Monday, August 29, 2011

Are You A Tough Act to Follow

When Steve Jobs announced he was stepping down as CEO of Apple, turning the reigns over to Tim Cook, the reactions were visceral and immediate. The airwaves lit up with Tweets, email alerts and news stories. Editorials, blog entries and predictions came in wave after wave, like the ocean under the influence of hurricane Irene. The stock dropped over 5% in emotional response, an irrational perception of an uncertain future for the company. It has since recovered and continues on its long term positive trend.

I think Apple will be fine. But this event reminded me of one of the more important but often overlooked responsibilities of senior management and that is succession planning. When the time comes for you to step up, down, over or out, who is going to carry on in your place and, more importantly, what are you doing to ensure you have prepared someone -- the right person -- to fulfill your role.

Every manager has a responsibility to ensure your staff remain interested, motivated and energized at work. Their talents must be recognized and used to the fullest. You have to train, coach, advise and develop people to their maximum potential. They must feel like they have a career path with opportunities to advance.

In larger organizations you can move staff laterally, exchanging roles and responsibilities. Often IT staff have the option to move into a business unit, sometimes in a supporting or even an operational role. If they return to IT they do so with a much better understanding of the people, functions and business they serve.

In smaller organizations it is more difficult to do this. IT staff sizes are smaller and often stretched pretty thin. Here the challenge becomes finding ways to give them more autonomy and greater responsibility on projects or over a specific departmental function.

Yet another important part of the plan is to train your staff to train the people they manage, perpetuating the cycle.

My personal belief is that you should always surround yourself with the smartest and most enthusiastic people you can find. Technical skills like knowledge of database systems, programming languages and major applications can be learned. However, it is very difficult to alter an individual's personality making then be more inquisitive, more excited or more engaged with the job. If you are fortunate enough to have bright, motivated people, it is up to you to tap these precious resources, ensuring they are allowed to grow, blossom and become the best they can be.

It is inevitable that one day, by accident or by design, you are going to have to hand off the baton. At that time, you want to be sure there is someone to hand it to who will pick up speed and carry on towards the finish line.

Have you thought about who will be ready to take your place when you move on?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

*** Special thanks to David O'Malley for today's topic.

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