#Folge 7 - Succession Planning that works (Michael Timms)
Jennifer Withelm: Hello everybody, my name is Jennifer Withelm from Munich in Germany. I'm learning and development professional and the maker and founder of this blog. I call it "Lernen in geil" in German, translated with "learn smug" in English. It's a huge pleasure for me to introduce my first English speaking guest today. That is Michael Timms he is leadership consultant and the author of the book "succession planning that works, the crucial part of leadership development". And I think it's the really, really best book we have about this topic so far. Dear Michael, it's so great that we can chat today from Germany to Canada, nine hours of difference, maybe you could say in a few words, what succession planning is about and what it is not about.
Michael Timms: Yeah, glad to be with you today. And, and speaking about a subject that we're both passionate about, which is leadership and career development. So maybe what I'll do is I'll start off and tell you what, what succession planning is not. Succession Planning is not a bunch of a bunch of executives sitting in a room, and putting names and putting names beside titles. That's not succession planning. And yet, I find that most organizations think that's what succession planning is. That's kind of the very, very last step of succession planning. But the bulk of work around succession planning is developing people, and preparing them to take on greater responsibilities within the organization. And seeing what the senior management team can do, and others within the organization can do to fast track people's development. That's succession planning. Okay, so it's not replacement management, so to say. So replacement planning is simply, you know, if this person leaves the organization, then who is going to step up? And typically what happens when organizations do that when simply when organizations view succession planning as simply putting names to titles must to replacement planning. And what happens is when it actually comes time, and somebody actually does leave the organization, and they actually say, Oh, gee, I think we have, I think we have a succession plan. Let's look at our document here. And I look at the documents, okay, well, that Sally is going to take over this position. Really what they're doing is Sally is going to take over this position on a temporary basis until we can we can do a search and find somebody externally to come in and fill that role permanently. That is not succession planning, does replacement planning,
Jennifer Withelm: You're very clear about the fact that succession planning must be a top priority of the CEO. What if something unforeseen, like Corona crisis pops up, and the company's strategy is upside down? And the CEO changes priorities for quite a while, but succession planning stays important. How can I make sure succession planning stays top priority?
Michael Timms: You know, the CEOs role really in establishing in succession planning is really establishing the process. And I worked with organizations to help them to help them do that, and to establish a process that that happens. And will continue to happen, you know, pretty much regardless of what's going on, even in spite of Coronavirus or, or other other challenges that organizations might face. And so I think the key is really to that the CEOs understand that, that look, our ability to deliver on our promises to our to our clients to our customers is really dependent on upon how well our people are people's capacity to, to deliver. And and that's really, that really goes speaks to how well are we developing our people? And how well are we are we preparing them to take on leadership positions? But I think the short answer is really the bulk of the CEOs time needs to be spent on initiating and putting together a world class leadership and career development process. And then once that process is involved, as long as the CEO continues to, to be involved, and and talk about it, I think that's that's that's all we want from the CEO. That's all we need from the CEO.
Jennifer Withelm: In your book, you mentioned that 86% of companies around the world believe that leadership development is critically important but only 10% have a succession plan that works. Could it be that many companies still didn't realize the connection between leadership development and succession planning? Maybe that direct link between leadership development and succession planning is not 100% Fear for HR or many companies? Yeah. And
Michael Timms: I think you're right. I think that I think that isn't clear. And I think when, when people think of succession planning, they kind of put it in a very small box. And they think, you know, if, if I've got, you know, if I'm the CEO, and I've got 40 things on my radar screen at any given time, maybe succession planning is one of those things. But when you look at any of the exceptional organizations out there, and if you look at their top strategic priorities, you're almost always going to find that leadership and career development is one of their top strategic priorities. Somewhere, organizations might not kind of make that link and say, Oh, well, that that really is succession planning is preparing people to take on greater leadership responsibilities, and building out their leadership capacity. And I think, I think that's probably your job in my job to help educate most organizations that, that that's really what succession planning is, if you're thinking if you hear the word succession planning, you might want to rather use the words leadership development, that's really, really what we're talking about.
