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The Rocket Science of Succession Planning

Rocket Science WEBOn a survey gathering data for a retreat for a client, there were questions about their succession planning program. After receiving a survey back, I would interview each respondent to gather some deeper info as to reasons behind their answers. One person commented: “I really haven’t made any plans to replace myself.” Succession planning is about you, but not ALL about you. Another respondent commented, “I don’t know what we’re going to do when Bernice leaves.” Bernice, not her real name, is the CEO. These team members obviously haven’t a clue as to what it takes to launch the succession planning rocket. Further, they fail to understand the full purpose and impact of a succession planning program.

In addition to a misunderstanding about who to include in a succession planning program, the following items received low to moderate scores:

  • Talent Management
  • Training and Development
  • Accountability
  • Coaching and Mentoring
  • Career Management
  • Key Performance Indicators in Place

The above items are key components in launching any succession plan. Without these, even if you have a plan, it can’t be a good one. One point is clear though. The statement, “I don’t know what we’re going to do when Bernice leaves.” is a clear signal that a succession plan is non-existent. Without a plan, there may be chaos among those who want the position, or no clear choice among the team, or there may be no one who is ready to move the strategic plan forward. The organization will lose ground, and market share with no one ready to take the helm. This rocket topples over on the launch pad.

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Event Problem Solving – A Blinding Flash of the Obvious

Blinding Flash WEB

You solve problems every day. You feel a sense of accomplishment, self-satisfaction, and maybe even relief. But the very next week, the same problem, a similar problem, or a related problem rears its ugly head. You get Déjà vu and wonder what went wrong. You hear yourself saying, “Didn’t I tell them….” “I explained ….” “I thought they heard me say …” Maybe yes and maybe no. If this is happening to you, you are probably engaging in event problem solving

Event problem solving is solving what is happening at the moment with no further investigation. Event problem solving merely applies a band aid to what can be a manifestation of a larger, more deeply rooted issue. These issues can sometimes be the foundation of the culture of an organization. Unfortunately, more likely than not, these are more negative than positive. So how can leadership “see it coming?” When coaching leaders, I will often explain that if you see a problem once, you may take a brief notice of it. If you see the same problem twice, your ears should perk up. If you see that same problem a third time, now you have a trend or pattern. This is how a reoccurring problem formulates and infests an organization. By the time this pattern develops, it is no doubt affecting many aspects of your organization and business. So what is the plan for deeper problem solving?

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Does Your Team Have System Think?

System Think WEBCarter McNamara, http://goo.gl/bIK5XA, a well-known business consultant, states,

"The system's overall behavior depends on its entire structure (not the sum of its various parts). The structure determines the various behaviors, which determine the various events. Too often, we only see and respond to the events. That's why, especially in the early parts of our lives, we can be so short-sighted and reactionary in our lives and in our work. We miss the broader scheme of things."

This concept is something I strive to instill in coaching clients by helping them to see their lives and their careers as a system. No, it’s not too romantic, but it does help the thinking, analytical, and goal setting process to take roots. This applies to business, management, and leadership as well.

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Is Seeing the Big Picture Smart?

Big Pix

There are two camps, those who see the big picture and those who are detailed oriented. There are some individuals who are lucky enough to see both the big picture and not lose sight of the details. The difference between these two skills is that being detailed oriented is more about having a focused eye on tasks. The big picture falls more into the strategic side of business. Which is more important. It depends.

Many CEOs and other executives think that they should be the only ones who are capable of or who need to see the big picture and that line employees just need to concentrate on the details or the tasks at hand. Is this smart?

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What Were You Thinking?

Thinking WEBMany of us may have heard this from a parent or even a boss. As we mature, our thinking changes – or at least it should. The same holds true for those who advance up the professional ladder. Of course, the objective is for us to be as mature a thinker as possible at any given age or stage in our careers. However, there is an art and a science to leadership thinking.

Thinking like a leader involves more than just the difference between strategic and non-strategic thinking. There are several layers, if you will, that build on having the ability to think in leadership thought patterns. I call them thought patterns as we all have established patterns in our lives from which we tend to operate on a daily basis. Some of us have the pattern of the Drama Queen Pattern, where everything is a four-alarm fire. Some of us have the Ostrich Pattern where we ignore, run, or hide from thinking about and facing challenges. There’s the Ignoring Pattern where we think that if we just ignore it, the challenge will soon go away. Finally, there’s the Blaming Pattern where we blame others for things that do or do not happen. Leaders do not operate – or think – from any of these foundations.

When you think like a leader, you build on patterns that you develop throughout your life. Some of those patterns are below.

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The Deadwood Dilemma

Deadwood Slacker WEB

“Were they dead when you hired them? Or did you kill them?* 
W. Edwards Deming

This is an interesting question that deserves some serious thought. The Japanese place low producers, or deadwood, in isolation. In other words, they place the low performers far from the office mainstream and they have little or nothing to do. All of this is with the hope that they will just quit. We, in America, employ this technique as well. However, in many cases, instead of firing them, we promote them just to get them out of our department! You may be laughing, but there is at least one entity where this is SOP. Can you say U.S. Government? In fact, once when coaching a government executive, we both agreed it would be a good idea for me to meet his three-person team. One of his team members, about whom he had the most complaints, was in attendance. When the team left, I looked at the executive, I’m sure my jaw was hanging open, when I remarked, he is almost childlike isn’t he? The executive was nodding in agreement, saying “You know, I had never thought of that, but you’re right!” What alternatives are there to just tolerating, ostracizing or blindly promoting deadwood?

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Strategic Thinking and Common Sense – Both Sides of the Same Coin?

Common Sense Sign WEB

Strategic thinking, much less strategic planning, can be a foreign topic to many team members. Yes, even executives. This begs the question, how did these people ever get to be executives if they are not able to think strategically? That’s a good question, but one for another blog. This blog will help you determine if your team is thinking strategically and what to do if they aren’t.

Here is a hypothetical situation of what can happen. Let’s say an organization recently completed their two year strategic plan. Great start. Their plan calls for a large monetary goal to be reached in just two years. Setting an aggressive, yet reachable goal, is another good thing. The implantation of their plan, may be a little more elusive. Here are some reasons why this may be true.

  • Most of the team members are not strategic thinkers
  • There is no accountability
  • Talent management could use some tweaks

Let’s take a look at each of these factors and see what can be changed to implement a strategic plan.

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The Neglected Strategies of Strategic Planning

Strategic w people WEBMany organiztions fail to conduct strategic planning. Some think they are too small to conduct strategic planning, others don’t want to take the time, and others feel the process is too complicated or useless. Many organizations that do conduct strategic planning fail to execute any part of the plan and it winds up collecting dust in some out of way forgotten bookcase. Not only is strategic planning neglected, but even when strategic planning is conducted, many parts of it are neglected. Why is this?

The Neglected Strategy of Execution

Many times the root cause is that there is no execution plan in place. The execution plan needs to include the entire organization, in particular, departments. How can a strategic plan be brought to life if no one knows it exists?

Yes, the executive team knows. The questions to ask are, “Is the executive team sharing this with managers?” and “Are the managers sharing the plan with their individual teams within the departments?” Yes, you must be discreet in sharing some items from the annual strategic plan, but there are others that must be shared in order for implementation and real change to occur.

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