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Succession Planning? Start Here.

Many organizations are facing an impending loss of leadership as the last of the Boomers are getting ready to leave the workforce. With the start of a new decade upon us, now is the time to plan for the next generation of leaders. But where to start? If your company does not have a leadership development program in place, or if you haven’t really given much thought to how your company will make an orderly transfer of leadership responsibility, 2020 is the year to focus on this critical planning.

Below, I’ve outlined the first three steps in succession planning. So as not to get overwhelmed, address them slowly over the next six to twelve months and your organization will be ready to smoothly transfer the reins of leadership as the Boomers in your company begin to retire.

Step 1 – Consider who is next in line for leadership 

The outcome of this step is to determine where you want to concentrate your leadership development efforts in order to achieve the most ROI. Do you want to concentrate your efforts on those who have been with your organization the longest and therefore understand its inner workings and culture? Or do you want to concentrate on younger generations who are looking for professional development as a primary perk of employment and who may be with your organization longer, as a result?

To gain better insight, take a look at who you presently employ and what generational cohort they belong to. Currently there are four generations in the workforce, the Boomers, Gen X, the Millennials and Gen Z who are just entering the workforce. It is logical to assume that Gen X, being the next generation after the Boomers, would be next in line to lead in your organization, but there aren’t enough of them. In addition, in a recent study conducted by The Conference Board, of data collected from over 25,000 leaders across industries, it was determined that Gen X have been stymied from moving up the corporate ladder by Boomers who have stayed on the job longer than previous generations. What this means is that there are a number of generations in your workforce who have not been indoctrinated into leadership development or leadership roles.

Determining where to apply development efforts is a critical first step in determining your company’s leadership pipeline.

Step 2 – Determine What Skills Your Future Leaders Need

Once you determine who you’ll want to develop (as an aside, I advocate developing everyone as if they were going to be a future leader; a rising tide lifts all boats, after all) you’ll need to identify what skills they will need to support your organization in the future.

To accomplish this, there are three sources of data you’ll want to collect and consider:

 1 Look at the job descriptions of each of your current leadership roles to determine what skills are identified as necessary in today’s environment. This is just a baseline, as we know that today’s business environment is accelerating and changing at a pace never experienced before and what your organization needs today may not be what it needs tomorrow. Be sure to identify leadership skills and behaviors, such as managing a team of five or fiscal responsibility, and not job tasks such as monthly reporting. If possible, “read between the lines.” For instance the task of “standardize procedures to improve efficiency” really means having the leadership abilities of analyzing, forecasting, and planning.

2 Pay attention to what industry experts and your professional association are doing in the realm of the “future of work” and what is predicted for your industry. Some of the current concerns include artificial intelligence and robotics, consumer pressures (such as related to the environment), and changing buying habits – all of which will require your company to adapt. What do you need to start training your future leaders for, today?

3 Hold one-on-one interviews and ask your current leaders what prepared them for the role they hold today. Most often you’ll learn that formal development is not credited as much as mentorship, on the job learning, and a wide array of experiences.  These insights will help you to decide the best course of leadership development, for your organization, going forward. For example, you could put four future- leaders through an off-site leadership development program or you might choose to institute a job rotation program for everyone at your company. The two options might cost the same amount, but will return vastly different results.  You’ll want to thoughtfully consider how people truly learn leadership in your organization.

Note: Be very concerned if the majority of responses are, “I learned it at my previous job,” because that means you are doing nothing to develop leaders in your organization and are instead relying on other companies to develop them and hoping you can then hire them away. That “strategy” puts your company in a very precarious position; the topic of another article entirely.

Step 3 – Consider How You Will Develop Leadership Skills

Once you have identified the skills that should be developed in your future leaders, you’ll need to determine how to get them those skills.  Creating a formalized leadership development program is a time consuming and arduous process – which is why most companies forego it and instead cross their fingers and hope their future leaders will “appear” when needed.

Sending people out for leadership development can be cost-prohibitive and because of that, the number of individuals that get developed is generally far fewer than is needed by any organization. A smart option for most companies is to mete leadership development out to everyone, through easy-to-implement activities such as reading groups or lunch-and-learns, and on-the-job projects such as a multi-discipline initiative. Over time, small and consistent development opportunities will build the leadership skills your organization needs and alleviate succession planning concerns.

Once you have considered and acted upon these first three steps in succession planning, you’ll be well on your way to ensuring that your company has a leadership pipeline capable of continuing excellent work despite a rapidly changing business environment.

Note: This article was first published by Training Industry Magazine.