Jennifer Withelm: So it's more or less a synonym for succession planning.
Michael Timms: Yeah, and as a matter of fact, I actually am and almost moving away from using the words of succession planning. Because there is some confusion there is because people tend to put it in a very small box and think of it in small terms. And, and there's even some, some misunderstanding about what succession planning is. And so a lot of times, I just refer to it as leadership development.
Jennifer Withelm: Okay, another point that I get from your book is that, please correct me if it's wrong, performance management focuses on the performance in the current role. And succession planning focuses on preparing people to take on future roles. And I see this is a chance in large companies that offer a variety of possible positions for their good people. But what about small companies that rely on their good people even more, but can't offer that much perspective? So I'm wondering what they should do.
Michael Timms: Yeah, and that's a good point, Jennifer, and you know, what the reality is, the larger your organization, the easier succession planning is going to be from the perspective of you will have more opportunities for people, that's a that's a fact. That's, that's, that's a given. But smaller organizations, really what we're trying to do, regardless of whether you have a different position for somebody or not, which what we're really trying to do is to is to increase people's capacity. So I think what a lot of organizations they get, they get caught up in this idea that, Oh, gee, if, you know, if we don't have enough positions, really, we can't do effective development, we can't do effective succession planning, because there's nowhere for these people to go. And so what I encourage my clients to do is to think, especially smaller organizations, I encourage them to think about leadership development in terms of kind of mini promotions. What are some what are we don't actually have to give somebody a new role. But what are some things that are perhaps on the CEOs plate or senior executives played, that they don't need to do that we could actually put onto somebody else's plate, lower down the higher hierarchy. And so I would my my recommendation to smaller organizations is to think about development, in terms of giving people many promotions, maybe that comes with a new title, but most of the time, probably not. But it's really about building people's capacity. And I would keep that the focus as opposed to thinking about what positions we can give people. Another thing actually, on that as is, I think one of the biggest problems with with succession planning and leadership development is that people think that the only way I can grow my career is vertically, right? If I'm not progressing vertically, I'm not growing. But in fact, when I speak to organizations with world class leadership and career development programs, they consistently tell me that the most valuable employees to them are the ones with the most breadth of experience, those people who have who have grown and developed laterally, those are the people that organizations can sort of when different opportunities come up, they can take these people and they can sort of plug and play depending on the circumstances. So that's another thing that I would really encourage organizations to do is to get out of the mindset of, oh, gee, the only way I can go grow my career is vertically and say no, look, most of your development is probably going to be laterally, think laterally think about broadening your skill set.
Jennifer Withelm: So is it to build up generalists instead of specialists?
Michael Timms: Yeah, and I think that the answer is is yes. The tively The higher you go in the door In our organization, the more of a generalist you become. And especially this is especially true for founders who, you know, they, they started doing everything on their own. And they and a lot of times the people in top spots in organizations, they earn those positions simply because they are a generalist, and they kind of, they kind of have a good, they can wrap their head around all parts of the business, right. And the problem is, is a lot of organizations are organized such that we peg people into little specialist positions. And these people are never going to qualify themselves to take those top positions. Because they don't gain enough breadth of experience so that they can wrap their head around the entire organization around the entire business.
Jennifer Withelm: Another thing you say in your book is that asking an employee to work on a personality trait in which he or she has no natural talent is a quote humiliating and counterproductive. So let's say I have a great high potential with a weakness and active listening, typical problem. Am I really not allowed to ask him to work on it? Or what's the consequence? Would that employee not be allowed to become a leader because of this?
