“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
~ Robert Frost ~
Randy is more than a little anxious. He’s been moving ahead rapidly on the fast track with his company and he knows that his C-level managers see him as an emerging leader. Now, however, his boss has just presented him with a new challenge: mentor two employees who have just joined the firm. Randy has had a few good mentors in the past, but there’s a big difference between having one and being one. And he hasn’t been one since he tutored his girlfriend in math when they were high school seniors. He needs to be ready in two weeks. What to do first?
Like all creative leaders, Randy begins to brainstorm and research. Within a few hours, he has the outline of a game plan and knows exactly what he needs to do to become a great mentor:
- Develop a servant mentality
- Ask the right questions
- Cultivate their strengths
- Model executive presence
- Put them in the spotlight
1. Develop a servant mentality. The mentee is the star of your little show, so always keep him or her in the limelight. They may not be comfortable there, at least in the beginning. Every actor has butterflies on opening night, after all. Your job is to cheerlead, comfort, and encourage. And stay in the background.
2. Ask the right questions. Robert Ridel, in his book Critical Thinking for Everyday Life, says that “to question is to understand.” Probing, open-ended questions often lead other people to discover answers and ideas that they didn’t know they had. Always approach questioning from the positive point of view:
- Why do you think that worked so well?
- What would you do differently next time?
- If you were the client, what questions would you ask?
3. Cultivate their strengths. Being in a new position, or with a new company, is challenging in itself. Fear of failure may lie pretty close to the surface. Now is the time to remind your mentee of what she or he has already accomplished. They landed this job, didn’t they? And that was based on a track record of prior successes. Get them to talk about those successes and how to translate them into the current environment. This doesn’t mean you should ignore the downside. As George Lucas said, when discussing Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, “Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It’s the only way we grow.” You can see both sides but always accentuate the positive.
4. Model executive presence. You already have the right skills and attitude. That’s why you were chosen to become a mentor. You are not only talented, you create an impact when you enter the room. You know how to influence others, and you consistently provide added value to every project you manage. Always demonstrate these traits when working with your mentees. Come from a place of teaching, not from ego.
Good approach: “We just made a really successful presentation. Why do you think it worked?”
Not so good: “Wow! That was fantastic. I just love it when I knock it out of the park.”
5. Put them in the spotlight. When your mentee scores a win, give him the credit. Let him know when he hits a home run. Don’t hesitate to brag to your peers and C-level executives about what a great job he’s doing. Then use that win as a foundation for continuing to grow.
Six months after Randy took on his first two mentees, he was asked to develop a mentoring model to be implemented company-wide. Today, mentoring is a way of life, based on the initial plan he put together.
Are you about to become a mentor? Or are you already a mentor and need some new ideas to motivate your mentees? Email Joel today for his suggestions.
Talkback: Have you successfully mentored employees or others in your industry? What tips would you like to share with our readers?
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“In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.”
~ Lee Iacocca ~
Dylan is responsible for the succession management of his large company. “Sometimes the results have been frustrating,” Dylan says. “We plan. We prepare them. We check the past performance of our top employees.
“And still, when they step into that leadership role, sometimes the ramp-up takes far too long. Sometimes they are less than what we expected.”
Dylan decided to use more quantifiable tools to help him gauge the talent performance of those within his succession program. “I thought if I could learn some triggers or some key performance measures beyond the standard reviews and recommendations, maybe we could do better.”
Dylan’s goal was to increase the success of those stepping into management roles.
1. Personality. Dylan determined that personality plays a key role in predicting the success of promotions. “Of course other factors are important,” Dylan said. “But all things being equal, personality matters.”
It wasn’t just that Dylan wanted hard-chargers at the top. But when he understood the personality of the candidates in the succession management, he had a better feel where to place them. Some departments would respond better to a consensus builder and cheerleader. Others required a firm take-charge attitude.
To check this out, Dylan explored tools like the traditional Myers-Briggs interest inventory as well as newer personality assessments with labels of colors and gems. He found many of them gave the broad-brush assessment he needed.
“For example,” Dylan said. “My R&D department needed someone who was patient with the facts and science and yet willing to encourage and be open to exploration. The past leader really pushed for results and was impatient with explanations—excuses, he called them. It didn’t bring out the best in my scientists.”
2. Skill Sets. Dylan worked to find tools that could accurately assess the skill sets of the rising talent. Of course past performance was measured. But often new skill sets were needed for the future job.
Dylan had current leaders assess the skills needed for their jobs. Then he found ways to measure the abilities of those selected for succession. He sometimes gave them a project that called for these skills.
On key abilities, Dylan asked a co-worker or mentor to evaluate the worker for several weeks. He asked them to look specifically for that talent or skill, and assess the employee’s mastery of it.
