Making Succession Planning LESS Scary – 3 Reflections from my Key Note

Making Succession Planning LESS Scary – 3 Reflections from my Key Note

Last week, I led a key note workshop on succession planning with 100+ community leaders from one of the premier counties in our state – Kent County. In the 90 minutes, we spent about 45 minutes learning and 45 minutes practicing the core skills needed to do it well.

What are the core skills?
Asking questions, listening, and creating a safe place for people to answer with the truth.

To practice, they were asked to do two conversations: one using the Team Member Fact Sheet, and one asking the 5 questions at the top of the Individual Development Plan (strengths, weakness, successes, short-term goals, long-term goals). For the latter conversation, I actually did a live, unrehearsed demonstration with a volunteer so they could see how I did things like create safety, gather information, and make it a simple conversation. It was powerful for me because it was so real.

Here are 3 reflections from learning with these leaders:

  1. Too often, succession planning = retirement. In a pre-conference survey, I asked what one word comes to mind when they hear ‘succession planning’. The top 3 answers were retirement, future, and replacement. One of the solutions I push is to stop referring to ‘succession planning’ and start calling your work a ‘strategic talent review’ – which is the focus of my solution.
  2. The fear barrier around the legality of the conversation can be overcome. At the end of the keynote workshop, the general counsel for the group told me, “You nailed your addressing of the legal issues and how to address it effectively.” It was high praise, because I preach a talent/people-centered approach to leadership and I believe in treating people with equality and truth. That endorsement was huge for me.
  3. ‘Listen, observe, do’ can be done with 100+ people! The fact that I went first, so people could see me doing it, helped the learning immensely. This was clear from the questions and observations people made about how to make things safe, how to ask follow-up questions, and what to say to invite openness and feelings of safety.

My bottom-line message was to approach the topic as a talent(i.e., people)-focused conversation and then use that information to understand plans for key roles and key people in your group.

My passion statement (from my own Entrepreneurial Operating System® VTO™) is maximizing individual growth and eliminating needless pain – moving to and past the tipping point of success. As I reflected on the day and how energized I was by my time with these leaders, it was clear what the reason was: I could see the hunger for learning in the group and feel the relief in hearing an approach many could see themselves leading effectively. I could also see several leaders moving toward that tipping point.

If you would like to learn more, here are links to the presentation and some of the free templates I shared:

  1. Presentation (on slideshare)
  2. Development Plan (used top 5 questions)
  3. Key Person / Key Role Worksheet
  4. And here are my top 4 blog posts addressing succession planning: