Career Development and Succession Planning

National Career Development Month?

Right on the heels of our eighth annual LIVE2LEAD:Harrisonburg event, I noticed a social post from a large manufacturing company that we do a fair amount of work with, calling attention to “National Career Development Month.” Seeing that from quite a few organizations I’ve been employed with over the years would have definitely left me scratching my head but I’ve seen firsthand how this group has invested in developing their team members so I felt like it was worth looking into… I was a bit curious though since professional and leadership development has been our primary focus for nearly a decade yet I had never heard a single reference to an entire month being dedicated to this…

As I dug through a few links from an internet search, I found this from “Awareness Days”:

November is national career development month. Established by the National Career Development Agency the month long awareness campaign encourages career development professionals to celebrate career development. The National Career Development Association (NCDA) provides professional development, publications, standards, and advocacy to practitioners and educators who inspire and empower individuals to achieve their career and life goals.

Uh, wait a minute… Am I the only one who finds it more than a little odd that “National Career Development Month” was established by the “National Career Development Agency”? That doesn’t seem much different than a handyman declaring a “hire me to build your deck” month! But I digress…

Around the same time I saw that post, I also noticed one from my nephew (who had just accepted his first position as a supervisor) that read, “Poor leadership is building a great team and doing everything in your power to hold onto control. It makes no sense to recruit the best people and tie their hands by not giving them the freedom to perform.”

I couldn’t resist and replied with this in the comments: “Make no mistake, POOR leadership will never build a great team. Some of the folks on that team may become great but they will not stick with poor leadership long enough to become a great team. Either the poor leaders will move on or the great team members will…” My point was to emphasize the importance effective leadership has on building strong teams and organizations - and this never just magically happens! But since there’s a National Career Development Month, it should all be OK…

 Make no mistake here, my sarcasm isn’t meant to downplay the importance of intentional career development. In fact, Cindy and I dedicate an entire lesson of our Emerging Leader Development course to providing tools for each participant to create a strategic growth plan. Further, providing opportunities for career development can play a bigger role in attracting and retaining candidates than salary!

An article I found on referenced a LinkedIn Workforce Learning Report showing that “94 percent of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn.” I also found an article from citing a survey that showed “70% of the respondents indicated that job-related training and development opportunities influenced their decision to stay at their job. The Millennials had the most significant results, with 87% of them citing access to professional development or career growth opportunities as being very important to their decision of whether to stay or go.”

OK Wes, where are we going with this? So glad you asked! For any organization to be successful over the long haul, there had better be some sort of business succession plan in place. And without being intentional about how career development opportunities are provided, whether there’s a month on the calendar dedicated to it or not, a smooth succession is unlikely. As we move forward here, we’ll look at different areas that need attention in order to develop an effective succession plan, who should be involved in that process, and different tools we can use to ensure our plan yields a measurable return on investment!

Great Teams Depend on Great People!

Career development is critical for each and every one of us! And like I just shared, a poor leader will never build a great team. Great people may be part of that organization, at least for a while, but poor leadership will never change a group with great people into a great team. As individuals, we cannot assume we’ll continue to develop just by doing what our role requires of us each day; we must be intentional about that. The same is true for how we work to provide career development options for the people team members we’re responsible for leading.

Since you’ve invested the time into studying pages like this, I’m going to assume that you’ve eliminated the chance of being lumped into that poor leadership category. And for the sake of time, I’ll also assume that you’re being intentional about providing the leaders on your team with the tools they need to be successful. While I believe that’s a critical piece for any organization to thrive in the short term, it’s not always enough over the long haul. In fact, the future has an uncanny way of sneaking up on us!

As I did a bit of digging into what we’re working through here, I found on article from the Harvard Business Review called The High Cost of Poor Succession Planning that opened with this statement: 

Many large companies fail to pay enough attention to their leadership pipelines and succession practices. That leads to excessive turnover at the top and destroys a significant amount of value—close to $1 trillion a year among the S&P 1500 alone.

My immediate reaction to that was a resounding AMEN!!! But I don’t think this issue is exclusive to companies in the S&P 1500 nor do I believe that the impact is limited to only the leadership in organizations. I’ve seen business succession planning, or the lack thereof, impact the long term success of businesses of all shapes and sizes! And to be very clear, this is never as simple as identifying our top performers in any given area and promoting them into the next role… Quite honestly, I’ve seen that approach do nearly as much harm as good. All too often, this pulls someone out of a role they’ve mastered and truly love for something they’re not necessarily equipped for and may not want any part of. In more than a few cases, I’ve seen this result in the organization losing significant experience in a technical role and still having a leadership role open when the person who was promoted gets frustrated and leaves altogether!

So how can we work through the idea of succession planning effectively, especially when it’s never as simple as promoting our best team members into a new role? We need to be able to determine not only what’s a good move for the organization, but also a solid move for each individual we want to be part of that succession plan. And once we have a clear picture of who could (and should) move to those various seats on our bus, we need to provide them with the specific resources they’ll need to excel in those respective roles. As we move forward here, we’ll break all this down and go into what the different tools they’ll need will look like!

The Seats on the Bus…

Did you read the subject line and sing the next phrase in your head? I kinda still am… But unlike the wheels on the bus that go round and round, the seats on our organization’s bus absolutely should not! And if we want to get really serious about the business succession planning, it’s never quite as simple as moving the folks who are the most effective in their current roles to the next step on our org charts.

Assuming we’ve invested the time on the front end to develop and clarify the values that drive our organizational culture, and we’ve worked to ensure that each team member we consider to be critical in our long term succession plan exemplifies those values, we can move to determining where they’ll fit best over the years to come. Without those values deeply embedded though, it would likely serve us well to work on that before even considering who’s in which seats later on!

All too often, a business will promote the best performer in any given department to be a lead, supervisor, or manager of that department when the need arises - whether that’s by simply awarding them with a new title or doing it through a more formal interview process. Quite frankly, most of us have been programmed to believe that’s exactly what our individual career path should look like to consider it even somewhat successful. Sometimes that works just fine, but I can provide plenty of examples of where I’ve seen that proverbial bus run right into a ditch…

The reality is that promoting someone from one of those roles we typically consider as an “individual contributor”, regardless of how great they are in that role and how well they seem to interact with the team members around them, pulls them away from the tasks they’ve mastered and places a completely different set on responsibilities firmly in their lap. While it’s great to help the folks within our organizations advance, everyone would be best served if we could be sure the move fits their needs. Notice I didn’t say skills though… We’ll circle back to that later one!

In Good to Great, Jim Collins explained the importance of having the right people in the right seats on our bus. I’ve always thought that was a really cool analogy, one I could easily understand. He also suggested that there will be times that some of the folks who are currently on our bus may need to be on a different bus, and that’s OK… When it comes to developing our business succession plans as the leader of our team or entire organization, those values will be key in determining whether or not our folks should indeed be on our bus at all. The next part that’s critical, but rarely considered, is to develop clarity around which seat each team member is best suited for. We need to be sure they can perform at a high level in the roles we hope to see them in down the road, but we also need to know if those respective roles provide them with fulfillment long term if we want to have any hope whatsoever of keeping them in those seats we’re picturing for our succession plan!

In the next page like this , we’ll look at some simple steps we can take to identify the best opportunities for each team member to excel as part of our succession plan and we’ll look at how we can be sure to help them find fulfillment in each role they fill along the way, then we’ll look at how we can provide them with the right resources to ensure they have the skills to be great in those roles, but first we’ll look at the importance of sharing a vision with each team member so they can understand the opportunities ahead of them. Stay tuned…