Leaders Have a Plan to Fill Their Role

No team stays the same forever.

In recent years Bob Iger, the Disney CEO, had a successor named only to decide that wasn’t the right direction. He stayed on longer until he recently named Bob Chapek as his successor. Disney watchers had been nervous about these false starts at the top, prompting unease at all levels.

Fortunately, your team probably doesn’t have a world of investors and fans watching your every move. But on a smaller scale, this same type of scenario has likely happened to you.

You know someone who is so good at their role you start to think they’re irreplaceable. Then, you stress out when it coms time to replace them. As John Maxwell points out in his blog, sometimes it’s as simple as asking people to regularly answer a question:

“How would you fill your empty chair?”

Succession planning can be so intimidating it becomes paralyzing. And so, we avoid it. Some think we need to “nine-box” everyone, then develop individualized action plans so cumbersome no one keeps track of them. Those efforts are great when they work, but if they don’t work for you, keep it simple.

I know one very large enterprise—(I can’t name them, but you’ve heard of them)—who uses a very simple model.

An excel spreadsheet with one worksheet for names of roles and names of potential successors coupled with a second worksheet for simplistic action plans:

Successor Chart

Successors Depth & Readiness

RoleCurrent IncumbentReady For Succession
Serious candidates that could assume responsibilities today
Ready in
1-2 years
To Watch
May be those early in career or need additional time to confirm interest, capability, and capacity.
Project Manager IILorenzo RamirezMorgan SperryEmily SouthMara Fuego

Action Plans Chart

Potential Successor NameSpecific action to be taken. i.e. development planSenior Leader or Dept. LeaderDateHigh, Medium, or Low Priority
MorganIncrease overall understanding of business metricsLorenzoOctober 14High
EmilyBecome comfortable with proprietary Gantt softwareMorganNovember 1Medium

This is a seriously basic model, and if it’s reviewed quarterly, that’s enough to make sure every department and team is thinking about the future, without wasting a lot time.

I also recommend frequent use of after-action reports (you know I love the WWW/TALA), then filing those away until it’s time to groom successors. They can be a powerful way to summarize the highs and lows experienced in that role.

If you email me to ask for one, I will email the excel sheet that I’ve described back to you.

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