Great conversations start with a question.  A question I asked to a group recently during a keynote was What one word comes to mind when you think of succession planning?   The answers tell a pretty clear story – it is hard, it carries with it a message that we do it when we are old, and it is a future thing.

I agree with two of the issues highlighted:  It is challenging and it is future focused.

Succession_Wordsthatcometomind

The two pieces I would like to reframe for a more effective conversations are old and training.

  1. Old to Valued:  The #1 reason we do not do this – getting old is hard and minimizing people by not respecting their value will start a fight.  How many of us are at our best if we feel  we are no longer needed?  To have a different conversation, we must first reframe the conversation into key people/key roles.  People discussed in these conversation provide great value to the organization, and most would agree that the ongoing success of the organization is important.   Talking about valued people sends two messages:  You are important to our business and it is important that our business continues to be successful.  I am glad the age piece gets put on the table so it can be addressed directly.  Perception is reality, and this one will never go away as long as people are getting older and younger people are working with them and looking for opportunities.  We quiet this conversation when we make it safe to express changing life priorities and continue to focus on performance with development/support.
  2. Training to Development:  90% of development happens outside a classroom.  A message I share is most training returns nothing to the organization.  What this conversation provides for people is direction for development activities that will increase their capacity to lead in the future – both real skills/experiences for them and perceived capacity for the leaders that will be making decisions on their next move.  Capacity is the key word, and it is what your best people want.  Assignments that challenge them and show them they are valued.

A final pitch for One-on-Ones.  When we are continuing to have conversations with people and supporting them in their work it is like making deposits into a Trust account.  Each time we show people they matter and we care (by meeting with them, listening, and supporting) we build trust.  When we ask the question of someone 50+, what are your 1-2 year plans and 3-5 year plans we will need to draw on that trust to have an honest conversation.

Go build some trust, and go have some honest conversations, that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance.

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