I’ve managed formal succession-planning systems for a number of large companies and consulted with quite a few smaller companies. I network with others that do the same, and keep up with the latest succession-planning current practices, trends, and challenges.
I’m a bona fide succession-planning insider, and I know what goes on behind the scenes.
Here are 10 things your company probably isn’t telling you about succession planning:
1. You’re on “the list.” While “transparency” is the buzzword in succession planning best practices, the reality is that most companies are still pretty secretive when it comes to sharing their succession plans. You might get hints that you are considered “high potential,” or even told that you are in a high-potential program, but you probably won’t be told if you are on a formal succession plan or whose plan you may be on.
2. You may be on your bosses’ list, but you didn’t make the cut for the final list. Here’s how this happens: your boss is asked for a list of either succession plan candidates for his/her position, or a list of high potentials. Other bosses are also asked for their lists. Those lists get sent up the chain of command are compared and calibrated in talent-review meetings, and usually names are dropped or added. Your boss is never informed of the changes, and assumes you’re on the list and tells you. You mistakenly think you’re being groomed for the next level and end up being disappointed when you are not considered as a candidate for that big opportunity.
3. You’re no longer on “the list.” While some companies do a decent job of informing their star employees that they are “in the program,” they do a lousy job telling them one or two years later that they got dropped from the program. High-potential lists change from year to year — just because you on considered hipo one year doesn’t mean you are anointed for life.
4. You are under the microscope and always being sized up. Once you are identified as having high potential, you’ll be under a raised level of scrutiny. That “stretch assignment” you’ve been offered for your development? It’s a test, so don’t screw it up. That “safe learning environment” they told you about in the high potential training program? You’re being watched — don’t make an ass of yourself.
5. We expect you to be committed. Organizations consider “commitment” as an important element of what it means to be high potential. That means being willing to put in long hours, relocate, and bleed the company colors. If you are not – well, that’s OK, you still may be considered a valued employee, but it may take you off a few succession lists.
6. Development moves are risky, with a high rate of failure. Job changes to new and unfamiliar territory (new function, new country, new line of business) are considered to be the best and highest payoff type of development, hands down. And no doubt, they are. However, after about six months, everybody soon forgets that this was supposed to be a “developmental assignment” for you and will start getting impatient if you are not performing at a high level. No matter what you were told, you’ll be expected to perform and get results sooner than later.
7. That “special developmental project”? You’ll be expected to do that, plus your regular job. High potentials are expected to step up and find a way. No one is going to do your regular work for you.
8. Your status is tied to your boss’s ability to represent you and advocate for you. “C player” bosses have no credibility when it comes to nominating their own employees for high-potential programs. Also, some bosses do a better job “selling” their employees to their peers and boss than others do. You’ll help yourself by helping your boss be successful and making sure he/she is aware of your accomplishments.
9 Your status is also tied to what others think of you. It’s not just your bosses’ opinion of your performance and potential that carries weight. Again, these decisions are usually made in talent-review meetings, where everyone (your boss’s peers) gets to have a say. So don’t tick off your boss’ peers; their perceptions matter!
10. You’re responsible for your own development. While you might be lucky enough to work for a progressive company that actually invests in the development of their high potentials (they don’t just make up lists), unfortunately, most don’t. And even if you did, you’re better off not leaving your development up to someone else.
Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire and runs the Management & Leadership channel of About.com. He writes the award-winning leadership development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBrief and a member of the SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board. E-mail McCarthy.