When there was a gap between need and skill set, Dylan worked to train the employee in that area before the promotion and the need to have that skill arrived.
3. Drive. In the past, management had gathered to discuss who they felt should be part of the succession plan. “I know this is important,” Dylan said. “But I thought we needed to add another element.” Dylan wanted those interested to “raise their hands.”
“I wanted those motivated enough to step up and say, ‘Pick me,'” Dylan said. “I think that extra measure of confidence, initiative, and drive matters.”
In the review process, they added a series of questions.
- Where do you hope to be 2 years from now?
- What steps do you plan to take to get there?
- What is your next step right now?
As Dylan implemented these tools in his succession management, he saw the talent performance of the newly promoted rise. “I’ve been very pleased with the results,” Dylan said. “I think matching personalities, analyzing skill sets, and assessing drive has helped us step up our promotions. At this point, I feel very comfortable with our succession plan.”
Do you want to make sure your talent performs up to expectations when placed in your succession management? If so, contact Joel for assessment and coaching.
Talkback: What extra steps have you taken to see that your top talent is properly prepared for the succession slot they are expected to fill?
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“In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.”
Fidel was assigned to manage the succession planning in his company. Little had been done and he needed to identify key management positions and ideal replacement personnel within the ranks.
In the past he’d seen people promoted who didn’t succeed even though they had the proper training and skill sets. Fidel felt there was a key missing ingredient.
He turned to personality assessments. He looked at Myers-Briggs, the Color Code, Fascination, and other methods to understand the way personality influenced success.
Fidel understood that personality type was only part of the equation in management succession planning, but it was still important. “The company needs all of the personality types to function optimally,” Fidel said. “I realized part of my job was to create an atmosphere of respect for each personality type, so they felt free to bring their strengths to the table.”
- Detail oriented personalities. Some people naturally attend to the details. They make sure the reports are done on time, they meet deadlines, and assist others at being responsible and timely. “I looked at the jobs that required this kind of close attention to detail,” Fidel said. “Then I made sure the person we put in our succession planning program had those qualities.”
- Team building personalities. “There are some people that are natural team builders,” Fidel said. They are good at creating enthusiasm, gathering consensus, and helping the team get along. Fidel made sure these personality types were matched with the jobs that especially needed that group leadership. He recognized, however, that this personality type would not excel at the detailed follow-through that might be needed.
- Analyzing and processing personalities. Some people naturally follow critical thinking skills. They work well in positions that require analyzing information. They are gifted in sorting through massive information and understanding that it means and how to use it to their advantage.
- Think-outside-the box personalities. These intuitive thinkers are great for getting projects started. They are creative, inventive and vital for brainstorming. Fidel understood they should not be placed in management succession for a position calling for analyzing and processing. They would serve the company best in places where their creative thinking was welcomed and essential.
- The excellent personality. Some people just want the best—for themselves and their company. Excellent is barely good enough. They are effective at driving others to be the best. Fidel wanted this personality for succession planning for top talent that encourages the company forward.
- Nurturing personalities. When people know others care for them they respond better and perform better. They can be more effective sales people. They can see a need and fill it. In difficult situations, the nurturing personality can keep things running smoothly. Fidel assessed the key jobs that needed someone who could be supportive under pressure. Then he evaluated potential successors for these attributes.
“People looked at me a little strangely, when I first required them to take these personality assessments,” Fidel said. “I even got a little push back from HR when I incorporated personality types into the management succession planning. But it’s worked out beautifully.”
In the three instances where Fidel’s chosen successor moved into the new job, they have performed exceptionally well. “I feel vindicated,” Fidel said. “It’s doing everything I hoped it would.”
Do you have concerns about your company’s management succession planning? Contact Joel and he can help you with this and other options to insure you have key players in place when you need them.
Talkback: How does your company work its succession planning? What are key factors to consider?
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“Our goals can only be reached through the vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”
Client Ron asks: Our company has got to get serious about a planning program for succession. We talk about it all the time, but only in some kind of informal, conversational way. “Oh, Janet would be a great comptroller if we could get her into a couple of training programs.” But there’s nothing in writing and no formal plan with benchmarks and milestones. I’m going to take on this challenge personally. But how do I even get started?
Coach Joel answers: Unfortunately, many companies never even think about a succession planning program until they are faced with some kind of crisis or emergency. Someone becomes ill or gets recruited by a competitor and suddenly there’s a huge hole in the organization chart and no one is available to fill it. You’re smart to shed some daylight on this issue. Here are three action steps I think you should take as soon as possible to tackle succession planning in your organization:
- Create individual development plans
- Start an internship program
- Train high potentials with job rotation
1. Create individual development plans. Virtually every employee in your company should have a written career plan. This plan should include his or her core competencies, career goals, and what training programs are needed in order to get him from where he is now to where he wants to go. Be sure to include a time frame for each development activity. Work with each person one on one, and let them develop their own plan with your guidance, rather than developing the plan yourself and dictating to them what’s to be done. Be sure they know the plan can be modified if situations or goals change.
