Before we get going on this part of my conversation on succession planning, here are the links to part one and part two of the series.
The next piece is going to talk about the importance of figuring out the criteria for making the decision to move someone into a leadership position while following your succession plan, and just how big these decisions can be, both for the organization and the community at large. Most companies don’t consider the impact their choices might have where their company is located but, trust me, the implications can be huge.
D. The First Promotion
Previously I talked about the need for constant evaluation of potential talent being promoted to leadership positions, thus starting the process towards mentorship and even higher leadership levels. Below is the context for what I touched upon before, and both what happens now and what needs to happen in the future as it pertains to thinking about the long term process.
1. Evaluating all sides to promoting someone to management
For the process of promoting someone to leadership, there should be three steps to consider. Their importance isn’t close to being equal, yet they’re all still critical pieces:
a) Job Skills
As important as this is normally, reality proves that this piece has always been given too much weight when promoting someone into a leadership position. Technical skill rarely translates into someone becoming a good leader. Often when people understand the work very well, their empathy towards others who might struggle drops. This explains why athletes with incredible skill and bonafides on the court often fail when given the reins when it comes to managing other players. Still, it helps to have someone with a good knowledge of the job the employees do being promoted to a leadership position.
b) Social Skills
This skill is hit and miss, mainly because those in the hiring process have a horrible understanding of what “social” actually means when it comes to leadership. Someone who might exhibit traits of what we call a “social butterfly” don’t fit well as a leader for most positions in business. If the person previously in charge was judged negatively because that person had problems getting along with others, the belief that having someone a bit more gregarious might seem to be a wise decision. Instead, it leads to hiring by extremes.
I’ve always considered someone’s social skills based on how well they can work with other people within the department. Most of us know “that person” who everyone goes to for help, even if the supervisor or director is around. They don’t mind being asked questions, take the time necessary to help their co-workers, and almost never have anyone who complains about them in any way.
Those who fit the second category are often very good leaders, even if they still need mentoring and training to get to where you’re hoping they’ll be.
c) Potential Leadership Skills
Let’s say you’re pretty confident you’ve got someone strong on your radar based on the first two criteria of skills. You’re not done yet.
You might have to think hard about what else you’re looking for in a leader who you hope will help the company grow. For instance, I always kept my eye on people who seemed to go above the job they were hired for. Taking on special projects, or doing well if you need to tap them to do something out of the norm, is a great way of evaluating talent. Finding out that their knowledge actually extends beyond what you’ve taught them via training is another.
This is when you have to decide what great leadership is supposed to be. The way I see it, great leaders have vision; they’re not afraid to take chances; they trust the people they work with by giving them opportunities to show what they can do; they’re considerate of people’s feelings without pandering; they take care and support those who work for them. There are more qualities, but you can handle that one.
2. Different sets of circumstances
This particular criteria starts with the standard way people are usually promoted, then mentions two other areas that probably aren’t considered all that often… but should be.
a) What’s good for the department
This one seems obvious, even if that part is true the people hiring for this position fail more often than not. What I’ve seen is that the people who hire lower management positions often don’t know the job all that well. This means they’re going off gut feelings more than anything else; they’re hiring more for their needs than the needs of the department.
b) What’s good for the organization
This one is rarely considered, but it’s quite crucial for more reasons than just having a succession plan. The business world has changed to the point where fewer employees are taking jobs expecting to stay with those companies all that long. Companies have come to realize that as well, but instead of incentivizing their employees to want to stay longer they bring them in for their immediate needs and are already planning their replacement.
The organizations that seem to end up with better leaders are those who are able to grow and nurture talent from within. They find ways to make sure those people are challenged and shown their long term value to the company, and their loyalty is more often than not reciprocated. This is where great mentoring can come into play because organizations are always more than what new leaders see on the surface.
c) What’s good for the community
At the last hospital I was at, I lobbied for HR to recruit more minorities to work in the hospital. I was the only one who wasn’t either in housekeeping or the cafeteria, yet there was a significant minority presence in the area. Because I couldn’t get HR to do anything,
I rallied a couple of minority employees in housekeeping to decide who they thought had intelligence and talent in their community and have them come to the hospital and put in applications, then let me know they had done so. I promised I’d make sure some of these folk would get calls when positions opened up. Of course, I ended up hiring the first two black people who weren’t in those departments (there had been at least one non-black minorities before I got there), and what happened next was kind of remarkable.
