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First-level leaders, like supervisors and managers, have specialized knowledge gained from doing the work. Be sure to capture this knowledge for the next generation of leaders.

Preparing for transition

Who’s Sitting on Your Leadership Bench?

  • 8/2/2019

As Baby Boomers continue to exit the workforce, organizations are beginning to feel the impact. While some have been preparing for years, others find themselves struggling to replace critical first-level leaders. In 2016, only 13 percent of organizations surveyed by Gartner indicated they had a strong leadership bench. And in 2018, 45 percent of HR leaders indicated that their succession management process wasn’t producing the leaders they needed.

It’s fairly common for an organization to have a succession plan in place for senior and executive leaders, but there is a missed opportunity if you don’t do the same for first-level leaders like supervisors, team leaders, and managers. People in these roles have a great deal of informal knowledge that goes beyond what is found in training manuals or job aids, including what they’ve learned from doing the work, relationships they’ve built with customers, and the experience gained from efficiently maneuvering through the organization. And while it’s easy to simply promote your most technically qualified candidate, you’d be doing them a disservice if you didn’t invest time and resources in developing their management and leadership skills.

Be sure you have the right processes in place to capture valuable job knowledge so your next generation of leaders are adequately prepared and trained for their future responsibilities. 

Look ahead and ask the right questions now

If you have an aging workforce, consider the impact to your organization if you don’t start developing your bench strength now. When you plan your leadership strategy based on projected demand rather than your current supply, you experience more seamless transitions and less disruption to your business. And while the process of creating a thoughtful succession plan and a strong leadership bench may seem daunting, you can take comfort in the knowledge that your organization is prepared for the future.  

Begin by scanning your organization and identifying positions that if vacated tomorrow would interrupt critical business functions. Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many retirements will you have in the next 1 – 5 years?
  • Have you identified your key knowledge holders and their potential successors? 
  • What is your contingency plan should a key role be vacated because someone leaves unexpectedly? 
  • Are you prepared to maintain operational efficiencies and a competitive advantage as you experience leadership transitions?

Once you’ve determined where the gaps are in your succession plan, you can begin putting plans into motion to develop your future leaders so they’re prepared to leave the bench and step onto the field when the time comes.

Provide future leaders with the right support

It’s crucial that your new leaders are prepared for their future responsibilities. Consider this: When individuals are promoted based primarily on their demonstrated technical proficiencies or because they have tenure, they will likely struggle as leaders. A study by CareerBuilder noted that 26 percent of managers said they weren’t ready to be a leader, and 58 percent indicated that they did not receive training. 

So rather than simply choosing the most technically qualified candidate and moving on, invest time and resources in their development. Not only will this prepare them for added responsibilities, but it will also protect your company from the stress of an unexpected resignation.

There are a number of things you can do to strengthen your leadership development efforts, including:  

  • Develop a mentoring or coaching program. 
  • Give stretch assignments to help future leaders gain valuable skills
  • Create career paths that encourage employees to explore leadership opportunities across the organization rather than just within their current role, department, or division.  
  • Build a consistent leadership development program that matches your company culture and grows leaders at all levels within the organization.  
  • Identify external training opportunities that are consistent with company culture.

You’ll find that your employees want to be developed. They just need a clear understanding of their career goals and a path to get there. By providing this support, you show your people that they are valued while simultaneously strengthening your leadership bench.

Introduce multifunctional roles

Ultimately, succession planning for first-level leaders impacts those at all levels within your organization. People are continuously growing, and when you promote internally, you still have an open position that will need to be backfilled. So, in addition to providing leadership development opportunities, you should also consider ways to improve the overall structure of your organizational chart. 

CLA works with companies of all different sizes, and one of the most common issues we see is a specific role staffed by just one knowledgeable person. In these cases, the company is likely to find themselves in a tough spot should that key knowledge-holder decide to leave unexpectedly. Often, the company doesn’t have a back-up plan, and there isn’t anyone else on the team with the same level of knowledge. 

To avoid this situation, consider condensing multiple single-focus roles into several multifunctional roles. With this model, you give your employees the opportunity to develop proficiencies in more than one area, helping them stay challenged, have more diversified experiences, and ultimately develop transferable skills. This alone is a great way to promote professional development within groups that may otherwise have felt siloed. Not only does it promote cross training, but it also makes certain that more than one person understands any given role, protecting the company from a break in service. 

How CLA can help

CLA’s leadership development and organizational change team helps our clients assess their leadership bench strength, develop comprehensive leadership development plans, and conduct organizational design assessments. Our seasoned professionals can help you with skill and competency gap analysis, individual development plans, leadership coaching, and the design of custom, culturally-centric leadership development programs.