What are you doing to develop your replacement? What is being done to build depth in your company? These are important questions for all leaders to consider.
The subject of succession planning came up in a conversation with Will Dunaway, the chair of the board for the Center for Civic Engagement. Will is an attorney for the law firm Clark Partington. His office is in Pensacola, Florida. Will was one of several people from Clark Partington who attended EntreCon®, the two-day conference conducted by Studer Community Institute each November to assist people in building their skill set. Will shared that those who attended EntreCon from his firm left energized and more skilled. He added that the sessions help to create leadership depth in the organization.
Why is leadership depth important? There are many reasons, but one big one is culture continuity. Will and I discussed companies that have done well with leadership changes and those that have not. We’ve seen companies and departments that spent years developing a good culture lose that good culture quickly via leadership changes. Creating leadership depth can help ensure that the culture is well entrenched.
Building depth in an organization is a key part of succession planning. It does not mean a departure is imminent. It does mean that if someone leaves, there is a plan for how to best fill the person’s role short-term and, if needed, long-term. The smaller the organization, the more challenging it is to build depth. In some cases, there may be only one person doing the role. Most companies are bigger than that. Whatever the size, leadership development is important.
I believe each person in a leadership role has the responsibility to develop those they lead. While consultants and other departments such as human resources can be helpful in aiding development, the responsibility primarily rests with two people. One is the person themselves (everyone owns their own development). The other is the person they report to.
Skill and career development are needed now more than ever before. Why? Both the Great Resignation sparked by COVID and the aging of the Boomer generation mean there are more new people in all roles in an organization. It’s not unusual for anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the frontline staff and 20 to 40 percent of leaders to have joined the organization or to have been moved to a new role since March of 2020. When that many people are new to an organization, there are likely to be challenges in teamwork, which impacts effectiveness. It is not a matter of will, but of skill. It’s not always easy to find the time and resources to help people acquire the needed skills for their roles, but it is so important.
The best succession plan is to offer training and development to everyone, not just a select few. It’s typical for organizations to identify a few people whom they feel have the most potential for an expanded role. This is fine; however, my experience is the wider the net the better. There are people who, when provided with the opportunity to build their skill set, will flourish in unexpected ways.
A few tips:
- Have each person in leadership identify how their duties will be handled if for some reason they are not able to work for a while. Have them identify someone who can take their place (at minimum for a short-term) if they leave the organization.
- Ask each leader to list the skills needed for their role. Then, for each person they lead, ask them to share how that person’s current skill set measures up to what would be needed for them to be a potential replacement.
- Next, ask each person in leadership to create and share their skill-development plan for those they lead.
- As time goes on, recognize those leaders who do a good job developing people. A CEO shared that the ability to develop others is not a “nice-to-have” skill. It is a “must-have” skill for any leader to work in the organization.
Great leaders develop others. Great companies create a development-rich culture. Making it a priority to invest in each person’s skill and career development is a very effective way to attract and retain talent.
With Thanksgiving coming up, I’d like to close by expressing my gratitude for being able to do this work. Helping organizations develop leaders, become better places to work, and provide excellent service to customers and patients has always been my passion. I am also grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts here in this column. Thank you for reading, for your commitment to making your organizations great, and for all your work to make Pensacola a wonderful community.