ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

December 1998

Once Around The Block

A Better Place To Live

Chevron Fuels-Up For The Future

Imagine What Creativity Can Lead To

Lessons Learned At The Water Cooler

by Maryann Brennan
Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Sites Unseen

Book Review

Views For A Change

John Runyan answers:
Clearly, you have been handed a challenging task in an area where you have little experience and few natural "In-House/On-Site" resources. However, you seem ready to plow into this new part of your job with the thoughtful, logical and methodical approach you bring to the rest of your work in total quality.

As you begin you ask, "What needs to be done?" and “What steps to follow?" As a fellow professional who also does not have extensive experience in the intricacies of formal succession planning, I believe that I can better offer you a broad roadmap on what needs to be done rather than the precise steps to follow.

Over many years of experience, I have seen "succession planning" that ranged from thinly-veiled, closed and secretive efforts by key leaders to ensure that their particular proteges and good buddies were well-positioned to move up the ladder—to clearly-stated, open and transparent processes aimed at engaging many people in their organizations in dialogue about the match between their ambitions and skills and the leadership openings that were to emerge in the years ahead. If you have been asked to develop succession planning more, in the first situation, I can only wish you good luck—and encourage you to prepare for murky, behind-the-scenes maneuvering, to sharpen your political skills and to even hone your own resume for what is likely to follow. If you have been invited to bring the best of your craft to something like the second context, I do have suggestions for you.
The key to healthy and successful succession planning is to make it an incremental building process that engages the best of a wide range of people in the organization in a constructive process. While top leaders eventually will make the choices about who to promote, an open and transparent process has a better chance of challenging and motivating more people—and avoiding the opaqueness and secretiveness that ultimately are divisive and destructive to organizations.

I think your work should begin with extensive discussions with the plant manager and any other top leaders in your overall business who will decide about the career development and promotions within your factory setting. You can play an important role in drawing out their answers to key questions such as:
- Where is your business and this factory part of it headed?
- What leadership positions will need to exist in one, three, five years?
- What experiences, skills and competencies will candidates for these jobs need to have?
- What training, job rotation, job enhancement and other career development opportunities do we have to offer these candidates?

Next, I suggest that you work with these top leaders to communicate their answers to these questions and plans for the business to all those who may be interested in leadership and management positions. At this stage, I see your role in two parts. First, ensuring that the information is accurately broadcast in a variety of verbal and written ways. Second helping all the prospects for managerial roles who want the information to obtain it and make sense of it for their own career planning. In particular, you and your change agent colleagues are in a strong position to make sure that people of color and women (who might not get all of the relevant details in traditional communication flows) actually are fully drawn into the information and planning loop.
Once this key information is shared with a broad range of prospects, I believe that the organization needs to encourage a whole set of dialogues between prospects and their managers. These conversations should include give-and-takes about:
- The nature of the leadership opportunities ahead
- Self-assessments from the prospects about their current aspirations, skills and competencies
- Feedback and evaluation from the managers about the prospects' track records to date
- What mix of job experiences, training and self-development would be useful, if the company were to invest in developing this prospect and if the prospect were to make a reciprocal personal investment
- An agreement to return to close the loop of this discussion, once the top leaders of the organization have made their decisions about where to invest their development efforts and dollars.

During this phase, you should serve first as a coach to the managers about how to inquire, candidly share their feedback and evaluations and then be open- minded and resourceful as they consider what would be useful in developing their prospects. Second, I see you as a consultant to those prospects who want help in clarifying their intentions and articulating what they bring to these opportunities.

Once these crucial preliminaries are completed, the relevant leaders and managers should come together to exchange the information that they have gathered, share their initial assessments and conclusions and begin to target those whom they seem as most promotable. Over time with your facilitation, they should develop a prioritized list of those people who will be notified of their potential promtoability and offered developmental challenges and opportunities to strengthen their capacities.

Individual managers should then bring these collective judgements back to those with whom they talked in the initial round—both those identified as high on the succession lists and those who did not make these priority positions.

The last step of this process should be a gathering of all involved to learn from the over-all succession planning process and to outline improvements for the next cycle in the coming years.
As you can see this more open, transparent and understandable-to-all process takes time and effort. However, I believe that ultimately it will best serve the current and future health of your organization.

H. James Harrington Responds

December '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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