Succession planning that encompasses the entire organization is smart strategy with the added benefit of being a unifying process for organizational development.
An exciting firm had experienced excellent growth over the previous decade and as a result of this success the workforce had grown from 150 to 220 individuals. However, as I learned from the new CEO who had engaged my help, during their spectacular growth they had not paid sufficient attention to developing talent to continue to fill the additional management and leadership roles in the organization. The firm now had a ten-year gap in their internal leadership depth chart.
This firm, like so many others, had great employees but had failed to prioritize leadership development in their strategic planning. They had assumed that leaders would just emerge when needed. The business growth strategy had been successful: more contracts were being won and additional employees were added to the firm each year. Indeed, some individuals did emerge into leadership roles; however there were not nearly enough to meet the demands of growth, retirement, and normal personnel change.
Leadership development is a strategic process and by failing to unite their business growth strategy with a leadership development plan, the firm unintentionally set the conditions for the succession crisis in which it found itself.
The new CEO instituted a plan that created the double benefit of training people for leadership and uniting the firm behind a mission of personal and professional development. My mandate was to train a group so that they could immediately take on increased leadership responsibilities. The participants were eager to learn. They were skilled technicians who had good instincts and were at a stage in their careers where leadership opportunities were the natural next step in professional development. The training strategy enhanced those leadership instincts with practical skills.
The experience of learning together united them and seeded a leadership development culture in the company. The unity and purpose that grew within this group of professionals was an additional important outcome.
Succession planning is not just for executives wanting to retire or for ownership changes. Every position of leadership, from shift supervisor to CEO, will change hands at some time; therefore, it is wise to include leadership development for succession needs as a critical part of a strategic plan.