Michael Timms: Well, that's a great question. And I'm glad you asked it. Because I think it's really important for organizations when we're thinking about developing leaders, I think it's really important to distinguish between what's a personality characteristic, versus what is a skill. And sometimes when I'm working with clients, you know, I will hear comments like, well, you know, to be a good leader, you need to be charismatic, or you need to be an extrovert, or you need to be fun, or you need to be funny. You know, you need it. Those are personality characteristics. And if you ask me, I'm not I'm not funny. Okay, I'm just not. And, and I don't think I'm especially outgoing. I'm certainly not outgoing. So does that mean that I can't be a leader? No, of course, that's not true. We can we can develop leaders in with any type of personality traits, just about? The key thing is to focus on forget personality traits, focus on skill sets, okay? Focus on skills and behaviors, what are the key thing? What are the key behaviors that exceptional leaders do to produce great results to have a great impact on people and results, there are certain behaviors that are learnable that anybody can learn, regardless of the type of personality you have. Likewise, there are certain skills that you will need to develop and you know, and that anybody can develop. So I would say my answer to that question is, let's be very specific about the difference between personality traits, and, and skills and address skills like active listening, that's a skill, that's something that anybody can learn regardless of their personality, right?
Jennifer Withelm: Another thing you say in your book is that HR needs to use its coaching skills in order to help the business realize solutions and needs net Totally agree on that it applies, asking questions, it applies, showing interest and empathy. At the same time, as sometimes ask myself whether the other technical departments will ever identify HR as a business partner and equal on equal eye level, when we are asking questions all the time.
Michael Timms: No. And I don't think that I think that HR needs to do my my comment in the book was simply I think that HR needs to do a better job of of diagnosis instead of coming in and prescribing too quickly. And so. So my my comment is, is simply just do more diagnosis before you prescribe. I wasn't saying don't ever prescribe. But another thing is that even when you do prescribe, my advice to HR departments would be to make do your best to make the solutions, your clients ideas. So involve them and say, you know, what do you think, you know, get, you know, do a lot of the question asking to figure out what is the problem and then get their thoughts on the solutions? Because people are far more willing to, to adopt ideas that they think came from them.
Jennifer Withelm: And you say, we should ask critical positioning comments and their direct reports directly in terms of their competencies for critical current and future roles. So in order to build up competence models, instead of asking a consultant about that, how can I develop this success profile? Just in case this critical position does not yet exist at all? There's no one I can ask
Michael Timms: One time I was presenting at the California HR conference and there was a There's a roomful of 200, VPs of HR. And I asked them, I said, How many of you have a consistent criteria for promotion, that everybody in the organization understands this is the key definition of leadership. And this is how we're going to evaluate people, you know, for to determine whether we're going to promote them or not, out of that room of 200, VPs of HR zero hands went up, nobody in that room had a consistent criteria for promotion, they all all agreed on. And so one of the first things that I do with my clients is, is to come up with that consistent definition of leadership for their organization. Because a municipality is going to have a different definition of leadership than, for example, a Google or an apple, right? There are there are for sure, there are going to be common themes and common behaviors among all organizations that what makes a good leader, but there are going to be certain certain differences. And so one of the key things that I do with with client organizations is I help them identify that that common definition of a leader, but by analyzing their success stories, and so I work with focus groups within an organization. And I simply asked them to tell me some stories about when things worked out. Well, when did when were you achieving your mission? When were you really rockin? And right? When were things going really well, and you produce great results? And so we look at those those success stories, and then we start to reverse engineer them. And we say, Okay, what were the specific results that came from those success stories? Like, for example, what was the impact on employees, on customers on financials, on your processes on your products? So we identify the results, and then we work backwards even further, in ways, okay, what were the behaviors that either immediately preceded that success story, or enable that to happen? And it's interesting when you when you get enough success stories, and you hear enough success stories, and you ask that question, often enough, you'll start to see patterns of behavior emerge, you'll start to see that there are a handful of things that people do, maybe they weren't in a leadership position. But there are things that people did that. And these behaviors lead to successful outcomes. And that's really what we want from our leaders is to produce successful outcomes more often have a positive impact on people have a positive impact on results.
