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As a management consultant and former human resources executive the issue of staff development and “succession” has always fascinated me. I see it as an absolutely critical factor in the long term success of a business or organization of any kind. The interesting thing is that it has been a consideration for hundreds of years and I am not convinced we do much better than we did four hundred years ago. There are exceptions, but not many.
I see this as a particularly timely topic because once again the prospect of Steve Jobs' health and the effect on Apple is rearing its head again. You could argue that Jobs epitomizes “Apple” in a much more profound way than almost any other high profile CEO.
One of the greatest “myths” I encounter in my work is that the concept of succession is a “big” company issue. I actually see it in many ways as being even more critical to smaller organizations and entrepreneurial organizations than the “big guys”. My reasons-
There are a lot of reasons we do succession badly, just a few of the common ones that come to my mind are-
So what do we do about it?
As you might suspect I have a number of recommendations.
The interesting thing is that there are some great historical and even current models of what I am describing. Before automation and “professional management” people were groomed. In many countries the “heir” was sent away to be tested and trained beyond their father’s court. It served a number of purposes.
Another model I am a fan of is the military. We can criticize the military, but in reality being a member of the officer corps of the military means that exposure to leadership and management techniques is not an “elective”. Every serving officer goes through leadership training without exception. Advanced training is selective, they also don’t provide for “shelving”. Officers who are deemed to have limited advancement potential are usually counseled out. You don’t typically see “career” lieutenants, captains, and majors. They also tend to move them around and test them in multiple environments rather than leave them in one place.
We also see corporations including General Electric, PepsiCo, Honeywell, Intel and others that have incorporated rotation and development into their talent and human capacity management strategy. They “get” that technical skills only go so far.
This will probably make me unpopular with more than a few, but don’t assume that an MBA makes someone a leader or manager or that a CPA or certification provides the breadth and depth of skills to occupy a leadership role. Most of those offer conceptual skills. Look for a combination of conceptual and application and the candidate’s ability to articulate it.
I have seen organizations “requiring” a Master’s or an MBA to be a candidate for a management role. I see that as gross oversimplification. I want to know what they have learned and more importantly their ability to apply it.
I have a colleague who occupied a very senior executive position with a Fortune 50 organization. He never graduated from college. I always enjoyed his comment, “I have a deep appreciation for MBA’s and PhD’s, some of the smartest people who worked for me have one or more…”
I am not saying discard them, I am saying don’t accept them as rote.
For those that know me I am a student of history and legend. I absolutely loved and recommend to you the Jack Whyte Camulod series of novels. It charts a four generation plan to develop a king that in legend we know as Arthur and the steps and strategy that produced him.
In addition to an interesting study in human nature they also explore responding to a shifting political/religious/economic climate and even the evolution of warfare and technology. It is a fascinating read.
I sincerely believe that the skills that lead us through the next generation and beyond are going to be relational not technological. Technology will always play a critical role as a tool, but we have significant challenges ahead of us dealing with trust, the alignment of individual and organizational values, and even a redefinition of “profit” and “capitalism”.
The lack of engagement and level of employee dissatisfaction coupled with economic uncertainty has connections to everything from productivity and profitability to the costs and implications of delivering health care. Somewhere between 70 and 80% of the workforce describes itself as neutrally or unengaged in their work. Some describe this as the biggest challenge and opportunity we face in this new decade. I would count myself among them.
We need the right people in the right roles doing the right things….
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