Despite the acknowledgement by leaders and human resource chiefs that succession planning is a top concern and business imperative, much too little is being done about it, especially now as more Baby Boomers inch toward potential retirement and the recovering economy leads to more mobility of talent. There are several reasons, including inertia and wishful thinking that defections to other employers, deaths or illnesses, early retirements or dissatisfaction won’t happen – at least without sufficient notice. Another reason is fear of rocking the boat and the internal politics likely to arise as the succession planning process proceeds. This can be uncomfortable, disruptive and demoralizing to key players if a carefully considered process isn’t instituted.
From our experience, the important obstacles talked about less frequently are lack of confidence in the potential leaders coming up behind the incumbents – as well as leaders, particularly founders, who are too reluctant to “let go.” This article focuses on finding and preparing successors internally.
Based on our observations with clients and coaching assignments, the roots of expressed lack of confidence in naturally assumed successors may have a number of explanations, often distinct from insufficient professional competence including:
- Personal chemistry between incumbent and potential successor, despite clients or other stakeholder’s satisfaction.
- Work style or philosophy – Incumbent only feeling comfortable with a clone (often not the best choice).
- Incumbent wanting to keep the potential successor with clipped wings to continue in a support role to him or her.
Factors around “like” and “trust” as well as discomfort with loss of authority and professional identity are often roadblocks. Here are some approaches to use if the potential successor needs more seasoning or the primary obstacle is an incumbent's inflexible mindset or largely emotional issues.
5 Steps to Address Lack of Confidence in Potential Successors
1 - Surface what the actual issues are, avoiding stereotyping. Consider conducting workshops and individual coaching on understanding, bridging, and capitalizing on generational differences. Focus not only on the attributes but rather what’s behind them, implications and how to use related strengths.
2 - Use training in personal behavioral style to bridge gaps (using assessment tools such as DiSC or MBTI). Find commonalities and how to resolve differences
3 - Reward leaders and managers for training, coaching and mentoring, and if needed, teach them how to perform in these roles so the professional development that will instill more confidence will occur. Adjust the reward system to a results and merit basis rather than just time expended.
4 - Give younger professionals, managers and supervisors their own particular responsibilities (their own piece of the action) to prove themselves, have their own niche and the opportunity to shine as they develop their careers.
5 - Identify those in power that just won’t “let go” and devise strategies to deal with them. In these circumstances, it’s not about the successor.
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot www.pdcounsel.com
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