from individual contributor to a formalized leadership role.
However, being fully competent at their job is just one aspect. Here are some other qualities needed in high potentials – so keep an eye out:
Goal setting. It should almost go without saying, but understanding and meeting goals is an essential skill for high potential leaders. If the individual has trouble meeting their own goals, how much can we expect out of them when it comes to setting team-level goals that are challenging, measurable, and meaningful?
Initiative. A high potential employee openly expresses ideas and continuously makes solid contributions, which is important because leaders must generate ideas for change while also recognizing the good ideas generated by others. Leaders also stimulate others to think in innovative ways.
Team player. In most cases, teams often make better decisions than any single person. High potentials work productively within a team, while respecting individual and cultural differences.
Personal awareness. One essential quality of a leader is to be open to feedback. When a high potential is open to feedback about their actions, whether it is positive or negative, that is good sign they are willing to grow and are invested in their career.
Remember, you can identify these high potentials in several ways such as through interviews, assessments, peer reviews – just be sure to provide these individuals with various development tools along the way.
Circling back to Apple, whereas their succession management woes are not unique in any way, they are in the unattractive position of knowing that no matter who succeeds Jobs they will have an uphill battle in the war of public opinion. I wish them luck.