[IMGCAP(1)]The recent announcements by Apple CEO Steve Jobs and University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt of their battles with illness remind us of the dramatic impact that one individual can have on an organization.
What happens to those organizations when these magical leaders have to face the need to change their role? How do they continue the success these magical leaders have inspired? With planning, a dedication to their employees, and an acceptance that things change. New leadership at the top, when done well, continues the magic. When done ineffectively, it can spell the end for a previously successful organization and a life’s legacy.
Jobs is revered in the computer industry for co-founding Apple and pioneering iconic products like the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. He recently announced that he was stepping down as CEO after years of battling a rare form of pancreatic cancer. Summitt is a Hall of Fame member who is considered the all-time winningest coach in U.S. basketball history. She recently disclosed that she has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia.
You can’t duplicate a Jobs or a Summitt. It won’t work. That duplicate is bound to fail because, well, they are not the original. And smart organizations don’t try to make them so.
Let’s start with what makes them magical, because those qualities can be emulated. Passion is the No. 1 ingredient. Both Steve and Pat are passionate about what they have created. It fuels their ability to create magic and be strong, visionary leaders. Steve has always been one of my all-time heroes because of his ability to harness that passion and use it to build the spirit of innovation that defines Apple. Pat’s passion made her the head of the Evil Empire to those of us who are UConn fans. But when you put the game of basketball aside and look at how she has played the game of life, you understand her magic as a leader and as a human being.
Given the way each of these leaders has lived their lives, I suspect their organizations are well prepared for the change. Strategy has been the hallmarks of their reigns, and I imagine that kind of strategic thinking has led them to make succession plans. For leaders who see these two titans preparing to leave the arena at some future point and want to emulate their strategic departures, I offer these suggestions:
Pass it on with compassion: If you’re a magical leader, it’s been about you for a while and you’re used to that. Remember that you have built and run your organization for years. Think about what you know and how you learned it. You developed your knowledge in many ways over time: through formal education; assignments and projects that have given you hands-on-experiences; people you have known and worked with, both the stellar and less than stellar. In many cases, your best teachers have been the problems, errors and mistakes that you and others have made. All these things have taken time, and it will take time for the next leader to learn and know a great deal about your organization. Be patient with that process.
Support your successors’ success: There is nothing admirable about a leader so wrapped up in him or herself and so afraid of a loss of identity that they do all they can to trip up their successor. Setting the stage for your successor is the best last gift you can give to the organization that’s ingested your magic, given you admiration for it, and used it to make itself into a winning organization. So make sure you contribute to your successor’s success.
You do that by clearly communicating your expectations to that person before he or she signs on, and by creating a culture of accountability. Such a culture is based on developing clear, key accountabilities for each position and integrating these key accountabilities into a scorecard that aligns with your organization’s mission, vision, strategy, processes, structure and systems.
Set the stage for ongoing succession: Use your departure as a “teachable moment” for all of your key people. Develop a succession culture in which each key person thinks about his or her heir. Take the time now, before key employees leave, to develop your organization’s capability to capture, maintain and transfer skills and knowledge to others. It can take an organization up to three years to prepare for these kinds of workforce shifts. Use the next three years to get ready.
Get used to turnover: Today’s demographics are setting the stage for a major talent departure, so expect more “magicians” to disappear on a pretty regular basis. And they will not be replaced by workers willing to stay as long as they did. Today’s business owners have workers ages 55 – 64 and have benefited by them staying in a job, on average, for 10 years.
They will be replaced by generations of workers who will stay, on average, only 4.1 years. And those folks may very well leave before they can pass on their magic. Higher employee turnover will be disruptive. Lack of the vital knowledge necessary to train the replacements will be devastating. How will you capture the knowledge they have? How will their leaving affect your company, and what are you doing to prepare for that?
Get smarter about ways to compete for and keep the right employees who will be capable successors. Much has been made about the role of branding in advertising, but there’s also something called an “employer brand.” This solidifies and puts into play the reasons that someone wants to join and stay with your organization. Create it, learn it, teach it, and practice it.
Develop a workforce plan: Creating a durable workforce requires planning. A workforce plan is built on the answers to four fundamental questions: 1) What will we lose when certain individuals walk out the door? 2) What do they do right now — really? 3) What do they know? 4) What will be the impact when they leave and how can we prepare for it?
Create a “FIT” organization: FIT organizations have people who are placed in the right positions to contribute to the organization’s success. Their leaders make sure each person fits with the role, the culture, the boss and the team.
What all this means is that the magic can and should continue even after the magician has left the stage. Organizations that prepare for this eventuality do it by building a culture of accountability and respect for each individual. They make succession everyone’s business. These are the organizations that continue their success long after their “fearless leader” has stepped to the sidelines.
Pam Butterfield is the principal of Business Success Tools LLC. Formed in 2001, Business Success Tools LLC specializes in helping organizations leverage opportunities, identify and eliminate barriers to growth and manage the inevitable crises that arise in the life of an organization. For more information, visit www.BusinessSuccessTools.Biz.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access