Spurred on by global growth, global competition, and the recent economic crisis, companies are restructuring themselves more frequently and more rapidly. Such frequent dismantling and reassembling of a company's organizational structure creates gaps in leadership at all levels in the organization. Filling these leadership gaps in this type of environment is a great challenge for today's fast-changing companies.
The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) paper, "Succession Planning Highlight Report," found that 34 percent of organizations with more than 10,000 employees are not prepared to fill their leadership roles. The report also concluded that succession planning will be among the top five challenges executives face in the future.
Companies traditionally use succession planning for identifying employees who are best suited to fill leadership vacancies at the executive and C-levels. The identified successors are groomed for a long period to transition into these roles, which are expected to develop from attrition. However, this model does not meet the needs of companies that must adapt to the speed of change that occurs in today's business environment.
A matter of time
The rapid organizational restructuring required to survive in the global economy strains the capability of succession planning to quickly fill the large number of leadership gaps that are created. Companies do not have the time required by traditional succession planning to close these leadership gaps. In a March 2009 T+D article titled "Successful Leadership Transisition", long-term investment is cited as one of the barriers to successful implementation of succession plans. As a result, not enough successors are prepared to transition into the vacancies created during reorganizations.
Rapid organizational restructuring can also dramatically change the leadership needs at the middle and lower levels of a company. Unfortunately, traditional succession plans usually neglect to address leadership gaps at these levels. A more rigorous and structured approach to succession planning (one that focuses on preparing all employees for leadership roles, not just those who are on the CEO track) could improve the speed at which companies transition to new organizational structures.
When traditional succession plans fail to fill leadership vacancies after a reorganization, companies have no choice but to place employees into leadership roles with little or no preparation to take on the responsibilities of leadership. Unprepared leaders disrupt the building of strong management teams required to ensure that the goals of the reorganization initiative are achieved.
In addition, poorly filled leadership roles at the middle and lower organizational levels disrupt the team cohesion necessary to sustain performance during a reorganization. Frequent restructuring, however, creates more than just gaps in leadership. It also creates gaps in the collective knowledge of a company.
The knowledge factor
When leaders shift from old to new roles, the tacit knowledge regarding a team's group norms, communication styles, relevant incentives, and other factors, moves with the leader transitioning into her new role. This shift creates gaps in the corporate knowledge that develops along with a leader's experience.
In companies that frequently reorganize, new leaders transitioning from leading individuals to leading teams or groups of teams have little time to gain this tacit knowledge and must start from scratch to discover how to best manage larger numbers of employees. Thus, the knowledge needed to successfully perform the job duties of a leader is lost to the employees (those most in need of it) and to the organization.
In addition, employees placed into new leadership roles are not usually given any training before they begin working in their new role. Traditional succession planning models do not incorporate leadership development and therefore cannot address the knowledge gaps created by frequent restructuring efforts.
Succession's next steps
Making succession planning better able to support rapid, frequent reorganizations requires succession plans that not only identify potential leaders, but that develop and transition employees into their new leadership roles. While it may seem that expanding what succession plans cover is counterproductive to supporting rapid, frequent reorganizations, using a Web 2.0 approach to incorporate knowledge management and leadership development into succession planning may actually make it more responsive.
One of the strengths of Web 2.0 technology is its ability to capture and provide information constantly and distribute it to all employees in a company. Executives can use information gathered using Web 2.0 tools when preparing for corporate restructures, such as mapping social networks in a company and monitoring blogs and forums for quick identification of new leaders needed for executing a reorganization.
Joseph Christy, director of Washington County Oregon Juvenile Department, advises that the stronger the management team and the more widely leadership is dispersed throughout an organization, the greater its ability to weather major leadership transitions.
Delivering leadership training in multiple Web 2.0 modalities, such as webinars, wikis, video vignettes, and online, can allow leadership development to occur on a continual basis at all levels of an organization, making employees ready to take on leadership duties and quickly adapt to new leadership roles over the long term. In addition, the use of social networking tools as performance support assets allow for quicker upskilling to perform newly assigned job duties.
The old way of thinking about succession planning as separate from leadership development and performance support will hinder a company's ability to rapidly adjust to organizational restructuring. A better way to think about succession planning incorporates knowledge management, leadership development, and performance support synergistically to identify, develop, and transition employees to their new leadership roles. Here are some ideas to address these three aspects of succession planning to meet the needs of rapid, frequent organizational restructuring.
Quickly identify potential leaders:
- Develop a social network diagram that tracks whom employees go to for information, and refresh the diagram by polling employees every three to four weeks. Compare the network diagram against the organizational chart to factor in the breadth of relationships potential leaders have when choosing a successor. Employees who are major nodes in the information flow will have greater success as leaders.
- Establish and monitor, using RSS feeds, a blog on "so you want to be a leader?" that provides the values, ethics, beliefs, and expectations of the organization regarding leadership. Employees who post replies that are congruent with the values, ethics, and beliefs of the organization are good candidates for leadership roles.
- Establish and monitor a forum that allows employees to provide input on what managerial qualities work well and should be continued, as well as the characteristics and competencies that successors need to have in the reorganized structure. Compare this information with the performance appraisals of leadership candidates. Those who match more closely will have greater success as leaders.
Expand leadership readiness:
- Incorporate an aspiring-leader training program into the succession planning process - one that allows employees at any level in the organization to develop skills for the next higher level of leadership. Use an individual training cycle of self assessment, immersion, and re-assessment that allows for individual monitoring of improvement. Also, provide multiple development paths within the program for leading individuals (for example, project lead), leading groups (for example, team lead or manager), and leading organizations (for example, department director or vice president) so that employees have multiple entry and exit points. This gives employees influence over the changing of leaders in the company.
- Deliver a blended learning course that has videos of exiting or retiring leaders providing philosophies of leadership at the company, as well as contextual examples of best practices and lessons learned as preclassroom learning material.
- Use multiple delivery modes such as wikis, e-learning courses, and face-to-face sessions to provide employees with continuous access to leadership development training. Break content from the leadership development program into question-answer-action assets, and provide all employees with access to them.
- Establish a leadership community of practice by having employees who participate in the training contribute to wikis, post portfolio examples of how they practice leadership, and provide peer reviews of course assignments.
Rapidly transition new leaders:
- Require the departing leader to have an information-sharing session with the incoming leader through stories and practical tips. Capture these sessions in video or audio formats, and add them to the learning assets of the leadership development program.
- Use the leadership team to welcome new leaders, holding the team responsible for introductions, and the passing on of company values and standards for leadership.
- Send a link to question-answer-action learning assets in an email for new leaders on day one of their new role. When new leaders run into a problem or issue, they will be able to search the assets to quickly get an answer and take action.
- Create a site within the community of practice intranet that provides knowledge assets for new leaders in an "everything you need to know" fashion. Organize the information relevant to the leadership level and area of the organization that the new leader has been assigned. This will allow leadership problems to be quickly resolved.
To become more adept at sustaining performance and ensuring that the goals of reorganization initiatives are achieved during frequent organizational restructuring, companies need to expand traditional succession planning models to not only identify potential leaders, but also to develop and transition them into their new roles with the help of Web 2.0 tools.
Succession planning, when blended with knowledge management and aspiring leader development programs, can rapidly identify potential leaders from a larger pool of employees ready to take on leadership roles. Web 2.0 tools can help employees in new leadership roles to successfully transition with the support of strong leadership teams and a community of practice. T+D