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The age-old way of doing succession planning doesn’t have much life left in it. We need to call it what it is – dead. Usually, it’s dead on arrival. The mere mention of ‘succession planning’ evokes visions of routine, monotony and compliance. It is the antithesis of inspiration, innovation and rapid growth.

Speaking of speed, is there any function, in business, that has changed more than IT? Maybe, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s use information technology as our example. Succession planning in IT, now there’s an idea destined for failure.

Long ago and far away, mainframes ruled. Then, the power of a mainframe became distributed with client server systems, and then there was the PC revolution, portables, laptops, notebooks and phones that became smart. That’s just the hardware. Smartphones now outnumber PC by more than 10 to 1.

You might ask – what does this have to do with me? Everything.

Organizations are becoming more and more dependent on IT. It powers everything else. A few examples:

  • Your customers want information faster, on any device, from anywhere.
  • Your employees want to work from anywhere, on any device.
  • Your customers want to transact business with you when and how they want – for example, they want to pay their bill while standing in line to see a movie.
  • We all want information updated in real time.

Every one of my clients speaks about how challenging it is to find and keep great people in IT. It’s almost as though the IT person is a different species, the rare coder. People lament these “IT people” who want to wear jeans, shorts, and sandals. Some do. Who cares?

Here’s what you should care about:

  • What are they motivated to work on? What sorts of things will drive them to work for the sheer challenge, fascination, and dare we say it – fun?
  • Do I have a place where this motivation will be useful for our business and satisfying for the employee? (Does wardrobe really play a role in the job requirements? Maybe so, but this isn’t a useful default position).
  • Am I creating an environment conducive to creativity and productivity?

Now, here’s the big secret. These are the same questions you should be asking about every single person in your company.

You need to know people. Not generically, but specifically. Forget the box they land in on a personality profile. That’s like looking at a map of Italy instead of actually going to Italy. It’s a ridiculous substitute. Talk to people. Listen. Observe. Stop psychoanalyzing and telling yourself you are “a good read.” Behavior tells you the story. There’s no need to pretend to have super powers.

If succession planning is dead – what should you do? Share on X

Succession Progression

If succession is viewed as an integral part of strategy, it becomes forward-looking. If your conversations with people are married to the strategy, they are also forward-looking. Your conversations with people will change from “here’s what you have done” to “what do you want to do?” It changes from “here are your development needs” to “I want to offer some advice” (what Marshall Goldsmith calls feedforward).

Where the advice joins the strategy and the motivation of the individual, you have fuel for growth. Now you can help identify the ways to help the person get there. When you offer an opportunity for them to learn something new, regardless of the methodology, it will make sense to them.

Progression is continuous, exciting and produces value. It recognizes motivation and captures it. It helps leaders make important decisions and move on. Planning is boring and produces notebooks. It frustrates leaders who try to do the impossible – motivate others. The follow-up is so torturous that most skip it entirely.

Which do you want?

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