Succession Planning – Beyond the Process
When developing a succession planning process* it’s all too easy to get to get caught up in the crunchy parts – the tools, forms, software etc., and to diminish or even ignore the cultural elements. It’s true that you need good data, a system to manage that data, a process of evaluating the performance and potential of candidates, a way of prioritizing development for high potentials, an algorithm for determine areas of most risk etc. etc..
But just as critical to the success of the process are the cultural shifts that need to occur in hiring managers, organizational hiring processes, and attitudes to candidates that on the surface may not seem like the ideal fit.
These cultural shifts are not just on the organization side – candidates must also shift in how they see their potential. With a current skills shortage, and an even larger shift on the horizon, the time has never been better for candidates to look beyond their current career path, vertical market, or area of expertise into new areas of career opportunity.
Both sides of the succession equation need to look at how they currently see the culture of hiring in the organization. Mental models such as ‘you can’t move from research to operations’, or ‘you can’t lead a team unless you have worked in that area’ are unnecessarily limiting. They need to be examined, tested, and where appropriate broken.
That takes two people – a hiring manager willing to see that a candidate can make the shift and a candidate willing to take it on.
*I prefer, and generally use, the term Leadership Continuity Planning.
VIE for Leaders and Facilitators
Back in 1964, Victor Vroom proposed an approach to understanding motivation and performance at work called Expectancy Theory, or VIE theory which stands for Value, Instrumentality, and Expectancy. Vroom suggested that for people to be motivated, three things needed to be in place. First, the individual should Value what the reward will be for their actions. Second, the individual should believe they have the skills and tools (Instrumentality) to complete the activities. Finally, the individual should believe that the rewards that have been promised to them for completing the work will be forthcoming (Expectancy). For example, if I tell you that I will give you a million dollars if you memorize the Hunger Games by tomorrow morning, it won’t be a motivator. The chances that you will be able to remember the book completely are low, and you would doubt that anyone would give you a million dollars for the task (this scenario lacks instrumentality, and Expectancy, but Value is high). Alternatively, consider that I offer you five dollars to read the book this week and then spend an hour relating the storyline back to me. Chances are you could do it (timeline and task seem reasonable), but you may not think the task worth five dollars (Instrumentality and Expectancy are in place, but Value is low.
Translating this to organization development interventions, when a group of people get into a room as part of an organization development or team development initiative, they are often presented with some kind of task (some simple examples would be the creation of a strategic plan or development of a social contract etc.).
When these tasks are presented, it is important to consider whether the Value, Instrumentality, and Expectancy are in place. For example, consider that past history of similar processes can color peoples opinion and judgment on the activities. If someone participated in a strategic planning process before, but subsequently the plan was not followed, the way they look at the Value of the process may be low. Similarly, if the process presented is too complex (contains too much irrelevant theory, or difficult to follow, the Instrumentality may be impacted). Finally, though, and perhaps most significantly, if participants believe that the plan will not be followed, or the newly created social contract would not be adhered to, then Expectancy related to the process will be low, and it may feel to them like the whole process is a waste of time.
So next time you are pulling a group together, either as a leader or a facilitator, consider these three questions:
- Will participants see (and value) the outcomes of the process?
- Is the process understandable, and easy to complete by the participants?
- What can be done to ensure (and reassure participants), that the results of the process will actually be enacted, used, or applied?
As with all theory’s, Vrooms has its critics, but I have found it practical in a variety of settings. It’s a great tool for a both leaders and facilitartors to do a quick check in on a proposed process.
Application Is Everything
How much do you remember from the last course you took? How many lessons from the last leadership book have you applied in your work? How often do you follow the ‘best practices’ that you took away from the last conference you went to?
Being a ‘life-long learner’ is an admirable trait, but being a ‘life long applicator of learning’ is going one better.
What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You!
It has been said that feedback can be hard to take from a friend, family member, stranger, co-worker, enemy, or someone you know. The reality is that even those who profess to like feedback tend to like it provided in a certain way, from certain people, and on certain topics. There can be no question, feedback is a tricky part of improving ourselves both in and outside of work.
I am sure this has a great deal to do with the concerns that people have when they find out their organization will be using a 360 degree feedback process. While there are occasions when leaders initiate a 360 process, it’s much more common for an organization (or a leader) to decide that 360′s should be administered.
As discomforting as subjects of a 360 might find the process, most participants find the it very valuable, and find the information a valuable source of guidance for development. Viewed through a developmental lens, 360′s are one of the most powerful feedback process one can undertake.
That’s not to say that any feedback process is 100% reliable. The assumption that all feedback collected through a 360 process is valid is a dangerous one indeed. We know from research, and practical experience, that some groups of raters may alter their feedback to accommodate their own personal agendas. It’s not unheard of for peer raters to push down their ratings so that the subject doesn’t appear ‘better than them’ in the rating process. Equally, individuals who dislike a certain person may intentionally, or subconsciously, drive down ratings. Fortunately the better 360 tools aggregate scores and provide other data that can enable the debriefed to spot this.