Minorities in the community had always heard that the hospital wouldn’t even call anyone in for positions they applied for, let alone been hired. Once I hired a couple, there were a lot more applications at both of the hospitals I was working at. By the time I ended up leaving, more people of color were working there, and the hospital also had its first deaf employee, all of which helped the hospitals mission because now the hospital didn’t have to call someone in another city to handle translations for them.
Truth be told, it took two years before I learned what my presence at the hospital had meant for the minorities living in the community, since I lived over an hour away. I’ve continued to see how that type of thing works. When people see others who they perceive are like them in high positions, they tend to not only see those organizations in a better light but also believe they have a fair chance to gain employment at those companies.
3. What’s Still Needed
Now let’s talk about the critical steps needed to be part of any successful succession plan. We’ve covered proper training and mentoring and a few other things. The rest are outliers that might need consideration, depending on both the person and the long term leadership goals of the organization:
a) More technical training
I think of this like the training starship captains get on Star Trek. They learn all aspects of starships so that in an emergency they can take on any role if need be, or at least know the proper questions to ask when things start going wrong.
I liken this to my early training at the first hospital that employed me. I was in billing, but over time I learned auditing, verification, collections, admissions and emergency room processes. I was also familiar with the department that did the scanning, a process that was in its infancy in the 1980’s yet I knew how to do it if I’d ever been called on… which luckily I wasn’t. lol
The more your potential leaders know about the organization, the more valuable they become and the more valued they feel. Never let the learning process end, especially if the person is willing to learn.
b) More leadership training
I’ve heard the lament from a lot of directors about leadership training, saying “we have this every year and it’s always the same thing.” The real reason there’s leadership training every year is because upper management doesn’t do any followup after the sessions to see if managers are applying any of the concepts they learned during the training.
Once you decide to invest in an employee, you need to be prepared to go all the way. This means not only teaching them the ways you want them to lead, but allowing them to participate in outside training programs and even encouraging leadership courses at local colleges. No two leaders do everything the same, yet all good leaders follow the same principles. People buy into something when they can fully embrace it.
c) Continuity of mentoring
Mentoring is going to be big when it comes to training new leaders. Some of these ideas I’ve mentioned previously but not all of them in the same way I’m going to talk about them now:
Learning how to work with co-workers gives new leaders great training, both in what to do and what not to do. Some of their peers will have the skills that they want to learn and you want them to learn, while others will be deficient in one or more areas that they also need to see. How they work with others will give you another way to evaluate their skills and qualifications for upper management while also offering you a way to possibly figure out what else they might need.
2) Upper Management
I can’t stress this one enough. Not only does upper management have to buy into the plan but they’re going to need to be willing to show these potential leaders the way to address issues, even when they might not be all that sure themselves. I talked about this in part two; not only upper management within their own departments, but from the C-level will make significantly positive impacts of the thinking and loyalty of your leadership candidates.
3) Executive Coaching
I haven’t talked about this one yet but it could be a lifesaver for any organization. The last study showed that 40% of Fortune 500 CEOs use executive coaches and other strongly positive ROI numbers associated with executive coaching in general. Another way of looking at it is these coaches being more like mentors for your employees, since sometimes people in management need someone else to talk to that’s not part of the organization.
4) Professional Organizations
I mentioned this one in part two; technical and trade organizations exist in all types of forms, and it’s not only good for helping to train new leaders but helps them with networking and business social skills. It’s a great way of interacting with peers who do the same type of work they do, and I’ve found that often there are some highly regarded members who might make great mentors for them, which can only benefit your organization on the back end.
Only one more part to go, and I promise it’ll be much easier to take in and read more for pleasure than as a learning tool. 🙂
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