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

ACHIEVEBLUE’s Lead to Succeed Program, created with our partner Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, has been built on the decades long strength of the highly successful Compete to Win program, Lead to Succeed is a fully-realized foundation toolkit that equips your people with up to date, immediately actionable skills that make a real difference. For more information, click here.

Leaders: The Need to Build, Not Always Buy

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Founding Partner and EVP Learning Systems

Everywhere you look today business professionals are discussing the need for leaders. This is not new. What is new, for some,  is the reality of global competition coming right to your front door, coupled with uncertainty as the New Certainty. In his 2009 book Leaders Make the Future, Bob Johansen coined the acronym VUCA to represent the current and growing reality businesses face: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This forms the backdrop for what I want to talk about today, and that is the need to incorporate growing your own leaders as a key element of your immediate and ongoing strategy.

True leaders are a rare commodity, and increasingly, this is a seller’s market. People who have what it takes to leverage deep understanding of your business and the marketplace and inspire others towards a sustainable high performance vision can pick and choose where they want to work. Or, they might just strike out on their own or with your best people and become your new competitor.

In his article for Forbes in October 2012, Avi Dan pointed out that the challenges faced by medium sized businesses are particularly acute.

  • Larger organizations can afford to pay handsomely for their top talent, far beyond the budgets of mid-size companies.
  • They can also afford to maintain highly specialized business support functional areas and departments, such as project management, business analysis, sales and marketing. Larger organizations can maintain a well-resourced middle management tier to support strategy through operational excellence and tactical initiatives. Everyone else has to be able to do this work themselves.

Add to this the importance of what Robert Greenleaf calls Servant Leadership, which includes not just understanding that people are the foundation of success in any venture, but having true empathy for them and the ability to harness their energy towards shared success in a culture of service.  Much has been said and written about Servant Leadership since Greenleaf first coined the term in 1970, but it is astounding how little has actually been done about it in everyday business.  This, despite the fact that the concept is thousands of years old. Half a millennium before the Common Era, Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu is credited with saying “The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy”. Every organization wants and needs the first two types. Having the last two types will kill your business.

What all of this leads to is the need for everyone, but especially smaller and mid-size organizations to invest in the in-house growth and development of effective leaders and managers at all strategic and tactical levels. Skills like establishing and working towards an actionable vision, effective delegation and coaching, managing for performance and professional development, establishing a culture of effective collaboration, teamwork and continuous improvement , and managing change and conflict are very learnable skills.  As business leaders, we must make excellence in leadership and management a priority.

From Business Analysis for Business Performance ©2012 Jason Questor.

ACHIEVEBLUE’s Lead to Succeed Program, created with our partner Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters,  has been built on the decades long strength of the highly successful Compete to Win program, Lead to Succeed is a fully-realized foundation toolkit that equips your people with up to date, immediately actionable skills that make a real difference. For more information, click here.