Tricks and Treats of Succession Planning

Pumpkinds

It’s that scary time of year again. What ghost may come out of the closet and spook someone? Who is seen as both an angel and devil? Is the path we’re on a trail of terror? No I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m talking about succession planning. Just like our favorite October holiday, it is an annual tradition that tends to involve a lot of costumes, smoke, and mirrors. But there is a better way. HR plays a key role in identifying the tricks to make succession planning a treat. This mean focusing on your purpose, the process, and a playbook.

The trick? Be clear on the purpose. Before you deploy the next succession planning session, ask yourself, what is the purpose of this exercise? In fact, I encourage you to apply the 5 Whys. If your purpose is that it’s important to know our talent, ask why. Do that five times so you can strip it down to a skeleton and see what is essential to your organization. For some companies, the purpose may be accelerating people into leadership roles. But if your executive turnover is really low, beware- that strategy may come back to bite you. The last thing you want is to build a pipeline of supply with no demand. For others, it may be diversifying the skills and experience of your leadership team. Or perhaps it’s intentional rotation of talent across business segments. The treat? Aligning with your organizational priorities and gaining support from leaders. Too often succession planning lurks in the shadows of executives’ minds. A clear purpose makes it an essential business process that earns agenda time throughout the year.

The trick? Simplify the process. Be honest. If you explained your succession planning process to people outside the business world would it make any sense? I actually shared our process with my stylist once and her reaction was priceless- ranging from eye rolling  to confusion to horror. The same thing our managers feel when they see the Frankenstein processes we’ve built. We can dismantle this monster with a few simple questions. What data do we need? How will we use it? What can we measure? Why does it matter to business results? The treat? Moving from labels to data insights. One way to make this pivot may be to collect data on executive jobs filled in the last 12-18 months. What percent were filled internally vs. externally? For the internal candidates, what was their 9 box rating? For those filled externally, had internal successors been identified? Were they considered? Why or why not? This can be an insightful discussion and help leaders move the conversation from “he’s high potential” to “she’d make great future leader, but her lack of marketing experience is holding her back.”

The trick? Build talent playbooks. The first spell I’d like to cast is to banish all succession planning binders. I’m quite sure business strategies, customer engagement, and financial forecasting aren’t managed in a binder in your organization. Succession planning needs to be an active, interactive process and we can help leaders keep it alive by creating some simple plays for them to run. Tips on how to talk to their team about  performance and potential. Ideas on how to create meaningful development plans. Resources to help with mentoring and sponsorship. Forums to discuss cross team volunteer opportunities. The treat? Seeing succession planning earn the mindshare and timeshare of other core business processes.

Succession planning doesn’t have to be scary. It definitely should not be a life-sucking process. We can move this key talent process out of the dark by shining a light on purpose, process, and a playbook. So treat yourself- and your business- to a simpler, more sustainable, and more impactful approach to succession planning.

 

 

 

Your Best Work Can Be Done From Anywhere

Work from home

My dad was a 20+ year IBMer. He was an employee of the blue suit era – where people whispered if you wore striped ties. Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner worked hard to teach the IBM elephant how to dance, transforming the company from a computer manufacturer to a solutions provider. This transformation was not easy nor was it without casualties, including IBM’s culture of “employment for life” and pensions – painful changes for my dad’s generation. Gerstner recognized that IBM had to change it’s fundamental economic model and re-engineer how they did business or go out of business. IBM successfully branded and built their solutions business, and is pioneering exciting AI work with its Watson system. On IBM’s homepage they promote the power of Watson:

With Watson, you have the AI platform for business. Uncover insights, engage in new ways, make decisions with more confidence and do your best work with Watson, today.

IBM choose not to put its latest business disruption on their website: the decision to end remote working. On May 19th IBM announced, “In many fields, such as software development and digital marketing, the nature of work is changing, which requires new ways of working.” The problem IBM has identified is the need to drive greater innovation, improve communicate and make faster decisions. Their solution is to require all of their almost 400,000 employees to work on location. I strongly disagree with this decision, and think it is counter intelligent. Instead I would advise IBM and all companies to follow Watson’s recommendations: uncover innovation insights, engage in new ways of communications, and make decisions with confidence so that employees can do their best work wherever they work.

Uncover innovation insights. IDEO is an award winning product innovation company. Their success comes using empathy to uncover insights. By observing user behavior and putting yourself in the end-user’s shoes, you collect invaluable insights. Remote teams can help companies know and go to your customer across a large footprint. Leverage vs. eliminate remote teams to foster better customer collaboration. Innovation comes from shifting from “we can’t” to “we can if…”. It thrives when we welcome diverse perspectives and collaborate under constraint. Remote teams live in this petri dish and can help companies create best practices for innovation.

Engage in new ways of communication. The article News Flash From IBM. There IS a Downside to a Remote Workforce points out that it is more challenging to communicate on remote teams. It is hard to have impromptu conversations or to drop in on peers when you work remotely. But does harder mean impossible?  Global employees communicate across a complex network of remote customers, suppliers, and contractors everyday. Instead of opting out of this challenge, companies can and should apply the same principles for working with global teams and use them with remote workers. Create clear strategies. Connect the team’s work to those strategies. Check in frequently and personally with individual team members. Create space for unstructured, impromptu discussions in your calls and meetings. Invest in building good leadership and communication skills vs. dismantling remote work structures.

Make decisions with more confidence. Watson’s power is its ability to analyze multiple sources of information and derive insights and recommendations. On its website, IBM states, “Watson can understand all forms of data, interact naturally with people, and learn and reason, at scale.” The good news is teams, remote or co-located, don’t need a supercomputer to improve their decision making skills. We can understand data by staying objective and focusing on facts. We can interact with others to understand connections, implications, and lessons learned. We can learn and reason by using industry trends and experts in our field, then applying our knowledge of our company and customer to form a hypothesis. Good leaders know success doesn’t come from obsessing about the right decision but rather from making timely, confident decisions.

Watson is an incredible breakthrough for IBM and has thousands of exciting applications, including cancer research, aviation, and energy.  The Toronto Raptors are partnering with Watson to analyze the play of their roster, determine what skills are missing, and recommend the best players that suit its needs. Watson will include both basketball skills and team camaraderie skills in its analysis. I’d encourage IBM and all companies to apply this same logic to its workforce. Given it’s current employee roster and skill set, is it more advantageous to focus on clear goals, expectations, and engagement for remote teams or to let them quit and work for a competitor? IBM- and all employers- have the ability to uncover innovation insights, engage in new ways of communications, and make decisions with confidence so that employees can do their best work. Let’s make the intelligent decision.