2. Start an internship program. An internship program is an important component of succession program planning. I’m talking here about a special kind of internship, a formal growth structure for employees on the move, not an unpaid summer job for high school or college students. Let’s say, for example, that Kate, who is currently an IT supervisor, has expressed an interest in learning more about marketing. Kate can begin to spend a small percentage of her time in marketing, doing real work, such as a special project or a real problem solve. Kate should have a mentor who will support and critique her. At the same time she should be given opportunities to interact with senior marketing staff during meetings and trainings. Socializing with marketing staff outside the workplace would also help her feel comfortable and become more visible.
3. Train high potentials with job rotation. Job rotations are designed to give rising stars wide exposure to the big company picture by experiencing all phases of the company’s business. Don’t confuse job rotation with cross training, which usually takes place among employees within a department rather than throughout the company. As an important piece of your succession planning, you’ll want to set this up so that each program participant spends time assuming duties and getting hands-on experience in every department. For example, let’s say you’ve targeted Jeffrey as a potential future CFO. As a final phase in his growth plan, he might spend an entire year devoting 25% or more of his time to projects in HR, marketing, and production. Think of job rotation as an investment in leadership development that will ensure that promising young employees gain the experience they need to understand all aspects of the business.
When you set up this kind of structure, you’re doing two things. First, you’re letting your future leaders know you have confidence in them. You’re giving them an opportunity to chart their own course to a successful future. At the same time, you’re giving them a huge responsibility to rise to the occasion by devoting hard work and commitment to their own futures. Most, if not all, will rise to the occasion and you’ll sleep better at night, knowing that your company has the right people in place who can step up to the plate when the occasion demands it.
How’s your succession plan looking? Contact Joel today for some ideas you can use to whip it into shape.
Talkback: Do you have some succession planning tools that are working for you? Share your successes here.
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“The longer you’re not taking action the more money you’re losing.”
Kimberly has been running her info-marketing business for 15 years now. She’s supported her family and saved a nice nest-egg. A scary bout with a heart problem sent Kimberly scurrying to develop a succession plan.
“I realized no one even knew my passwords. If I died, all my information would be locked up on my computer!” Kimberly said. “Entrepreneur succession planning for me would be a roadmap for my family and heirs to follow if I became disabled or died. And a plan for me when I get to thinking about retirement.”
Shared corporate knowledge.
First Kimberly took time to write down much of what was only in her mind. As the entrepreneur and creator of her business, so much was intuition and her own personal experience.
“I gathered together asset statements, bank accounts, partners, vendors, and all their contact information.”
She listed debts, repayment schedules, and plans for faster payoffs if needed. She made a folder and put life insurance papers, incorporation paperwork, and trust documents there.
Entrepreneur Succession Planning
“What would happen to my business if I couldn’t run it? Who could? What did they need to know?” Kimberly asked the tough questions. “I really didn’t want to think about all this. After all, I’d been healthy up to now. But I realized I wasn’t invincible.”
Fortunately Kimberly had an older child who was at college, but had shown interest in the business. “Because much of the work is online, he could do some things from college.”
Kimberly was surprised at what her son, Tim, knew about the business… and what he didn’t know. She set in place a plan to get Tim up to speed on every part of the business.
She also started working with her part-time employee, Lisa, to get her trained in every aspect of her business. “I wanted a back-up person who could take over in a pinch,” Kimberly said.
The Inheritance Plan
Even though Tim might take over the running of the business, Kimberly wanted her other two children to have their share of the business.
She called a family meeting to discuss who wanted to be involved in the business and how to divide the assets of her company.
As an entrepreneur, she’d never even had the value of her company assessed. “I had a figure in my mind, but the appraisal came in much higher,” Kimberly said. The other two children wanted the money but not the headaches of the work.
For Kimberly, the best solution was to create a company with shares. Each family member would inherit shares of the company. Tim would receive a salary and the shareholders a distribution.
This would allow Tim the chance to buy out his siblings over time if he wanted.
Feeling More Secure
“I never thought I’d be grateful for a heart attack,” Kimberly said. “But now I feel so much more secure and in control of the future of my company.”
Entrepreneur succession planning may look different than succession plans of other kinds of businesses. But it’s just as essential.
With her business organized and replacements in the wings, Kimberly feels more comfortable about the future. “It’s done,” she says. “Now I can focus on what I love— helping people succeed using my great products.”
If you’re an entrepreneur or solo-preneur who wants the confidence that comes from an effective succession plan, contact Joel for help.
Talkback: Have you created a succession plan for your start-up business? How did you find “replacements” for your key people?
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