I was sponsored by an executive friend to be part of a closed, quasi-secret group of high-potential employees. We had speakers and meetings, but no clear plan for what we were supposed to be learning or how to manage our career paths. I’m sure the people who weren’t asked to participate were frustrated and demotivated by this process, and our supervisors were out of the loop as well. This is how NOT to do Succession Planning. Here are the truths of promotions:
- Promotions are not always fair (to you).
- Promotions are not based JUST on good performance.
- You won’t get promoted if no one knows you want to be.
- If you aren’t ready when a promotion is available, someone else will be chosen.
We had the privilege to develop and lead a custom experiential leadership program for over 300 Leaders at Medco, which is now Express Scripts. Top performers were nominated by the executives to participate in this program. Each learner received coaching on their individual development plans during and for at least six months following the program. The leadership was serious about developing leaders.
Medco was a pharmacy benefit management company with IT and pharmacist leaders. It was a competitive culture. The company was created from a split with Merck. The executive leadership team knew that Medco had the potential to grow very quickly, and growing talent would be the key. Succession Planning had to be done differently. High-performing staff would have to be able to move up quickly and replace themselves quickly, without stopping the progress of the team. The executives coached their leaders to look at Succession Planning this way: if you want to move up, you have to build your own successor(s) to replace you. Each leader at every level had this succession goal as part of their performance review. For every leadership position, there was supposed to be a replacement ready to step in.
We saw a difference in this company compared to others we had worked with:
- These leaders didn’t see themselves as competing against each other for positions. Instead, they were competing to grow their teams quickly and effectively, ensuring future new opportunities. There was no secret plan—you got promoted if you got your team ready and you had the talent to push on. In a quickly growing business, there are plenty of opportunities.
- The leaders prioritized time to grow their replacement because it was in their best interest.
- The great leaders also communicated their plan to their whole team so it wasn’t a secret game. Anyone could grow, but they had to do the work. Anyone could also stay where they were.
- Know what promotions you want to have
- Build the skill sets needed for the job you want to be promoted to
- Know who will replace you in your job
- Build the skill sets of your replacement, including helping them build their own replacement.
- Emotional Intelligence is an important differentiator. Grow your EQ muscle if you want to move up. For an overview, checkout this blog post on the New World of Work