Day of the Champion

championby Jason Questor
Managing Partner, Programs and Practices

Succession planning is something that all of us acknowledge as critical, yet few of us do well. It is one of those things that is most conspicuous in its absence, especially when we lose a key resource without warning. All of a sudden, we have to juggle and dance because of projects to complete, customers to serve and deadlines to meet. Those left behind are left to scramble and try to fill in the gap, often with mixed results.

We must also consider ourselves in this picture. On my first day in my first management job, my boss told me that my first project was to find and train my replacement. I thought he was referring to my old job. He wasn’t. He meant my shiny new manager role. If I didn’t do this, how could I get eventually promoted to the next level?

Years ago, following a merger, my role and that of my counterpart in the other organization were a classic case of “who reports to whom now”. In that situation, my former peer, whom I will call Karen, became my report. Karen lamented that she had been in her current role for years, and although she had applied, had never been selected for promotion. Karen was highly talented and experienced, but had a tendency to never share what she knew, believing this was her only job security. I suggested that, perhaps, her unwillingness to delegate to and train up her team was a possible reason. Nobody could replace her so the company could not move her. We agreed on an apprenticeship program that had Karen identify her top three team members and, over the course of 6 months, create bench strength by sharing her knowledge and skills. In return, I would champion her for any role she wanted to move into, even though I really wanted her to stay. And it worked. For all of us.

We wear many hats in our people roles, including leader, manager, coach and mentor. Let’s add Champion to that list, because as a Champion for your team’s next step roles, you can help to retain your high powered talent.

Recently I designed and delivered a professional development program for a large client. Like many companies, they are experiencing the exodus of high power talent in strategically important areas. People genuinely enjoy working there, but often feel that the people in the positions they aspire to are not going anywhere anytime soon. In order to advance, some people believe they have to leave.

During our first requirements meeting, I was delighted when the sponsor indicated that the company was embarking on a Champion Program. Every manager in the company, all the way to the top, would be charged with identifying and becoming a champion for key resources, and to identify incentives for people to stay. Beyond promotion, ideas included cross-training, research sabbaticals, temporary allocation to other areas of the business and others. All of this would create more strategic players and teams.

The vision of the program is that a manager might become aware of something that one of their team members would really like to do next, to discuss this with them, and then to actively champion them towards the role in their discussions with other managers and departments. The immediate objection of “why would I want to lose my best people” is countered with “If they are not fulfilled by their current role and there is not much else you can offer them in it, you are going to lose them anyway. Isn’t it better to keep them inside the family?” In other words, think strategically, not operationally.

Great thought. Let’s do it.

From Alpha Guerilla:The Leadership Lessons ©2015 Jason Questor

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