The mass exodus of Baby Boomers has been delayed slightly by the global recession, but company leaders shouldn’t be taking their eye off the ball when it comes to identifying their future successor. You need to ask yourself who will be in your seat when you’ve left.
Start now. Search firms are often retained at the time the pin is pulled, and it surprises me how few companies have a plan in place. Boards and CEOs should be working with HR and acting like talent scouts inside and outside the organization to build a list of prospects; a roster which will of course change and evolve over time. Specialists in selection and assessment can be brought in to help look at the internal bench-strength and networks can be tapped to add prospects’ names from outside.
Recognize it’s not going to be easy. Leaders struggle with filling their own role more than any other search they’ll ever do because, guess what, they’re going to be looking for someone just like themselves. To top that off, demographics are working against you; Candidates for executive leadership roles in highest demand are those in their late 30s to late 40s with lots of “runway” and these folks who are sandwiched between the Boomers and the Y Generation are simply less plentiful.
Cast the net broadly. Look closely at leadership candidates from different functional areas of your own organization and even from other industry sectors outside your company. Just because you came up the stream of Engineering or Finance doesn’t mean your successor will need to rake the same path to the top. Every company we do business with believes their customers, suppliers, market, competitive forces and technology are completely unique; they’re right and some technical roles require specific qualifications, certifications and training but if we’re talking about an executive role, smart successful leaders can often transcend perceived gaps, especially with qualified technical teams beneath them.
Let the prime candidates in on the plan. Communicate openly about the succession strategy and be specific on timeline, commitment, compensation, and other items the person will need to understand when contemplating the job you’re grooming her/him for. As a an executive search consultant, I can’t tell you how many times a strong candidate is out looking for something new, not because of being unhappy or unfulfilled, but rather because she/he is completely in the dark about their future prospects.
The continued success of your organization will be determined by the team you shape.