Normally, I refrain from commenting on specific organizations, particularly when they are clients, and I’m going to be critical. But I have to applaud Jack Welch’s comments at the World Business Forum on the way HP’s Board has handled (or not handled) leadership development and succession planning. But the issue is not really about HP’s Board or Jack Welch, that’s just a convenient example.
It’s an issue that should be at the forefront of every leader’s mind. Paraphasing Welch, “One of the primary jobs of leaders is to prepare the next generation of leadership.” It’s the responsibility of leaders at all levels to develop the leaders that will succeed them. Whether you are a first line supervisor or a CEO, it is critical to identify and develop people to move into management, to take more senior levels of responsibility, and to grow, both personally and in their contribution to the organization. It’s critical for the performance of the company to have succession plans in place at all levels.
Too often, it seems we have a “disposable” employee mentality. We’re too busy or unskilled to coach and develop our people. We allow ourselves to get diverted by the day to day issues of the organization, spending no time on the future and the organization’s next leaders. We don’t invest in our people or the future of the company. This behavior is repeated all the way up the food chain. Is it any wonder that, at all levels, there seems to be little loyalty within our organizations? If we aren’t investing in developing our people and giving them opportunities to move in the organization, why should the talented and ambitious stay?
Developing the next generation of an organization’s leaders is tough work. It can’t be delegated, you can’t send them to a training class (though some formal training is good). We have to get our hands dirty, all the way up to our elbows, in working with them, coaching them, creating development opportunities. It’s so much easier just to call the recruiter, have them do the work, interview candidates, find a new leader, wait for them to get on board. Then they want to make their changes, and on and on and on.
When one looks at the average tenure of many C-Level executives as being just 1-2 years, it’s little wonder that many of our organizations are not performing at the highest levels possible. We go through annual cycles, fits and starts, finding new leaders, getting them on board and up the learning curve, shifting priorities and strategies to fit their vision—only to go through it again within 18-24 months. It’s no wonder many of our employees disengage and wait. They know things will change tomorrow.
Now multiply this effect all up and down the organization. Leadership development and succession planning is critical to optimizing and growing organizational performance. It’s critical to retaining the best and brightest in our organizations and in getting everyone fully engaged in growing the company.
Don’t get me wrong, many times organizations must look outside for leaders. They need to make dramatic shifts or changes and the internal candidates don’t have the experience base to make those changes. Sometimes, our leaders are literally “hit by a truck,” and their successors are not prepared to step into the new role. There are great reasons to bring in leaders from outside the organization. However, when this becomes the norm, when managers at all levels fail to invest in developing their people, when they don’t attempt to develop strong succession plans, then the organization and the individuals that make up the organization will never achieve their full potentials. When this becomes the norm, managers aren’t doing their jobs.
The issue is not about HP, it’s about the core of every leader’s job. Take a moment right now, look within your organization. If you have to move someone into your job (maybe you’re getting a promotion), have you identified at least one candidate that can replace you? Are you working with those candidates to continue to develop their capabilities, to make them ready to step into the new role? If you aren’t, it’s never too late to start.