Many leaders I work with are truly unaware of some of their more harmful tendencies, beliefs or behaviors. In a surprising number of instances, those tendencies are to believe that they are not as effective as their raters see them. That can be just as damaging as other undesirable leadership behaviors.
Irrespective, what you don’t know truly can hurt you, and feedback, whether through a 360 or some other method, is likely the only way that you will discover where your opportunities for development lay.
Why Can’t You Fill That Leadership Position?
Do you have a position you can’t recruit to? To keep on posting the same position, with the same description, in the same places, is a little like the definition of insanity – you keep doing the same thing expecting a different outcome.
Instead, it’s worth taking a look to understand what the actual issue might be. No applicants? Maybe the job is not described attractively, or you are making the requirements too high. Plenty of applicants but no-one suitable? Are your standards or expectations realistic? Is there a way that you can structure the position so that more people might be qualified? Plenty of applicants, lots of interviews, but not the right candidates? Are you looking at people’s potential or simply their track records? Plenty of interviews, good candidates, but no-one interested in your offer? Did you do a good enough job of selling the position to candidates? Are you offering a sufficiently attractive compensation package? Someone accepts the job, but they leave after a short time? Did you provide enough of boarding? Is the job realistic? Is the leadership doing a good job of welcoming new employees? And so on…..and on.
There are many variations and nuances that you can add to these questions based on the type of person you are looking to recruit, the type of industry you are in, or the flexibility of the offers you are able to make. But the reality is that if you are struggling to fill a position you can’t simply keep doing the same thing to recruit in the hope the you will catch someone at the right time. Doing that is a little like putting a car up for a sale on at the curbside and waiting week after week while it doesn’t sell. You need to go out occasionally, change the price, clean it up a bit, advertise in different places/venues, promote different features, or even lower the price (raise the compensation). What you are able to do depends on your situation, but doing the same thing over and again is not just the definition of insanity, it may actually drive you crazy!
Two-Step Performance Reviews
For many organizations March signals the end of the performance management cycle. Over the next few weeks, managers and employees will get together for a performance discussion, review last year’s objectives, and set new ones. Some managers, often for the sake of efficiency, provide performance feedback and set objective at the same meeting. Given people’s often hectic schedules, its seems like an efficient way to tackle the process – book time with an individual, review last year’s objectives, and set next years. Within an hour or so we can be all set – right? I think not.
Irrespective of whether the performance review is glowing or otherwise, it’s only fair to give people a chance to reflect on last year’s performance before objective setting the for the following year. For many, this reflection process requires some time and thought – more than just what is available during the performance discussion.
Booking a performance review meeting, and then a goal setting meeting two or three weeks later provides the time needed for team members to reflect on their performance and then set meaningful objectives for the year ahead. Yes, it will likely take more time and logistics to use this two-step approach, but saving time should not be the guiding principle for your performance review process.
Grace and Space
Work plays a very powerful role in our lives. Right or wrong, it defines, to a point, elements of our identity, impacts our well-being, and requires considerable time and energy. Its interesting to hear many (most?) people talk about their work in negative ways. In some cases, its the work itself thats the challenge, but in many other cases its the people they work with that have the greatest impact. Expectations of how others should behave, or frustration with the actions or results of others seem to be a more common thread in how we talk about work than recognition and understanding. While there are always exceptions, can we move to a place of believing that others are trying to do the right things, and give them some grace and space to do that?
Grace and space doesnt need a project charter, a business case, an ROI analysis, or a balanced scorecard. Its about changing the way we work with others, and in doing so changing the way we think, and talk, about work.
I believe there is more power in this than we even realize.
Better The Devil You Know
Everyone’s heard the saying ‘Better the devil you know’. The suggestion being that when making a choice, it’s more prudent to go with what you know something about, rather than the less known.
It’s interesting to note, then, that over and over in recruitment situations, I see people go with the choice that they know very little about (the external candidate) rather than an internal candidate with a similar level of skills and experience. In many cases, the internal candidate is seen as needing to grow in certain areas of skill or knowledge, or it may be that somewhere in the past they committed some kind of organizational wrong for which they are now eternally labelled (you remember Joe, he was the guy that caused that problem with the supplier in Tuscon, etc etc).
It could be argued that a strong recruitment process (though it’s also surprising how often that is lacking, but that’s another post) can help the hiring manager to understand and know the external candidate to a certain degree. But that knowledge cannot substitute for the depth of knowledge you can gain on an internal candidate, let alone what you may already know. Every candidate will have areas where they need to grow and learn. At least with an internal candidate you will likely be able to understand those things better before you make the hire.
There will always be a need to hire externally, but as we know, internal hiring creates engagement, speeds the time to productivity, and creates a great story about your leadership talent practices.
Wherever possible, go with the choice you know.