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When Planning for Leadership Succession, Focus on the Talent

Planning for Leadership Succession

During your strategic sessions, when planning for leadership succession, focus on the talent. Succession planning is on everyone’s top strategic objectives. And you must choose the right successors for each leadership position. The leadership team comprises of a variety of talent, skill, and experience. So how do you choose successors to the top-level leaders successfully?
Below are five talents to look for as you look for successors to the top positions of your organization:

The Talent of Leadership.

You can argue that leaders are born or made. I believe it’s both. The best leaders are those who are naturally good influencers of people which is the top talent to look for in your senior leadership team. Leaders take the initiative to lead. They are excellent decision makers with the information they have available at the time. They also own their decisions and consequences of those decisions.
Influential leaders don’t “tell” others what to do. They “coach” others to discover the answers for themselves. Top leaders must trust their employees that they know how to perform the job the company hired them to do.
Lastly, it is crucial to understand the difference between leadership and management. Leaders impart the vision to others. Managers execute the vision. Leadership is a talent. Management is a skill. The best leaders are also successful managers. Top leaders must be willing to develop their leadership talent and to enhance their management skills.

The Talent of Communication.

The talent of communication includes the ability to communicate well in every area and in a variety of ways. Good communicators are well spoken and can also communicate successfully in writing. They have the common sense to discern when an in-person conversation is better than an email or voice mail based on the circumstances. They choose words wisely to ensure others understand the message correctly and avoid misunderstandings or hurting other people’s feelings.
Excellent communicators listen well and repeat what others say to ensure they understood the message. Leaders who possess this talent mold their communication style to others’ styles to ensure a successful interaction. They take the initiative to understand the communication style of those they interact with and confront situations as they arise.

The Talent of Strategic.

Top leadership must be strategic about the future on how to direct the company’s endeavors. Collaborating with the other top leaders as a team, leaders make decisions that impact all stakeholders. People who possess the Strategic talent, according to the CliftonStrengths themes, create alternative ways to proceed after they explore at all the options.
Even when a company has a vision, without strategy at the top level of leadership, the company wonders around and does not accomplish its goals nor the vision. As a strategic team, they select members based on the knowledge gaps and needs of the team. It is crucial for the future success of the organization to choose the right successors for the top positions of the company.

The Talent of Includer.

Not one person can lead an organization without consulting and including the rest of the team—not even the CEO. Therefore, it is imperative for a Senior Leadership Team to look for leaders who include others in the decision-making process and that listen to others’ perspectives and points of view. Just as important, once a decision is made, whether everyone agreed or not, the team must support the decision.
According to the CliftonStrengths themes, those who possess the talent of includer simply “accept others.” Even though this talent is important, on one hand, the team must ensure the entire staff is represented at the leadership level. On the other hand, they must ensure that confidential information does not get out prematurely to the staff in an effort to “include everyone.” Doing so can present legal risks to the company if they share information that is not appropriate to be shared until the right time.

The Talent of Responsibility.

Top leaders must accept the huge responsibility it is to lead others. Some people only want the title but don’t want to take on the additional responsibilities that go with the title. Ensure your C-Level leaders embrace and own the responsibility given to them. They hold each other accountable.
Leaders with the talent of responsibility get things done. And precisely because they do what they say, they typically don’t understand others who don’t follow through. For them this is inconceivable. That’s when the communication gift comes in handy to understand others who don’t possess that talent and talk about it.
I will leave you with these related questions as you search for successors:

  • How deep is your talent pool? Could you find successors to the top leadership positions internally?
  • Are you focusing on depth of talent to include talent, skill, experience, and expertise to fill the open seats?
  • Are you looking for people who share your core values and the skills to match the business needs?

Succession planning is a great way to introduce new set of skills and expertise you may have been missing in the past. Therefore, when planning for leadership succession, focus on the talent. I hope searching for these five talents in your top leaders’ successors helps you form a successful team.

