When we think of the topic of risk management we may not immediately think of succession planning. I believe the two topics do go together. Unfortunately, in my experience, risk and managing a crisis are rarely part of a leadership curriculum.
Succession planning is a strategy to prepare today’s employees and managers to be tomorrow’s leaders. Managing risk involves understanding hazards, impacts, statistics, people and their attitudes and reactions to emergencies, urgencies, and crisis. I submit that some of the attributes that make a crisis/risk/continuity leader also are found in how we prepare and train future leaders. In particular, succession planning done well can help ensure continuity of the culture of a business. Continuity of a business culture outlasted generations as Collins and Porras (1994) learned in their research of the most successful companies who achieved perennial growth over decades.
Further, a company should care very much about the capabilities of their leaders to handle stress, crisis, and how to make strategic risk decisions for they will certainly encounter such challenges during their career.
Textbooks and training programs are replete with dozens of qualities and attributes that help an individual grow in ability and contribute as a leader. I believe that our leadership programs should include at least a facile understanding of risk management – the new global expanded world of business demands it, I think.
A successful succession plan begins with the future – understanding and in some cases guessing what lies ahead for a company, an industry, and the workforce that will support that future state. Smallwood et al (1999) refers to this as results-based leadership. In my experience working with Mr. Smallwood and a high tech computer company’s human resources function, I found that this approach has great validity. One approach can be to connect the nature of the business and industry to performance-based criteria. For example, oil industry leaders should be trained and prepared to manage a potential oil spill, scientists at NASA should be ready with contingencies for a space-born rescue mission, a college level school district should partner with local industry to understand how to train future leaders, etc.
Collectively, we as a society can nurture and focus on the future leaders instead of adhering to traditional, static methods of training managers to ‘just do a job’.
I offer a few suggestions here to businesses that may help with succession planning:
- Share the vision
- educate the workforce with the ‘why’ of training and not just the ‘what’
- demonstrate why particular measurements, training aids and topics can help the candidates be more productive and ready for the future
- Show you care
- invest in your internal talent by providing ongoing, but focused training
- Provide tuition reimbursement
- reinstate (some now defunct) tuition reimbursement programs
- Build competencies specific to risk and crisis management
- include one module with practice on crisis management
And finally, one of my favorite mantras (which sometimes got me in trouble with management and sometimes reward myself and my team) is:
“If we always do
what we’ve always done
we’ll always get
what we always got.”
Therefore, we should listen to both the pundits speaking of the future as well as the next generation of primary workers (ages 25-45) for together we can build future leaders that can actually make a positive difference.
 Byham, William C, Smith, Audrey B., Paese, Matthew, J., (2002). “Grow Your Own Leaders-How to identify, develop, and retain leadership talent“. Prentice Hall, New Jersey 357
 Collins, James C., and Porras, Jerry Il, (1994). “Build to Last-Successful Habits of Visionary Companies“. Harper Business New York
 Ulrich, Dave, Zenger, Jack, and Smallwood, Norm, (1999). “Results-Based Leadership-How leaders build the business and improve the bottom line“. Harvard Business School Press, Boston 207