Most organizations these days are looking for ways to develop their successors. Although there are many classic things organizations can do such as leadership assessments, coaching, and progressive job assignments here are three creative succession tactics which can help your organization to develop successors in a high impact and low risk way.
1) Acting Executive Assignments During Vacations – Every executive goes on vacation for a few weeks per year which is an excellent opportunity for someone else to step into their role and to get a taste of executive life in the organization. Yesterday I was talking to the Vice President, Human Resources and she claims that vacation coverage is one of the most highly valued development opportunities in the company. Each time an executive goes on vacation they assign someone to take over their role. During an executive’s vacation the “Acting Executive” attends meetings on the incumbent’s behalf, handles inquires, responds to messages, and makes decisions. They assign acting executives for all top roles, right up to the CEO. Even though the time frame can be short (two weeks or more) the experience is invaluable. Acting executives get a fresh perspective on the organization, a better appreciation for what executive’s deal with, and they get exposure to new relationships. To make the most of vacation coverage assignments it is important to debrief the experience with the Acting Executive, and ideally gather feedback from peers who temporarily had a shift in reporting relationship (from peer to boss during the assignment). This can provide some wonderful career development insights that can help an up and coming executive refine their style, and be more methodical with executive career planning.
2) Sabbaticals – Double Whammy Executive Retention and Development Benefits – We all know that executives these days work hard, have 24/7 access to the office, and they burn out, one driver for the unprecedented executive turnover in corporations today. One way organizations can effectively retain executives and develop successors is through strategic sabbatical programs. A sabbatical program essentially means that the organization offers a paid or unpaid leave to an executive for anywhere from one to six months long. During this time the executive can pursue a life-long travel dream, organize an exchange with another company, or simply rejuvenate by relaxing with friends and family. Having an executive sabbatical program every five years can be an excellent retention strategy for top roles. Yet, if a high potential leader is placed into an Acting Executive role while the sabbatical is underway this can also be an excellent development opportunity for others. Similar to the vacation coverage a sabbatical can provide high potentials with a taste of a new role, added exposure to the business, and the opportunity to be a part of strategic conversations in a way that they may not have been exposed to otherwise. Because the tenure of the assignment is longer than vacation coverage the learning from sabbatical coverage is typically richer. Also, acting executive roles during sabbaticals also gives an opportunity for the organization to test someone’s executive potential in a low risk way.
3) Developing a Successor for a Volunteer Board – One of the most important executive development lessons is learning how to effectively prepare and transition a successor. Although important for maintaining an executive’s legacy, and organizational health, many executives do this poorly, hanging on too long to their responsibilities or not adequately developing others. From my experience one of the best ways to teach executives the value of developing successors without creating the feeling that they are being pushed out of their jobs is to request that they participate in a not for profit or industry association board, and as part of this process request that they pro-actively identify and develop a successor for their board seat and report on what they learned during the process to the executive team, or as part of their development plan. Asking executives to develop a successor for a board seat and report back on their learning provides them with an opportunity to learn important lessons about succession first hand, as opposed to having a theoretical understanding of the process. For example, through this exposure they will quickly realize that time passes quickly and you need to be proactive about developing others, that the succession process is dynamic and even the best laid plans go array, and that a successful transition requires letting go, yet still providing support – a relationship dynamic and delegation style that many executives personally struggle with. If executives have to report on this development assignment to their employer it can create deeper reflection and learning and heightened accountability.
I am reading an awesome book right now that had a quote on belonging versus fitting in which I found so powerful as a mother, friend, parent, executive coach, and succession management consultant. I wanted to share it with you.
Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead asked a large group of eight graders to explain the differences between fitting in and belonging. Their answers were spot on.
- Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
- Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
- I get to be me if I belong. I have to be like you to fit in.
This really got me thinking on a number of levels. Personally, I thought about where I belong – truly belong. There are a few people who I have this kind of belonging relationship with, my husband being one of them (thankfully). This select group seems about right. I have a small tight tribe, along with a number of good friends who I do fun stuff with.
Next, I thought about my upcoming role as a Sparks Leader (kindergarten level Brownies). I really want the girls to feel this sense of belonging in the Sparks group, along with the parents. I want everyone to feel like they matter and their needs are important to us, even if we can’t always accommodate them. I am not coming from a “be nice” place around this, but rather I want people to feel seen, and heard.
When I look at how our parent group at the preschool was run last year, I can see how the parent group really tried to create a sense of belonging with the parents, and I also see how much work it was. Huge amounts! I can see why corporate America often falls short here, and why many of us (me included in this group) don’t create this kind of space for others as often as we would like. My theory is that it has something to do with being so busy, and our achievement oriented culture. Yet, when I think about my daughter and what I want most for her at this stage in her life, belonging is at the top of the list. I know for me when I don’t have it I feel like something fundamental to my life is missing.
