Building a Strong Succession Plan: Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders with the Emergent Partnering Process in Competency Application, Training, and Coaching

A Human Emergence Group Case Study

This highly profitable, publicly-traded company had no clear succession plan, and most of the top executives would have retired within 10 years.

Upon being called to the corporate headquarters, we used our Ideal State Action Planning (ISAP) process to identify the first challenge in developing and evolving their succession plan: the request for our engagement was a board-driven decision in an organization that was focused on having profitable lines of business but not developing people.

The company engaged us to identify the skills and competencies they would need to have robust succession, and to provide training for their top executives and human resources to carry on with these. They also chose to have us coach the emerging executives into effective application of these skills in partnership with human resources.

The first step was really discovering what was happening in the current state, including the current succession plan, as well as uncovering both unconscious competencies within the organization as well as potential blind spots that would impede the success of the project. HEG used the Ideal State Action Planning (ISAP) process to conduct a thorough and comprehensive current-state analysis while also clarifying the ideal state toward which the pathway of a succession plan would orient.

In this phase, while reviewing the company’s current plan against their future vision, a major gap became apparent: the current succession plan wasn’t quantifiable and not likely to take them where they wanted to go. There were no measurements or standards in place, and the board wanted a more objective, quantified plan. The board knew they had a need, but didn’t know how to meet it.

The organization was led by a handful of top executives and was divided into about a dozen lines of business. Each line of business had its own executive head, many of whom were likely to retire within the next ten years. Although financially successful to date, the company faced a significant obstacle in maintaining its track record and culture without developing the next wave of leadership. Without an excellent succession plan, the company was in danger of facing a dire leadership gap in the very near future.

HEG needed to not only design an extensive plan of attack, but also gain buy-in and alignment from a significant leadership body with little historic value on developing people. Using the information from the ISAP and through emergent interviewing, HEG set to work with the executive team to produce measurable standards and a competency plan for their company. This plan needed to encompass all the key roles facing succession.

With this in place, HEG partnered with the organization to identify internal candidates—a broad range of potential successors for nearly 20 executive leader position. With 70 individuals identified, HEG developed a pathway of a detailed online 360-degree competency assessments to measure current perceived competency proficiency. In this 360, candidates assessed themselves and were assessed by their managers, peers, and direct reports. The process also included open-ended fields where assessors could also include any relevant data or delve deeper into their assessment responses. All of the data gathered was included in the Emergent partnership process in continuing to refine and hone both vision and pathways.

In addition, HEG had candidates complete a well-recognized performance assessment, which measures natural competency inclinations among potential candidates.

The 360 assessment and the performance assessment results were combined with an overview of the breadth and depth of the candidates’ work experience. This valuable data painted a full picture of each candidate, their competencies, their skills, strengths, and emerging leadership potential.

Then HEG, along with the company’s senior HR leader, met with each candidate for an hour-long feedback session where the potential candidates received the results of their 360-degree feedback and online assessment as well as emergent lifestyle assessments (based on work by Alfred Adler) which helps individuals identify core limiting beliefs that stand in the way of their success. Along with this feedback, HEG provided specific developmental suggestions for the potential successor’s next steps. The data were also aggregated and presented to the top leaders of the organization and each succession candidate was discussed along with their potential based on all of the data. The outcome was a specific list of successors for nearly 20 executive positions.

In this refining and realizing phase of the process, the organization also requested a new initiative wherein HEG would create an individual development planning process to help succession candidates accelerate their professional development. This process allowed each candidate to select one or two competencies to focus on and develop. These were competency areas where improvement would strengthen their performance, their skills, and their contribution to the company.

Each candidate was provided with a competency development planning guide, which included an analysis of each competency to develop, barriers to change, their strengths and weaknesses, and a step-by-step process for competency improvement. These developmental plans included action steps, “if-then” implementation planning (based on HEG’s Life Project Planner and the research of Peter Golwitzer), and structures for accountability and support.

The board, along with the executives—who were now bought-in to the process and its success—found the leadership development program so successful they chose to implement it for all high-potential employees throughout the organization. While these employees weren’t necessarily being trained for executive succession, they worked on emerging as better leaders within their own departments. The leadership development program included company leadership sessions with the top executives as well as specific leadership training sessions. The culture was strengthened as employees learned more about the company and their integral role. This powerful experience increased buy-in, achieved the organization’s goals of succession planning, and established a number of best practices and programs as a foundation for future employee development throughout the organization.

HEG brings this same depth in competency application to Apple.