Jennifer Withelm: Another thing you said in your book is that you've done like psychometric assessments too much in my write it because they simply don't work as people are complicated. And the leadership qualities in the future can't be predicted. Does that mean that companies can skip the budget for them completely?
Michael Timms: he short answer is yes. Actually, I would say yes, they are not worth the money for a number of reasons. First of all, a lot of research has has been done, and to identify who knows us the best, has the most objective opinion of our skills and abilities, you know, who's who has the least objective opinion of our skills and abilities ourselves? We have the least objective, least accurate understanding of our own skills and abilities. So psychometric assessments are simply they're asking the least reliable source for information about about you. Okay, so garbage in, garbage out? That would be the first problem with psychometric assessments. A far better tool would be a 360 degree evaluation, okay. And to use that way for development, not for performance, not for performance purposes. But another reason why psychometric assessments, I think are a waste of time, is because what's the purpose? Like what are we trying to accomplish with a psychometric assessment? Typically, we're trying to identify development areas, like areas that we need to develop, right? Like I would think that's, that's, that's the reason we use the psychometric assessments, or the one of the primary reasons we use them, right, is to find areas that we need to work on. Well, here's a crazy idea. Instead of instead of asking an algorithm to identify areas for us develop, how about I just say, hey, Jennifer, at the end of this interview, can you do me a favor and tell me what is maybe a couple of things that you thought that I did particularly well in this interview? And maybe what's one thing that you would suggest I do differently for next time? If I simply asked you that question and real human beings that question, I would get far more actionable, practical advice that I can immediately implement. And so that's Another thing that I think psychometric assessments simply are a coward's way of asking for feedback, the other danger of psychometric assessments. And really, you know what, if you want to spend the money, I'm I'm fine, go for it. And you can fill your boots and you know what? You might as in my opinion, I think, look, you know, look at horoscopes as well. And you'll get about as good information. But if you want to spend your money there, that's fine. But the real danger in using psychometric assessments is that organizations start using them for tend to make an influence employment related decisions, and that's my real beef with with psychometric assessments is that people will use the results to which are not valid, to make decisions about who gets hired, and who gets promoted. Using assessments in is a good idea if you're assessing skills, right. But if you're assessing personality traits, and things like that, and determining which personality traits will make a better leader, I think that's a really, really bad idea.
Jennifer Withelm: My last question is, it's been five years that you wrote the book succession planning that works. Is there anything that you would like to adjust today?
Michael Timms: Actually, there is one thing. And in the book succession planning that works, I outlined a number of different tools that were common tools that organizations use to, to identify leadership potential. One of those tools that I included was the nine box and I simply included it because hey, this is a common tool that organizations are using. If I was rewriting the book today, I would not include that tool, because I think, I think it's a waste of time. And I think it takes away from the real work of succession planning. I mean, we only have so much time to spend on succession planning and leadership development. We can either spend our time categorizing people and labeling people and putting them in boxes. Or we can spend our time brainstorming, coming up with great AI development activities that will actually help fast track people's development. Which would we rather spend our time on? I think our time is much better spent thinking about development activities than it's spent on on labeling people and putting people into boxes. And so if I was rewriting the book today, I would not include that and I'd say, hey, look, the best way to identify leadership potential is to do the work to identify predictive leadership competencies by following the process that I explained earlier about analyzing your success stories, and what behaviors consistently lead to successful outcomes. Once you've developed that criteria, simply with a committee of people say look, does Joe live up to the standard or not? Do they demonstrate these behaviors on a fairly consistent basis? That's going to be the best predictor of leadership success.
Jennifer Withelm: Thank you so much, Michael. Tim's from Canada. And in the next episode, I'm talking to Charles Jennings from the UK. He is a pioneer and I would say eminent authority when it comes to the learning model 70 20 10 which is right now highly recommended by almost all learning and development professionals, and it is quoted pretty wrong from time to time actually. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and get in touch with me via LinkedIn. Looking forward to hearing from you