Part 4 of ETG’s Leadership Transition Series

Succession planning is a joint effort between multiple layers of leadership. Even though the objectives are relatively concrete in theory, the planning process often seems abstract. 

While private and public companies may encounter their own challenges when it comes to succession planning, both rely on key actors to take ownership of the process.

While these roles may look different from one company to the next, each play a necessary part in moving your organization’s succession plan forward.

The Board as Criteria Setters

In a publicly traded company, the board has a great deal of skin in the game. Failure to plan for leadership transition is a risk no board would knowingly take. Therefore, the board should be involved in all aspects of succession planning.

Ideally, a selection or nomination committee should exist at the board level. Their mandate must be to define the criteria for the successors to critical roles. They should also communicate perceived risks, assist in assessing talent, and hold the CEO accountable for their role in executing succession planning within the organization.

In order to be effective, these committees should have a strong ability to make objective decisions. Furthermore, the processes by which succession management decisions are made should be transparent and clearly defined.

The CEO as Decision Maker

The CEO is ultimately the decision-maker in matters pertaining to succession planning.

Working closely with the selection committee, the CEO should synthesize their criteria and assessments into actionable tasks for internal teams. The CEO should also take ownership over whether these tasks progress at an acceptable pace.

Furthermore, the CEO should be instrumental in moderating and leading decisions around the selection, development, and recruitment of successor candidates.

The C-Suite as Team Coaches

Just as an NFL coach works to develop their teams to their full potential, executive management must be focused on developing their talent pipeline.

Executive leadership should maintain a coaching mindset with potential successors. This begins with detailed performance assessment that illuminates the strengths and development opportunities of each candidate. These assessments should form the basis of each candidates’ development programs.

These candidates should be re-assessed on a regular basis to monitor progress and performance. Executives can use these opportunities to course-correct, or further challenge leading talent.

Over time, close coaching will reveal whether the current talent pool contains suitable successors. Executives can make the call whether to double down efforts to coach in-house talent—or trade in talent from another team.

Is your leadership team equipped to prepare up-and-coming talent for their next roles? Our Leadership Transition Coaching helps future leaders cultivate the right skills for success.

HR as Development Leaders

While executive leadership is preoccupied with selecting and mentoring successors, HR plays a key role in leadership development programming.

HR must work with the executive team to identify development opportunities for high-potential candidates that will have meaningful benefits for the business. Using assessment and performance review data, HR can work with the executive branch to develop and approve enriching experiences for up-and-coming talent.

Take, for example, Eli Lilly’s bi-annual action learning program. The program is a six-week session organized by HR and Eli Lilly’s line managers. Its purpose is to focus the attention of eighteen high-performers on a strategic business issue identified by the CEO. The group is exposed to experts, thought leaders, and customers to gain immersive experience with finding high-level solutions for the business.

Line Managers as Talent Culture Ambassadors

A great succession plan isn’t simply written on a whiteboard in the executive boardroom. It permeates the culture of the entire organization.

Line managers must be trained to lead with development in mind, looking for opportunities to challenge and develop their teams’ skill sets. 

These managers can work with HR to provide input on development programming that supports the talent pipeline and motivates people in their current roles.

Make it an expectation that line managers should be always be actively seeking to enrich their teams’—and their own—ability to benefit the business. As ambassadors of a culture of ongoing development, managers influence their teams to continuously pursue the extent of their potential.

The responsibility to prepare for succession rests on the highest levels of leadership, but the effort itself is shared by many. By making leadership transition planning a clearly defined responsibility for each of these roles, it’s easier to hold ourselves and others accountable.

If your organization could benefit from a new perspective on your succession planning systems, I encourage you to contact my team and I at East Tenth Group today.