Also, much of the coaching work I do centers around belonging. I have one client who recently had a family disaster and not a single executive acknowledged it. She felt like no one cared about her as a person, and she actually felt judged. Can you imagine how engaged she is right now? Not much.
- Where do you feel like you belong?
- Where would you like to belong more deeply?
- How can you evoke a sense of belonging for others? At home? At work?
- What have you made more important than evoking a sense of belonging in the past?
This video was developed by the BC Human Resources Management Foundation and describes a project which recently led to an HR Innovation Award.
Here are some insights from Natalie Michael, and other Vancouver coaches, which may help you address some important career planning questions. http://www.biv.com/article/20130226/BIV0115/302269984/-1/BIV/ask-the-experts-how-do-i-plan-for-the-next-five-years-of-my-career
We are so pleased to announce that The Karmichael Group received industry wide recognition for their role in the development of Kal Tire’s global leadership development programs. We have been partnering with Kal Tire for a number of years to create an international leadership certification program offered in 19 countries with curriculum created by Harvard University, and to develop their succession management toolkit including leadership assessments, development plans, and supporting human resources tools. As a result of these efforts Kal Tire has hundreds of leaders who are increasing their readiness for management positions. It is rare for a consulting team to receive recognition for their efforts and it is a great honor.
As a coach I will often ask clients to create a vision board for themselves. Some clients groan, “You want me to cut out pretty pictures?” and others jump at the chance to do something creative. No matter what the initial response clients buy into the assignment when I explain that images tap into the wisdom of our right brain which does not think in a step by step logical way, but rather thinks in metaphor and pictures. A visioning exercise is very powerful and often provides people with clarity about what they want to create in their lives and at work. However, after looking at about one hundred vision boards over the ten years I have been coaching I have started to notice a trap – a trap that I fell into myself for many years.
The common trap that comes from vision boards is that they provide us with grandiose visions of ourselves, often showcasing us as being the picture of grace, peace, calm, ambition, and authority. How many times have you envisioned a future version of yourself as a helper of the world, glowing with the light of your goodness and the strength of your virtue? It’s a wonderful vision, isn’t it?
The challenge with this kind of vision is that you are the focal point, ultimately realizing your vision in dedication to yourself. As people, if we focus so much on our own ascension and our own needs we often forget why we are doing what we are doing, and we lose a sense of purpose and meaning. We end up moving our attention away from the people we are trying to help, the earth we are trying to sustain, or our broader mission and purpose and ultimately, we go about our vision in service of our own egos. While this may produce some results, in order to really make a difference, feel truly fulfilled, and feel on purpose you ultimately need to be of service to others, and be connected to why you are doing what you are doing, beyond doing it for yourself.
Ilchi Lee, a teacher of meditation, who I went to see in Sedona, Arizona spoke of this concept. He said that to be truly happy we need to think of ourselves as a cleaning cloth. A cleaning cloth may start out clean and crisp, but once it gets to work it gets stained and tarnished, beautifying the world in the process. A cleaning cloth may not have much status in the world, but it leaves everything in its wake beautiful and dazzling.
If you yourself chose to be of service to others and the world, and you do this again and again you will feel more joy, and be more fulfilled, but ultimately, you will also leave the world a better place. If you get tired on the journey, like a cleaning cloth, you can always wash and cleanse yourself and be renewed again.
So, think about your own goals. Why are you doing what you do? How it is of service to others? To the world? What is your motive? Why does your contribution matter? What positive changes do you want to see in the world? In your workplace? How can you help? These are important questions to ask yourself, or your top management team because often a slight shift in motive, can yield a big shift in results.
Natalie Michael, Managing Partner, of the Karmichael Group will be presenting a client case study at the upcoming BC Human Resources Management Conference on May 01 2013. We will be sharing details of a leadership development and succession management project that we have been working on for the last two years with Kal Tire.
This highly engaging workshop will tell the story of how Kal Tire created a learning culture, and developed customized in house management certification programs as the foundation for their global leadership development and succession programs. Kal Tire’s leadership development program “certifies” managers across hundreds of stores in Canada, and in more than 13 countries. This has contributed to their growth to a billion dollar corporation and helped them to become a world leader in the tire industry and it is one of their primary advantages when attracting talent. In the workshop we will explain how Kal Tire created a learning culture by embedding management certification programs into their operations and by providing incentives for learning, and we will explain how they integrated these programs into succession planning initiatives.
To register please contact www.bchrma.org
If your organization is proactively thinking about CEO succession here are six things you need to know.
Board Engagement - The Board is responsible for managing the CEO succession process, and their ability to do this well is one measure of their ability to effectively provide governance. Before the Board can effectively lead this process they need to be in agreement on the strategic plan of the organization and the right culture. These two things will be critical for identifying what kind of CEO is needed in the future.
