Interview with a Succession Planning Advocate

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of my former division leaders (ED) about her involvement in my organization’s succession planning initiatives.  Here’s a report of what I learned from her in our one-hour conversation.

While she was division leader, she and her direct line supervisors (known as Group Leaders or GLs for short) jointly created an Intern Group Leader program.  Training came in the form of job shadowing and mentoring.  Self-selected and identified candidates alike were paired with a direct line supervisor other than their own in a loose relationship consisting of periodic meetings.  The other GL tasks these interns were exposed to included mock ranking meetings, required reading of certain management books, and the opportunity to write one real performance appraisal for a willing group member.  She revealed one comical case study session on how to deal with employee crying with the interns.

Of the three rounds this Intern GL program was offered, she was able to promote four new GLs who were graduates of this Intern GL program (RN, BM, KL, BG).  She also particularly praised one of her GL’s mentoring abilities to produce solid graduates who were paired with her (LC).  She credits her GLs for coming up with the design which ultimately provided more tangible, concrete experiences.  Participation in this Intern Group Leader program helped some to realize this job was not a good fit for them and helped introduce potential candidates to the rigors of the job for a smoother transition to the promotion.  In retrospect, my former division leader’s one do-over would be to add more structure to the mentoring  meetings between Intern and Group Leader.  Another division leader implemented a more formal program in her area.  The Engineering Directorate interviewed both division leaders 3-4 years ago to gain insight into the possibility of implementing a similar program in their area.

At the Computation Directorate level, there was the Emerging Leaders Program that my former division leader helped to develop; she got to participate in the program as well.  The 6-8 month program’s strength was the opportunity to meet members of senior management who participants would not normally meet in the course of their careers.  Professional networks grew, especially after communication barriers came down about the second half of the second day of say a three-day training session.

At the department level, there was a strategic initiative committee on mentor trained succession planning, led by group leader KF.  The relatively inexpensive (~ $400) software, Succession Wizard, was purchased to help identify Polaris core competency strengths and opportunities for improvement for several key jobs throughout the department; it proved to be an invaluable tool for career advising when coupled with 360 input and the Succession Wizard results for the desired next job and how to get there through core competency development.

Also worth mentioning is the three-day Management Institute at Bodega Bay which, through hearing top senior management’s stories, provided perspective on how her troubles paled in comparison.

Finally, my former division leader firmly believes that succession planning is strategic leadership and not tactical management.

FYI, our Director recently announced partnership with the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business (40 participants selected by the PADs) and Texas A&M Bush School of Government to prepare the next generation of leaders with systems thinking.

So, there you have it.  A snap shot at one leader-coach’s experiences with succession planning at my organization.  Made me wish these types of programs were offered more consistently, more often, and to a wider audience.

Your thoughts?