By Keith E. Robinson, Ed.D.
“Without light, there could be no “Line of Sight” (LOS).”
Regardless of industry or sector, “succession planning” is an active process, requiring managers to have a clear ‘line of sight’ (LOS) that allows them to establish clear objectives and take deliberate action. Given the dynamic nature of modern organizations, managers can no longer afford the luxury of simply hoping they find suitable candidates to fill key roles. Frequent turnover and transitions, an aging workforce, and economic instability are but some of the forces that create situations of uncertainty with respect to job longevity, even at the highest levels of an organization. As such, succession planning should be recognized as an active, ongoing process that requires continuous preparation and monitoring.
Many organizations lack succession plans, a situation that sets them up for various types of failure. The only viable option is to commit to instituting a succession plan, acting with a keen sense of purpose, strategic direction, urgency, and unwavering commitment. Succession planning success requires a proper sense of strategic direction coupled with having the right controls in place, such as policies and guidelines that are tied to measurable outcomes. Engaging the organization’s stakeholders in the implementation and the execution of the succession plan is critical. The executive leadership team must ensure that the plan is executable; announce the plan; properly introduce the plan, genuinely validate its need; and effectively communicate the mission, vision and objectives of the plan with determination and firmness.
Initiating a succession planning process is not easy. Difficult questions must be asked, both by and about management and other stakeholders. This type of introspection, analysis, engagement, and deliberate action is required to shed true light on the situation at hand, and to honestly answer the following strategic questions: Where are we now with our succession efforts?; Where do we want to go?; How are we going to get there?; and, What key action steps are needed to assist us with our forward progress?
Where are you now with your succession efforts?
Take action. If your organization has not constructed a succession plan, why? And, if not now, when? Succession planning has a future orientation, but it also has a sprouting present orientation. Thus, organizations must be doing something right now. They must first admit that they have no plan; then, they must be honest about why there is no plan and what it will take to develop one, and when one will be developed. They must then be honest about their available resources (financial, physical, human and organizational) and capabilities (technological) that are available to construct, implement and sustain the plan either in the short- or long-term. The plan needs to provide a clear line of sight about identifying, assessing, and developing future leaders and senior managers, as well as individuals to fill mission essential positions and roles throughout the organization, both short and long term. The plan should be strategically aligned with training and development activities.
Where do you want to go with the plan?
Dr. Peter F. Drucker once said that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” Where an organization goes with the plan has a lot to do with its view about the plan. This is a critical question that must be strategically answered by the organization, and at every tactical and operational level of the organization for the plan to make a difference. This kind of deep organizational questioning and answering is usually stimulated and facilitated by conducting an internal analysis which lets an organization know what it can do, and what strategic decisions must be made and what strategies should be put into place to ensure the plan’s success.
According to Barney and Hesterly, authors of the text book titled “Strategic Management and Competitive Advantage” (3rd Edition), an internal analysis enables an organization to identify its own strengths (advantages) and weaknesses (disadvantages); they discover that the strengths are only meaningful when they assist the organization with meeting its sought after needs. Weaknesses refer to any limitations an organization may be confronted with when implementing its strategies.
By engaging the entire organization, potential weaknesses about the plan can be identified; these weaknesses were probably not visible to the senior management team prior to undertaking the succession planning process. It will ultimately enable the organization to uniquely position itself in the succession planning process, and give the organization the line of sight needed to identify core resources (tangible/intangible), core capabilities, competencies, and the strategic value of each one. Tangible resources (financial position, technology, and internal expertise) are assets that can be seen, touched and quantified. Yet intangible resources are important too, and range from intellectual property rights to reputation and culture (leadership, support, process flexibility, technical knowledge, employee engagement, innovation, and morale, commitment to succeed and implement the plan, and overall focus).
These are critical strategic factors that must be considered. The key to the success of an internal succession planning analysis is the ability to identify the value proposition of the plan, which highlights an organization’s future and offers stakeholders a sustainable and strategic sense of direction to take the next steps.
How are you going to get there?
An organization’s success depends on the action and approach it takes to get where it’s going. Strategic actions are aimed at creating value for an organization.
Bill George, the highly venerated co-author of the book entitled: “TRUE NORTH” and former CEO of Medtronic and business professor of Harvard University, has identified key facets and priority actions of a leadership development plan; these are equally relevant to succession planning. These key concepts and tasks include: “knowing the organization’s authentic self” to attain a measure of organizational-awareness of where they are and where they intend to go; 2) “authentic leadership and support”; discovering what it means to be authentic and committed to formulating and successfully implementing a short and or long term succession plan; 3) discovering what will influence and motivate the plan’s success (champion the plan); empower employees; solicit and encourage employees’ input and participation. Make the success process desirable and inclusive as a means of aligning and moving the organization in the exact direction it should be headed, and intends to go— true North!
Aligning succession implementation strategy with deliberate action
Management experts contend that aligning employees with an organization’s larger strategic goals is critical if organizations hope to manage their human capital effectively and ultimately attain strategic succession success. An important component of attaining and sustaining this alignment is for the managers to have a genuine “line of sight” (LOS) with their organization’s strategic objective. This illustrates how the translation of calculated organizational goals into tangible results requires that employees not only understand the organization’s strategy, but also accurately appreciate what actions are aligned with realizing that strategy.
Using recent empirical evidence, theoretical insights, and tangible examples of exemplary organizational practices provides leaders with a comprehensive view of LOS by showing how it can be created, how it can be enhanced or stifled, and how it can be effectively managed. Further, integrating LOS with current thinking on employee alignment to help managers more effectively benefit from understanding succession planning and the human capital potential dynamic.
Keith E. Robinson,
Ed.D. is the Manager of Staff Development and Organizational
Effectiveness who works in the Center for Education and Training,
responsible for all management training and general skills development
for the D.C. Courts 1000 plus employees. He has been employed by the
D.C. Courts since May 1999 and has previously served on active duty in
the United States Navy.
©2012 K Edward Robinson & Associates, LLC. All rights reserved.