Succession Planning – The Mission Rarely Changes

I recently read some old articles on the process GE took to replace the legendary Jack Welch.   The timeline averaged about six years.  SIX YEARS!  Of course we’re considering a mega-billion dollar organization, but we all know some organizations that made CEO picks in six weeks (or six minutes).  Jeff Immelt wasn’t on some of the early manifestations of “the list”, but the thought and maintenance of “the list” was an on-going process of the board and Mr. Welch.

In light of the massive boomer generation heading to the sunny horizon (they hope) of retirement or solid consulting gigs many organizations are moving succession planning to their current agendas.  We hear questions like: “who do we have in the pipeline?”, “who is outside out industry that may want to parachute in?”, “what division is outperforming the others and who is leading it?”, “can we talk her (current CEO) into sticking around for a few years?”, “anyone we can recruit from the XYZ org?”, “that millenial kid in accounting says he’s ready (just kidding, sorry)”.

In the best interest of the organization what is the right question?

Mission rarely changes but strategies can change often.  Do we identify the future leaders that are agile and able to pivot when necessary?  Or pursue the leaders that know exactly how we do things and should do things?

The question simbly may be: what is the organization of the future as we can see if from here?

A dear friend and mentor once shared that she has her vice presidents (she leads a wicked huge insurance company) to always have one “ready-now” and two “ready-futures” for all of their key positions.  Identified talent in or out of the company.  Ever since she shared that I have included a small brief in my annual self-reviews for my supervisors that included my “ready-now” and “ready-futures”.  And no, they did not know – for a variety of reasons, call me for coffee and I’ll share why.

There is no crystal ball to foresee what an organization will look like in the future, however you can determine the qualities of a leader to fulfill the mission moving forward.  Smart stewards will identify those qualities regularly and provide their in-house “ready-futures” with opportunities that will hone those qualities.  It is more about what that future CEO will need to bring to the seat than who that CEO actually is.

During the process at GE, Immelt’s name landed on the list.  What will it take to get your name on the list.  Start now.