Who’s Next? What’s Your Company’s Plan for your Rock Stars?

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As Pete Townsend, guitarist for the legendary rock band ‘The Who’ said, “Then I’ll get on my knees and pray, we don’t get fooled again.” How many times have we been fooled by our succession-planning-by-prayer method? We’ve heard the conversations; they sound something like this: “It’ll be just fine, our CEO isn’t going anywhere.” “She LOVES it here!” Or maybe like this: “Jenkins is our ROCK STAR; he’s been in the Hi-Po program, and he’s ready for the next step!”

But CEOs don’t always stay, and if you don’t pay enough attention to Jenkins (and he truly is ready for the next step), he will find a path to it on his own.

Succession Planning is Hard

Why do we have such a hard time pinning down our succession planning? It is a tough nut to crack for several reasons.

  1. It’s boring “HR stuff” that we seem to be rolling out every single year. Amidst everything else going on, it can be difficult to obtain and maintain stakeholder interest for any decent amount of time.
  2. Succession plans are fragile. In many industries there is consolidation, or a high level of M&A activity, and it seems that there is a reorganization every other week.
  3. Succession plans are snapshots in time. As soon as they’re done, they’re potentially obsolete. Does that mean we can just skip them and cut out early? Sure, but you’re likely to get fooled again.

Succession Planning is Vague and Only Involves the C-Suite

Umm, no, that couldn’t be further from the truth. While we tend to think of succession planning as an executive level activity, a truly robust plan considers the talent across the entire organization. Can you identify those in your company who are rock stars at all organizational levels? Do you have a plan for filling out the skills and experiences of those rock stars, so that they’re ready for the next opportunity? Do you actually know what they want to do next? Succession planning should be a thoughtful activity that moves from the conceptual to the concrete. Identifying talent is one step. Grooming the incumbents for their next position is another.

Very few of us are currently holding the last job we’ll ever have. Unless one is close to retirement, extremely unlucky (in the mortal sense), or wins the lottery – we will likely have another job at some point in time. Think about the last time that you were recruited away from a role. You may not have even been looking for a new opportunity. Rock star talent is actively sought; we all know this. As leaders, we need to be having the “stay” conversations with our rock stars on a regular basis. This cannot happen only after the rock star has received a competitive offer.

Identifying the key talent across the organization and grooming the incumbents are critical to being able to create a concrete succession plan.

Ok, I Can Do That, But Shouldn’t I Be Looking Outside the Company for Successors?

Sure. Looking outside for talent is important, but a robust succession plan can’t be solely predicated on external talent. The biggest and best investment that you can make in building a truly effective program is in developing your leaders.

Lastly, succession planning is an ongoing, organic process. It’s not an event. You can’t simply “tick the box” and call it good. This work is hard, and it’s a perpetually moving target. It happens at all levels of the organization, and involves the people who are currently sitting in your leadership roles. Success means engaging your talent and developing them (both in-position and for future opportunities), while aligning those efforts with their career desires. Knowing what they want is critical.

Meaningful succession planning means paying attention to all of these things and realizing that you’re not going to win them all. Winning them all isn’t the most important thing. Knowing your rock stars and paying attention to them is critical. If you can do those things, it’s likely that you won’t get fooled again.

Don’t leave the plan for your rock stars to chance. Register for the ATD Succession Planning virtual workshop on December 9, where you will receive tools to assess your organization and design your plan.