All the nine-boxes, ratings, and numerical rankings in the business world won’t create a good succession plan. Accompanying that rating or ranking there must a thoughtful discussion of each person in the pipeline and their learning capability.
What should be discussed?
How has each leader learned?
How have they used tools differently as they advanced through the Company?
What is the evidence that they learned in that way?
Succession planning forces us to make an educated guess about how a leader may learn in the future. For instance, entrepreneurial types may learn through immediate feedback (as Reis says “build, measure, learn, pivot”). Some may say that the entrepreneur learns best through failure – or, often they learn through a debrief of a failure.
Getting “perspective” (through a debrief or a move or a pause) is vital to some for learning. As an example, I have a friend who was a very successful tech expert who needed a pause from the start-up world to figure out what he wanted to learn to do next. And, yes, it led him in a different direction. And he learned why the new direction was important for his success through the pause.
Some people learn from success. They are the watchers. They look for a model that has performed well and learn from the model’s success. I’ve watched an executive move up through a Company and often think, “How would she have handled this…?”
Some people (amazingly, few leaders say they have learned this way) learn through classes or teambuilding activities.
Or, in the worst case, one may find that a manager or executive has not learned at all since he or she was an individual contributor. Instead the leaders may have used the same tools they started with to move up the ladder until the tools don’t work.
Once a pattern of learning is exposed, it can be used by the Company to further develop an executive or to decide to keep the executive in place.
Careful discussion (after all the numbers settle) is the key to a good succession plan. Reread the thought leaders on Succession (Charam, Rothwell); hidden in their books is this nugget of knowledge.