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It’s Time to Shake Up your Succession Planning

It’s Time to Shake Up your Succession Planning

By: Liz Wiseman, author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work (Harper Business, 2014)

Read an interview with author Liz Wiseman: The Agile Team: Why Learning Beats Knowing

Too often well-meaning managers shield their employees from change and disruption, essentially placing a do not disturb sign on the employee’s door.

While employees may seem temporarily relieved, could it be that they are actually unhappy when they are cloistered and comfortable? When is it time to disturb someone, wake them up, and lead them into a discomfort zone?

My research focused on just these questions: When are employees ready to be challenged and how much of a challenge can they actually handle? We asked approximately one thousand individuals to indicate how long it took them to:

1) Figure out their current role
2) Be ready for their next big challenge,
3) Be ready for a new role, and
4) Begin to feel stale in their current role.

In general, we found that after receiving a challenging assignment, people:

  • Have figured out their role within three months
  • Are ready for the next big challenge within just three months
  • Are ready for a new role within one year
  • Begin to feel stale within two years

When we analyzed the data by job role we found that individual contributors are the first to feel stale and the first to be ready to tackle a new challenge. Middle managers, on the other hand, report being ready for an entirely new job or role the soonest.

Given that the majority of employees are ready for a new challenge every three months and ready for a new role at one year, what can you do to prevent your workforce from getting stale?

Most organizations can’t play a perpetual game of musical chairs, moving employees into new roles every twelve months. But here are some other strategies to keep your talent in the rookie zone.

1. Design one rookie component into each job. While the majority of a role may play to the employee’s strengths and utilize their current job skills, ensure that everyone has at least one aspect of their job where they must close a significant knowledge or skill gap.

2. Offer lateral (as well as promotional) assignments. Financial services firm Vanguard routinely moves their management talent between diverse roles. A job swap between purchasing and IT isn’t unusual.

The current CIO is a deep techie but had just come from managing a high-net-worth-client group. He replaced the CIO who is now running the retail investment group.

The previous CIO is now working as the firm’s chief investment officer. Why the shuffle? It allows leadership to keep the thinking fresh and ensure that management has a panoramic view of the business.

3. Make management changes mandatory. Chevron Corporation generally expects members of their upstream global workforce to move to a new assignment every four years. If someone has been overseeing upstream asset management in the San Joaquin Valley in California, he or she might next be running oil operations in Kazakhstan. Nestlé, the Swiss food company, takes a similar approach.

When senior managers approach three years in tenure (or even before) they must hit the refresh button and move into a different role. This not only keeps the managers fresh and challenged; it breathes new life into the organizations they lead.

4. Redefine the succession planning criteria. As you review candidates in the succession planning process, factor in each candidate’s learning agility — are they curious, humble, playful, and deliberate? Look at their job history to see if they have a track record of success in rookie assignments.

If you are considering someone for a job that is more than one size too big, look through his career history to see if he has been successful in other equally oversize jobs. This might be the best predictor of the ability to handle a stretch assignment.

Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work by Liz Wiseman

Excerpted from Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work (Harper Business, 2014) Copyright © 2014 by Liz Wiseman. Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins Publishers.

Author Bio:
Liz Wiseman
is a researcher, executive advisor and speaker who teaches leadership to executives around the world and is the president of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research.

She is a former executive and the author of the bestselling books Multipliers: How the Best leaders Make Everyone Smarter and The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools.

Read an interview with author Liz Wiseman: The Agile Team: Why Learning Beats Knowing