In part one of this blog post, you learned how the best succession policy is not to create a succession pipeline, but to focus on creating a succession culture—an organization-wide priority for fostering personal and professional growth.

Gripes like "It's not in my job description," and "I don't have time,” are the products of real obstacles, but these attitudes can be recrafted and reprioritized if growth is an actual priority. A succession culture means everyone is cultivated for continual growth, even if they’re not all heading toward a leadership position. But now that you understand the idea of succession culture, how do you put it in place? 

Succession Culture Reinforcement 

Proper hiring criteria and coaching are guiding factors, but a few practical ties to institutional transparency answer the question, “How can we be sure that growth is securely anchored to our succession foundation?” Some very simple characteristics of a robust learner- and growth-centered environment indicate a high level of transparency. Three examples:

  • An open door policy translates to an immediate supervisor taking the time to actually lean into all direct reports’ offices, not for a progress report of daily business, but to touch base on each individual’s well-being on an ongoing, informal basis.
  • A culture of gratitude and thankfulness exists. Supervisors should be looking out for notable productive work and deeds. Supervisors are not only aware, but prioritize the act of acknowledgement, praise, and recognition to all those who contribute to success.
  • Mindful of an institutions’ values, a palpable esprit de corps is present in colleagues within and between departments, working collaboratively toward a mission. “Yes, can do, possible,” is a pervasive framework and replaces excuses or rationalizations (including lack of staff or time) to reach a pragmatic and sensible objective.

Why is an affirmative, grateful, employee-centered disposition indicative of growth and reinforced through transparency? Beyond fostering trust and joy at work, these attributes are interdependent. Reiterated in Forbes, “Just think of how many careers would have been salvaged and discovered if transparency had been part of the corporate culture equation.” Unfortunately, faux transparency also exists. Below are two examples of stagnation disguised as transparency or empowerment.

Often related to chain of command, relevant stakeholders are consciously neglected. Exclusion is typically related to position and control. Ambiguity, lack of contextual or historic details, and outright exclusion are compounded by unattended assumptions about what others know, do not know, need to know, or want to know. In best-case scenarios, an executive may choose not to forward basic information or meeting announcements because they assume employees already know the information. These bad habits are often slapped with the label self-sufficiency to justify lack of empowerment through frequent communication.

Job descriptions that limit or inhibit professional development and hinder opportunities to grow are sometimes overlooked as impediments to growth because leaders assume that employees who want to find a way to grow will make their own path. Placement procedures, policies, and strictures must be reconsidered to allow maximum potential to be realized. This notion goes far beyond statements such as, “And other duties as assigned.” Growth is not incidental but purposefully constructed, based on a confluence of individual needs and business necessities. 

Dos and Don’ts of Succession Culture 

Growth as the pivotal fixture of a succession culture is not a new idea, but if not fully optimized it compromises succession wins. Once growth is concretely established, development and implementation require attention to and monitoring of the following additional needs.

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Succession Preparation Essentials: 

  • A program, not a pipeline. Not everyone is management material, no matter how successful in a current role. Performance does not equal potential
  • Candidate selection is tied to vision and goals, not status (share strategy identification and selection process with everyone). 
  • Selection criteria and routes to success are communicated transparently to everyone. In some cases, multiple succession scenarios are possible. 
  • A “don’t tell” philosophy should be shed. 
  • Clearly articulated criteria are evident for decision making, measures of success, requirements, and expectations. 
  • Benchmarks exist, both internal and external. Potential candidates can explore best routes, means, and designs for preparation or succession readiness. 
  • Constantly assess strengths and weaknesses of current metrics; high potential designation is not necessarily a fixed set of attributes.

Add Growth Opportunities: 

  • Challenge employees through greater responsibilities; “stretch” assignments (such as workshops, assessments, and special projects) are right for everyone, not just those being cultivated for leadership. 
  • Train for breadth (out of comfort zone or beyond expertise assignments), depth (related functional or technical expertise), and performance benchmarks (increased challenges or leadership roles).

Coaching Emphasis: 

  • Discuss aspirations and help plot continuously unfolding courses to realize aspirations. 
  • Employ purposefully actionable self-assessment tools. 
  • Capitalize on timely corrective feedback. 
  • Reflect a succession process that begins from the first day of employment, known and available to all employees.

Senior Level Stakeholding: 

  • Don’t merely issue a vision or charge, but demonstrate purposeful, timely involvement and follow-though. 
  • Clearly articulate responsibilities, opportunities, and roles in development; those actions that result in perceptions of favoritism or entitlement should be avoided. 
  • Overlap responsibilities of the predecessor after transition.

With these essentials in mind, you are ready to create a succession culture at your organization.