A former CEO had a killer interview question: “Name three people in your team who are smarter than you.” And an even better follow-up: “How are you developing those three people to take your job?”
The CEO, now a company director, told me the questions were designed to surprise well-prepared applicants during an interview, and spot high-performing executives who were serious about developing teams for the good of the organisation and themselves.
Their responses typically fell into three categories. The first group of managers or executives simply could not name three smarter people in their team. They refused to believe any of their reports could be brighter than them. Perhaps nobody in the team was smarter, or that intelligence did not necessarily make higher-performing employees. Either way, it was a cross on their interview.
The second group hesitantly nominated one or two people in their team who might be smarter than them, with several qualifications. They were reluctant to promote their team member higher up in the organisation for fear of losing their position or because of an intense competitive streak.
The third group of executives, much smaller than the first two, eagerly nominated three team members who were smarter than them. In doing so, they promoted the team’s strength, and showed they were not defensive above leading people who were potentially more talented.
Would your boss happily nominate three team members who are smarter than him or her?
The successful candidate, of course, came from the third group. The CEO was hell-bent on growing the organisation, and wanted executives and managers who could grow with it. Everybody had to have personal succession plans of sorts, with ready-made replacements who could step up.
Personal succession planning is not just an issue for corporations. Fast-growth ventures need employees who can rapidly expand their role at short notice. As the venture takes off, the ability of everybody in the organisation to move higher is a critical success factor.
I recall an entrepreneur who invited all her staff to breakfast early one January. She told them the organisation would triple in size that year, and that employees should resign immediately if they were not capable of growing with the organisation and developing successors for their role.
Although it sounds good in theory, personal succession planning is hard in practice. Some employees, fearful of losing their job, refuse to admit anybody could replace them. Others have poor leadership skills or have never been encouraged to think about their succession. Or they are incredibly change resistant and do not trust their employer to promote then.
Yes, some organisations are so lean these days that the “reserves bench” is almost empty. Or the organisation does not have a culture of personal succession planning or encouraging employees, during performance appraisals, to talk about their next move and who could replace them.
Where do you fit on the scale of personal succession planning? Consider these questions:
- Who would replace you if you were promoted or left the organisation?
- Would it be a smooth transition?
- Do you actively try to develop team members to replace you, so you can move higher?
- Is it risky to develop and recommend those who can easily replace you?
- Do you have a personal succession plan?
I would have answered “No” to most of these questions in my former life as a manger. When my boss asked: “What would happen to the business if you were hit by a bus today?”, my quick-fire response was: “Chaos. There is nobody internally who could easily replace me.”
That answer was wrong on so many levels. There were several potential replacements who, with a bit more experience and career development, could have taken my role. And the lack of career development and progress was a sign of an organisation stagnating rather than growing.
Ever notice how the most successful people always look for their next role. They know they cannot move higher in the organisation unless there are people who can easily replace them, with little disruption. They embrace the idea of being replaced, for it means their role is expanding.
Of course, that approach requires great confidence – in yourself and that the organisation will do the right thing and keep on promoting you. One can forgive employees who feel fast-tracking younger, cheaper managers who can do their job is akin to committing career suicide.
Think about your next career move: if it involves moving higher in the organisation, who will replace you? And how are you developing them? If you fall into the two categories of interviewees above who struggled to nominate high-potential colleagues, you career might quickly reach its limit.
*Original Article by Tony Featherstone: http://www.theage.com.au/small-business/managing/blogs/the-venture/what-is-your-personal-succession-plan-20140423-373ri.html