Current CEO’s Attitude – For succession to work, the current CEO needs the right attitude about the process. They need to see it as a way to build a lasting legacy, not a threat. Uncovering the CEO’s attitude early on, and being aware that some of their insecure feelings may be hidden from view can be important for success, and save pain later on.
Internal Candidates – Identifying internal candidates for the CEO role can be both positive and negative. On the one hand, it gives the organization adequate time to expose people to developmental assignments, yet it can also de-motivate executives who are not being considered for the top slot, but are valuable to the company. Having a fair process for identifying internal candidates and keeping the runner’s up informed about decisions and progress can help to avoid retention problems and politics.
External Searches – Many organizations like to conduct an external search regardless of whether there are internal candidates. This can be a good way to benchmark the quality of internal candidates versus the marketplace. Yet, if an external search is being done it is important to put a timeline on it, so that internal candidates don’t feel like they are getting the run around or perceived as second best.
There Will Always Be Competing Issues - Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance recently conducted a survey of more than 140 CEO’s and Board Directors for North American public and private companies. It revealed there are critical lapses in CEO succession planning. They found that the reason for the lapse was largely due to a lack of focus and perceived urgency. Boards and CEO’s saw the value, but they were not investing the time in succession because of competing issues on the strategic agenda. Organizations that manage succession effectively manage the process with rigor and discipline and they review progress against development plans at least every six months, and they recognize that succession is happening within an evolving context.
Manage the CEO Transition – The biggest mistake that can be made with CEO succession is not providing adequate support during the transition after a new CEO is appointed. This puts the whole company on uneven footing. It is recommended that the Board proactively identify any transition risks, and they put a risk mitigation plan in place which is followed up on quarterly post hire.
These six tips will ensure that your Board of Directors and Executive Team can manage the succession process effectively, and avoid unnecessary business risk due to ineffective processes. Overall, pay attention to the broader market conditions and business context, manage the process with rigor, and do not make assumptions about the underlying relationship and political dynamics.
There is a theme in my coaching work this week – power trippers! It seems that a number of my clients, all Vice Presidents of respectable companies, are dealing with a power tripper in the executive ranks. A power tripper is someone who uses their power to intimidate and to create a win/lose dynamic with them coming out as the winner every time. They use their power overtly or covertly to undermine other people’s confidence or work, and they do it in both subtle and not so subtle ways. They are usually a “favorite” with one of the top executives because part of their manipulation is making sure they are in the good books of the big wigs. That way, when someone accuses them of misbehaving they can bat their eyelashes innocently and say, “who me?”
Have you ever been caught in a dynamic with a power tripper? I have and it sucked. I spun between uber confidence that I was in the right, and fear that they were going to take me down. All of the hairs on my body were on high alert when I was around this person and I found myself building my own arsenal of dirty tricks so I could strike back if hit. At the low point, I lost my mojo. Because of the physical and mental stress of the interaction, I could not access the powerful part of me and my natural strengths. I stopped being able to connect with the individual as a person, and I could no longer articulate my point of view in a calm articulate way. This was a double whammy for me – I felt like a bad person, and I lost my ability to think and stay clear. But worse, I felt like they had won.
Thankfully I used this experience as a point of reflection in my life, and I studied the phenomenon for the benefit of my clients. Here are some of the lessons I learned.
On a personal level, dealing with power trippers is challenging. Rather than deal with them, the first stage of my “recovery” was to avoid them. I learned how to spot power trippers with a super powered radar, and when I did spot one I avoided them like the plague. After a few years of this, I realized that I needed to strengthen my ability to deal with power trippers. Avoiding them was only serving me to a point, but it was creating a bigger risk for me – not realizing my full potential.
After years of avoidance I realized that power trippers could not be avoided if I wanted to be a leadership development coach and consultant. In my work each time I deal with an executive there is a risk they are a power tripper. Each time I sign on with a new organization I typically have to deal with at least one. So, if I kept on the path of avoidance it would mean playing small in my career. I needed some new strategies. I needed to figure out how to deal with power trippers and stay safe and confident. I needed to find ways that I could deal with them without fearing they would take me down.
For me, my ability to deal with power trippers was directly related to the extent that I connected with my inner strength as a person, and dealt with my own issues. If I engaged in activities like meditation, yoga, and being with loved ones, I felt strong. I could feel that part of myself that no one can ever take down – my spirit, my inner gold, my resolve. Step one was finding this part of myself. Step two was accessing it when I was engaging with power trippers.
With some practice I learned to tap into this part of me in moments when I needed it. When I met power trippers I would ask myself: “I wonder why this person is behaving like this? I wonder if they do this with every one? I wonder how we can get our relationship to be one of equal partners? What would it take? Is this person interested? Am I interested? What boundaries would need to be in place?” Simply asking myself these questions made me feel more powerful and like a partner. It was much better than, “oh no, they might take me down!” I reminded myself of my strength and the reality that even if I got taken down temporarily I would recover. I had the strength within myself to recover. I was resourceful.
