Leading Sustainability and Succession


Developing Sustainability and Succession Management by Dr. Scott Yorkovich

Photo by clarita. Available at morguefile.com.

Yesterday, I met with a client to discuss strategies for evaluating new hires and to conduct annual checkups with all leadership personnel. Matt came to the meeting with very solid “starter ideas.” Three of us met for two hours to refine the strategy so that he could present the plan to his board in a couple weeks. Matt had several reasons for pursuing this initiative, and they all fell into two general categories: avoiding mistakes and developing talent.

Every organization makes occasional mistakes when adding people to the team. The individual looks great on paper. He sounds good and relates well in an interview. The recommendations of others are solid. However, in several months issues begin to surface. There might be problems relating to team members. Or, he has had trouble implementing strategic initiatives and producing results. Perhaps a character trait surfaces that undermines his leadership credibility. At this point, you are invested in the relationship and the natural reaction is to try to make the relationship work despite the issues.

We all know where this leads. These scenarios rarely turn around for the better. Ultimately, the person is let go. In the meantime, the organization has lost internal and external credibility. Depending on the level of the leader and his purview, thousands or perhaps millions of dollars have been wasted. The organization has also lost a year or more of momentum. We’ve all seen this happen and suffered the consequences of that poor hiring decision. Matt’s plan aims to avoid such mistakes.

Matt’s other goal is to invest in his leaders and develop that talent. Matt has keen vision and is able to see others’ ability and strategic applications of that talent. The problem, though, is that leaders rarely see themselves, their organizations, or their relationships accurately. We need resources and input from others to put all the pieces of the puzzle together correctly.

In Matt’s plan, annual “checkups” will measure organizational vital signs, assess the state of the leader’s vision, examine her self-leadership, and her strategic leadership of the organization. Matt will be developing a toolbox of resources including assessments (e.g. MBTI, EQ-i, StrengthsFinder, FIRO-B), a network of coaches, and training. These resources will help each leader create an accurate picture of self, their organization, and their leadership and then to create a strategic development plan.

Matt’s end goal is to develop sustainability and succession management. This requires having the right people on board and helping those people develop and be good stewards of their talents, skills, and resources.

Every organization needs to develop sustainability and succession management. The nuts and bolts of doing so are far too complex for any blog article, but a few key questions can get you started:
What do you look for in people? What are the characteristics of successful people in your organization? Avoid generic answers such as “hard worker” and “trustworthy.” Those are important traits and you can indeed include them in your qualifications. What you really need to focus on is the unique characteristics that lead to success in your unique organization. For example, in Matt’s case, an entrepreneurial spirit is vital for success at all levels in his organization. (That’s not necessarily true in other organizations.) You need to identify all the success traits for your unique situation.

How do you measure it? What will you do to measure those characteristics of success initially, and on an ongoing basis? Some characteristics can be measured objectively with assessments (e.g. MBTI, EQ-i). Others cannot. In either case, it is good to have two or three people involved in the initial and annual review process to increase the reliability of the interpretation. What tools and techniques should you use? It depends. You’ll need to secure a consultant to help you develop this strategy.

How do you use it? I cannot emphasize enough the importance of using such a program as a tool to develop people, NOT to get rid of people. When your focus is on developing people you are helping them to see themselves and their world more accurately. If there is a “fit” problem and that person doesn’t really belong in your organization, more often than not they will come to realize that on their own. They may need help in making the decision to move on, but they will be aware of the need.

When the focus is on developing people, the fear of being assessed and measured will lessen. They will feel validated and supported in their own leadership journey. They will be encouraged to explore and take risks. They will use their unique talents and skills to innovate new approaches to problems.

Here are some closing questions to consider:
Do you know what you are looking for in talented people?
Do you have an intentional and strategic method for finding talented people?
Do you have a plan to develop your team?

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