Post by Patricia Hewitt, contributing Women On Business writer
Transition – passing the reins of power from one set of hands to another. Looked at in another way, it means BIG changes are on the way, and anytime there are big changes, there is always the opportunity to make a fool of oneself or prove that early training in manners and deportment do make a difference. What makes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful transition? Planning, planning, and more planning.
During any period of transition, the challenge is to keep your eyes on the road ahead of you and in your rear view mirror, all at the same time. This becomes much easier if you have planned for your transition – yes; it means that you should know who your successor would be in the event you leave your current position. It also means that you should insist that your management reports also know whom their successor would be should they leave their current position.
Succession planning is one of those things that most people shy away from like looking in the mirror first thing in the morning after a late night out. Quick glance – oops – that’s enough. I believe this is one of the most difficult aspects of being a manager because it requires a great deal of confidence and trust. In the 18th Century, Suzanne Necker wrote, ‘Fortune does not change men, it unmasks them.’ No truer words were ever written, so if your good fortune allows you to move onto a better position, the manner in which you handle the change will say a lot about your managerial capabilities.
I believe one of the traps we fall into when we are succession planning is to try and find someone just like us. I had a boss tell me once that he had identified my successor (should I choose to leave), but that he could never find one for himself. The message was that there was just no one that could take his place. True to his words, when he left, there was no successor in place and therefore, the transition was a disaster.
The other trap we fall into is that we are somehow required to name our successor. Sometimes this works fine, as in the “heir apparent” school of thinking, but it can also result in setting up someone to be the political target of every malcontent that works for you. Cooler heads might identify the one or perhaps two people that would be suitable for their position and get them involved in the work they do. This allows for some quality observation and low-key vetting of an individual’s capabilities.
Therefore, when considering a transition now or in the future, try to take a step back and look at your position as objectively as you can. Consider what qualities and skills you would look for if you were to hire someone to take your position. Are there existing staff members who possess or could acquire these attributes? Should the responsibilities of your position change or remain the same? A good litmus test is to take a vacation and delegate more work than you normally would to the individual(s) you’ve identified as potential successors. See how they handle it and handle you – do they make you feel confident or threatened?
The question of proper succession planning carries with it some amount of risk. There is the risk of selecting the wrong individual, the risk of selecting someone who prefers you exit your position sooner than later, and the risk of looking for a clone rather than a compliment. However, none of these risks outweigh the damage that can be done to your company and/or division by not taking any action at all. Simply leaving an organization to find it’s own way will inevitably result in wasted time, money, and morale. Better to find that trust and confidence every great leader needs and put it to work for the betterment of your company and yourself.