It’s that time of the year. Most organizations are going through their talent review cycles and succession planning discussions. During these discussions leaders decide on their succession pipeline. Will you be promoted into the next opening? Will you hang out in the box that says “Ready in 1-2 Years”? Do you know which box you are in?
One of my executive coaching clients (let’s call him Mark) is a succession plan star. In a recent conversation we were in with his sponsor, the sponsor said (somewhat in disbelief): “The conversation on you has really shifted”. Mark has always been a high performer but he had been stuck in the “Ready 1-2 Years” box for the next big role for him. Then he did one simple thing that moved him from the purgatory box to the “Ready Now” box. He reached out and made personal connection with the key people he needed to influence.
A succession plan conversation can derail in one of two ways. A person’s name is brought up as a potential successor for a role by their sponsor. The sponsor may have enough power in the group to single-handedly get them promoted. Most often that is not the case. Often, the sponsor will look for broad support by the group making the decision. This is where the conversation can derail.
The first derailer is active dissent. Some of the other people in the room have perceptions of you (from their people, or from that one time they heard you present, or sat next to you at a work event). They bring up their “first impression” belief about you and you get put in the “Ready 1-2 Years” box with some vague follow-up on “needs to develop executive presence”. Your opportunity is lost.
The second derailer is silence. Many of the other people in the room don’t really know you. They may have heard your name, but without direct and positive experience, they are unwilling to throw their political power in your direction. Your opportunity is lost.
Here are six steps you can take now to be a succession plan star (and make your sponsor’s job easier).
One, get clarity on what next role you aspire to. Talk with your boss and boss’s boss. What position excites you where you can bring your talent, contribute, and also learn and grow?
Two, do an honest self-assessment of your own strengths as well as your growth areas in order for you to be able to perform well in that next role. Get feedback from others.
Three, reach out to your own sponsor and ask for their support. Your sponsor (it could be your boss, or your boss’s boss) plays a critical role in two ways. They understand your skills and advocate for you. They also know who are the people who matter in these succession plan conversations for that next role.
Four, working with your sponsor, find out who are the people you need to influence and get to know who will be part of the succession conversation for that next role. Understand what and who influences these leaders. Understand what they do well and what you can learn from them.
Five, set up time to connect authentically with these influential leaders. Mark did this pivotal step well. He went to these leaders and expressed his desire to be in the role. He shared his honest self-assessment of what he did well and where he is looking to grow. He asked for their feedback, ideas, help and support. In spending time with them, they got to know the real Mark – not others’ perceptions of him. He took the time to show-case his talents while connecting one-on-one. As people got to know him, he was put in the “Ready Now” box.
Six, make sure you take the time to thank the people who invested in you. You realize that you are part of a web of connections that serve each other and progress the goals and mission of your organization. Appreciate the people who are there for you and pay it forward. Be a sponsor and a source of support for others.
Here’s my challenge to you. Don’t let this succession planning cycle opportunity pass. Follow-through on these six steps so you can bring your talents and strengths to the opportunities that matter for you!
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes.com blog.