Succession Planning: Process or Outcome?

Process or Outcome?”: This is the second entry in our series of blogs on Succession Planning.

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” – Winston Churchill

Why should succession planning be more of a process-driven activity than an outcome–driven one?  The answer is elegant in its simplicity: Process creates alignment.  If we are all rowing the boat in the same direction, our chances of getting where we’re going increase exponentially.

Succession Planning Process: everyone needs to be 'rowing in the same direction.'I’m sure you’ve all been on a boat at least once where everyone was not rowing in the same direction – and chances are you didn’t get where you were going, right?

In far too many cases, though, the outcome is dominant.  When we have to put someone else in the position, we do it.  But not before that time comes.  So, we usually end up doing it badly, or, worst case, doing it over.

Everyone suffers.  The culture is uncertain, anxiety rules.  Often, we aren’t rowing the boat at all when the outcome is more than the process.  We simply drift…

To avoid this aimless drifting in succession, set up a solid, consistent process for determining the next person up.  I’d suggest using this methodology to create a “Succession Planning Process:”

  1. Establish a Succession Planning Committee. Give them a charter to design a process for determining senior level replacements well ahead of time (12 – 18 months prior to transition).  Have the C-level leadership approve the plan and publish it.
  2. Include the Succession Plan Milestones in Quarterly Scorecard Reports. For each position undergoing the transition process, assess the progress of that process on a quarterly basis as to whether it is on time, on budget, and on target.
  3. Require Each Senior Leader to Build and Maintain a Continuity File. This discipline will significantly reduce the amount of uncertainty the new leader will face when coming into the position.  Use a standard format for these files, so everyone knows what “right” looks like.
  4. Conduct an After-Action Review (AAR) of each Senior Leader Succession. Look for the lessons learned here – What did we plan?  What actually happened?  What will we sustain?  What will we improve?  Who will own the actions to be done?

Having a formal succession process which is developed carefully and rigorously followed throughout the organization will eliminate much of the “cultural drift” when new leaders step in.

Enjoy the journey!



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