What didn’t work for me long term was projecting confidence I didn’t have. It definitely helped temporarily, but the problem with doing this was it wouldn’t last. When the power tripper started to poke me I felt like they could see through me and sense my insecurity. If I projected false confidence for too long there was danger of going down a slippery slope and sliding fast. If they said or did something that triggered my insecurity my false bravado would crumble and I felt defeated. So, to be really get good at dealing with power trippers I needed to look at my fears and what I was scared they “would take from me” and I had to find the powerful part of myself that no one can ever take down no matter how hard they try.
Now, I can confidently (genuinely confidently) say that power trippers can’t take me down. So, they don’t have much power. From this place I can make a choice – will I partner with this person or not? There is always a choice. As soon as the victim mentality comes in problems occur.
While on my own personal journey I also studied this phenomenon as part of my graduate studies. Here are some other things I have learned about power trippers.
What is a power trip?
- Every time you take part in a manipulative power tripping relationship, you unwittingly collude with the person that seeks to control you. As soon as you cave in to someone’s wishes that have you compromise yourself a toxic cycle begins.
- Manipulation according to Webster’s is to “control or play upon by artful, unfair or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage; to change by artful or unfair means to serve one’s purposes.” It is generally a negative experience that reinforces dependency, helplessness and victimization. It constricts relationships from growing in a healthy, balanced way. As long as the manipulation persists, the manipulator grows stronger and often becomes bolder in its tactics.
- Manipulation is different from – and should not be confused with – legitimate, direct influence. Healthy, appropriate influence is typically shaped by rewards and is framed with candid open authentic communication. Strategies of threat are not used. The agenda of the influence is clear and discussed up front with those affected.
- In contrast, manipulation is veiled in devious communication. Agendas are frequently hidden and purposely disguised. Intimidation and coercion are the tactics typically used. Some manipulators are fully conscious and intentional about their actions. They are skilled at coercion and control and get a rush from their ability to bend other people’s will to suit their needs. Other manipulators may operate from an unconscious place. They act out of insecurity, fear or other emotions.
Who is most susceptible to power trippers?
- People are most susceptible to power trippers when they are new in a role, in a stretch assignment, or there is something going on in the environment that has them second guess their abilities.
- People who are susceptible to manipulation tend to also have people pleasing habits. They want approval from others and their self-esteem is often tied up in being liked. Having an excessive sense of responsibility for the well being of others is the lever that manipulators use to invoke guilt and control behavior.
- In addition, people who are susceptible to manipulation tend to fear negative emotions such as anger or hostility. Rather than face the anger, these people conjure up scenarios in their head of the manipulator’s anger. They take action to avoid this anger even though it hasn’t already occurred. Imagine a volatile CEO or leader with a reputation for “outbursts.” This automatically puts people on edge and controls behavior in a destructive way. People do or do not take action for fear of the leader’s reaction.
What you can do if you find yourself in a power tripping relationship?
- Remove yourself from the situation – The best and healthiest thing to do may be to leave the situation all together. If the relationship is beyond repair and/or you need time to regain your confidence and composure, removing yourself from the situation will help you to regain your perspective and self-respect.
- Play for time – To break the pattern, do not immediately respond to the manipulator’s tactics. Build in time to think about your options. This will give you back a sense of control and help you to avoid knee jerk reactions to manipulative cohersion. You may say something like: “This is an important issue and I need some time to think about it. I will get back to you.”
- Desensitize yourself to anxiety – Often manipulation works because of a fear of anger and negative emotions. This leads to heightened anxiety and often, emotional reasoning. Emotional reasoning is when people confuse their negative emotions with the thought that something bad is actually happening. The stronger the feeling, the bigger impact these emotions have on your thought process. If you can recognize negative feelings and lower your urgency to respond to them, you will increase your sense of control and decrease your susceptibability to manipulation.
- Talk to someone – If you are in a manipulative relationship, you are likely spending a lot of time thinking about the situation and it is not uncommon for circular fear-based thought patterns to occur. To break this pattern, talk to a trusted person that can help you gain some perspective and regain some control.
- Create a win-in partnership – In order for this tactic to work, you often have to use some of the other tactics first such as playing for time, desensitiving yourself and getting some support. Once you have done this, there is a possibility you can redefine the relationship on healthy terms. Be clear on your own needs and where you are willing to compromise and set boundaries in the relationship. This will only work if the relationship is newly defined and there is a genuine desire to understand each other and for both parties, to improve things.
“Who’s Pulling Your Strings” by Harrier Braiker (McGraw Hill, 2004).