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  • Teresa Carey

Is Your Leadership Succession in Jeopardy?

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

On a recent visit to NC to see my parents, I was shocked to learn that two of the world’s greatest fans of the long-running gameshow Jeopardy had given up their nightly ritual. When asked why they stopped watching a show they’d tuned into as faithfully as a Sunday morning church service, they explained they didn’t enjoy seeing new hosts every few weeks. It didn’t give them the certainty or predictability they had grown accustomed to. And, they just didn’t think any of them were the “right fit.”

With an abundance of time on my hands in my hometown of 2,000 I did a quick search and learned that my parents have company. It turns out more than one million loyal viewers have laid their longtime weeknight habit to rest. For two years the network knew about longtime host Alex Trebec’s illness that would tragically end his life. Why wasn’t a new host identified, onboarded and assimilated?

While this example of Jeopardy might be too mainstream, or feel disconnected, in reality it’s a much too familiar illustration of what happens when organizations fail to build a bench of qualified leaders to succeed top leaders who need time away, or more commonly resign or retire. I partner with top leaders who are justifiably concerned about losing key talent and their failure to effectively develop and keep those with high potential or the desired acumen to lead their organizations through the next wave of growth.

In the book Succession by Marshall Goldsmith, he urges CEOs to follow a few imperatives in the selection of their successor. These can be applied to a number of key positions and not just the CEO role. If you haven’t taken talent or “succession planning” to the level needed up to this point, 2022 is the next best time.

Taking a cue or two from Goldsmith, as well as my own work in organizations, consider beginning with the following steps:

  • Goldsmith argues the practice should be viewed as succession development and not succession planning. If you have a rigorous and effective talent development process, that’s what gets the job done, regardless of what the plan says. What are you actually doing in terms of providing coaching, mentoring and experiences to prepare leaders for their next role?

  • Before creating a plan and development strategy, have a simple and realistic way to identify the competencies and skills needed to align with your strategy. What skills are in check, and which gaps still exist? My clients know I’m a promoter of competency mapping. Those who have performed and know the current role intimately, or the Futurists and Strategists in your organization who can envision new roles that will be needed in the next one to three years, can best collaborate in this cause.

  • To get to the heart of assessing talent, perform a nine-box assessment on the current bench of key talent or HiPOs. Adding a handful of other assessments to this approach can unveil or help objectively validate or question any subjectivity yielded from opinions. Looking through the lens of both performance AND potential for team members who may be considered current and future leaders can provide additional insight into who should be the primary focus for development.

  • Have career management conversations with those identified for development. What are their aspirations to continue their growth? Where would they ultimately like to be within the organization? How do the assessments they’ve taken and the performance they’ve shown hold up against their desired path?

  • During development, manage the process by doing check-ins against goals within the targeted areas of focus. Measure the strides being made, then make course corrections about what needs to be adjusted. Applaud and reward milestones. Re-assess to determine how close the individual is to readiness for the new role.

As 2021 closes in, and 2022 is soon off to a running start, make sure your organization’s talent solution isn’t in jeopardy. By not proactively pursuing succession as part of your business strategy, you might find yourself with higher stakes in acquiring and retaining talent, and in the unenviable spot of playing double jeopardy without the answers needed.

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