Succession Planning. Fascinating.


If I had one word to describe the final day of  The Conference Board Succession Management Conference, that would be it - fascinating. CEO succession, technology of Talent Management, the "neuro" of leadership - wow!

Focusing on succession planning for the top position, Michael J. Critelli, former CEO of Pitney Bowes, reminded us being in the "continuous fish bowl" of CEO requires a unique set of skills and guided us through factors to consider when evaluating candidates for this top position. 

In his matter-of-fact, down to earth way, he shared his criteria for conducting an executive evaluation, (base on capabilities and not credentials, look at full range of experiences inside and outside the workplace, gather 360 feedback) and the need for senior executive competence in risk management. Senior executives of today must know how to identify, plan for, mitigate and disclose risk (yes, disclose) to the Board of Directors.

There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance and no imperial figures allowed when Michael is around.


Ever wonder "What Does the Brain Have to Say About Engaging Our Top Talent?" Honestly, I had not. After 60 minutes with David Rock, Co-Founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, my answer now would be - more than I had imagined.  

It all comes down to this, David presented, the brain has one organizing principle - minimize threat and maximize reward - and we respond to everything (yes, everything) through that one principle. Feedback, performance reviews, walking into a conference session, meeting someone for the first time . . . same principle.

The brain is not only "organizing," it is social (who knew!)  responds within 5 social domains.  Now, as you read this very brief summary of the 5 social domains, think about - as we did in the session - what this means for your sucession management program.   

  1. Status. In this domain, the brain decides who is better and reacts to status threats as if life is in danger. Feedback can be perceived as a threat (surprise!).
  2. Certainty. The brain is a prediction machine and uncertainty is treated like pain by the brain.
  3. Autonomy. The brain likes to be able to predict and have a say in the future.
  4. Relatedness. In this domain, the brain is evaluating friend or foe, trust or distrust, and connect or don't connect. Foe is the default.
  5. Fairness. In this domain, the brain decides if an action is fair - or not.

David did not leave us with the answer to a perfect succession management program but offered these social domains as something to consider as a succession management program is being developed or evaluated.

Think about high potentials competing for positions vs. camaraderie, balancing transparency with status, degree of self-directed vs. prescribed processes, scenarios vs. commitments and above all, the people involved. Note: The findings from the Center for Creative Leadership study, High-Potential Talent, A View From Inside the Leadership Pipeline  (presented yesterday) are linked here.

Wrapping up the day, we had the pleasure of hearing from 3 companies (FedEx, Turner Broadcasting System and Clearwater Paper Corporation) who are using SaaS to promote an integrated talent and Succession Management System Strategy.

I came into this program facing a Succession Management elephant not knowing where to take the first bite. I leave with ideas and, above all, action steps I can take to start discussions with others within my organization.

The Conference Board staff did it again - another first class, first rate conference from beginning to end.

Note: I attended this conference as a guest of The Conference Board to provide my honest assessment of the conference and share information I deemed relevant, valuable and of interest to my readers.

Succession Planning. Today.

A conflux of generations, workforce mobility and difficulty in recruiting for pivotal positions are a few of the succession management challenges facing organizations today.

When I think of succession management, an image of water flowing over the edge of a dam comes to mind. Organizations take a swipe at succession planning with leadership development, internship, educational debt reduction, or mentor programs. They talk about the potential leaders at morning reports or one-on-one meeting. The discussions and progams, on their own, produce "potential" into the flow of an organization, but to what end?

Is it really succession management? It is not.  

Succession management is a planful, organizational wide program (or system) that ensures an organization can deliver against capabilities and knowledge needs. Succession management may include leadership, internship, educational debt reduction, or mentor programs - but it is much more.

This is the workforce of 2010 and our challenges are unique. Getting on top of this takes technology, it takes complexity, and it is, well, unprecedented. Simply put, the succession management challenges organizations face today are very different than the challenges organizations faced in the 1950s.

Or are they? If you want to understand where you are going, you have to know where you came from.


With this in mind, it was fitting to kick off The Conference Board Succession Management Conference, with an historical perspective. Peter Cappelli, Director for the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School, and keynote speaker for took us on a very engaging tour of history and talent management.

He put it all in perspective when he noted that "all the cool things in succession management were invented in the 1950s." What? Yes, products of the 1950s workforce challenges, there are a few of the still used by organizations today: exit interviews, length of service recognition, physical examinations, "hit by a bus" scenarios, and 18 month rotational assignments, to name a few.

Presenters from the Center for Creative Leadership, Korn/Ferry International, Honeywell Aerospace, PDI Ninth House, Prudential Financial, SAE Systems, Proctor and Gamble, Microsoft, New York Life, The New York Times Company, and The FutureWork Institute presented their learnings, lessons and insights in succession management gained through research, exploration, and hands-on program development, .

By far, the most impactful quote for me was from Jane McNair, VP Organization Effectiveness and Learning, Honeywell Aerospace when she said, "We know our talent really well." Listening to her speak, I have not doubt.

Succession management is not a shelf-program, it is high touch and hands-on, and that consistently came through loud and clear in all of the presentations. Other themes emerging for me are:

  • Keep it simple
  • High potentials are human too
  • The first 2 years of employment = critical touch point
  • Leadership support, and engagement, is essential
  • Best development experiences are low, or no, cost and involve real work

Promising "innovative practices that get results," The Conference Board delivered.

Now, onto Day 2 with Succession Management from the CEOs Point of View, NeuroLeadership, Developing Successors in Emerging Markerts, and Technology.

If you are attending the conference with me, leave a comment below with your take aways from Day 1. 

Note: I attended this conference as a guest of The Conference Board to provide my honest assessment of the conference and share information I deemed relevant, valuable and of interest to my readers.