Strategic Succession Planning Is a Must

Strategic success planning is a must

If your institution is experiencing the effects of the Great Resignation, then strategic succession planning is a must. Our clients across the nation experience the challenges that come from the transition between the legacy employees and the younger generation moving into all positions of the organization. The key to a successful transition is to have a strategic succession plan for all positions in the institution.

Below are five strategic steps you can take to successfully transition successors into their new positions and keep legacy employees happy in their last months with your institution:

1.      Choose Successors Wisely.

The first step before you even start the succession planning process is to choose the specific successors for each key position wisely. Start by asking these questions:

  • Who is retiring in our organization within the 12-24 months? Make a list with name, title, department, approximate retirement date. Often, you will find out through casual conversations. You can also ask everyone the same question during the performance review: Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?
  • Are those retiring occupying leadership positions?
  • Are other individuals in key positions throughout the institution who possess unique knowledge retiring?
  • Add the following columns to your list: Immediate Successor (in case of an unexpected departure or death), and Strategic Successor (the planned successor). Enter the name of the potential successor on each column. It is acceptable to enter more than one employee who will fulfill only one of the functions the current employee is performing in their current role.

2.      Update Job Descriptions.

Now that you have your list completed, it’s time to focus on job descriptions. The top benefits of establishing job descriptions are to:

  • Establish accountability so each employee knows exactly what they’re responsible for.
  • Clarify roles so everyone knows what others do in the company.
  • Ensure jobs are classified properly based on federal and state labor laws.
  • Include your organization’s core values as a best practice. Doing so prompts each employee to assess if their core values align with the organization’s.

3.      Formalize Performance Review Process.

Now that you have job descriptions established, it’s time to hold employees accountable to perform the jobs you hired them to do. Your employees deserve to know how they’re doing and their potential career opportunities within your company.

The performance review process starts with an employee self-evaluation to assess how they feel they performed their job in the past year, what training they received and what they want to learn in the upcoming year, what other areas they may be interested in learning about, and where they see opportunities to improve. Providing employees’ input to managers help them to write a meaningful performance review.

Lastly, as a best practice, have the “money conversation” separately from the actual performance review meeting. This takes away the anxiety of the employee wanting the manager to “get to the raise, please.” Both parties can then focus on truly evaluating the employee’s performance and planning for their future with the company.

4.      Establish Clear Accountabilities and Expectations.

The next step is to establish clear accountabilities for both the person leaving and the designated successor. Create milestones during the time they work on the formal transition of duties. Depending on the position, the transition should start anywhere from 3 months before departure to two years before the person retires such as in the case of the President or CEO.

The person leaving or retiring is accountable to transition all the duties that are unique to the position and that only that person knows. The successor is accountable to learn and put into practice the new responsibilities within a specific timeframe. In the case of a CFO position, for example, where there are tasks that are only done quarterly, you need more time to ensure the successor has enough opportunities to practice. Of course, you should also have other backups to assist the successor with the new duties after the employee retiring leaves.

If you are promoting from within, then you also need to create a succession plan for the employee moving into the new role who’s position is now vacant.

5.      Implement Mentoring Program.

There is another aspect of the succession planning that is extremely important too: Mentoring the successor. For example, if an experienced Ag lender is retiring, it is important to mentor the successor on how to deal with the various customers’ loans as well as their individual relationships. The retiring employee must transfer the “knowledge of the customer relationship” to the successor in the best way possible, so your customers have a seamless transition.

Successors can have more than one mentor in their new role. For example, if a successor is transitioning to the Director of IT or CIO type position, the successor may need a technology mentor and a leadership mentor depending on the person’s leadership experience.

If you want a successful transition and positive experience for both the person leaving and the successor, then strategic succession planning is a must. Going through these steps above will ensure you have a good base to start from. I hope these ideas help you in your succession planning journey for your organization.

Books by Marcia Malzahn