Right succession plan relies on internal-external balance

Oft-given career advice is to "take one job while considering the next." The point is to manage professional life the way many people manage social life: with gusto and an eye toward what to do next New Year's Eve. Here's another take on the maxim: Take a job thinking about the next one while grooming whoever gets your job.

Oft-given career advice is to "take one job while considering the next." The point is to manage professional life the way many people manage social life: with gusto and an eye toward what to do next New Year's Eve. Here's another take on the maxim: Take a job thinking about the next one while grooming whoever gets your job.

For some, succession planning is setting oneself up for the triple double cross. Shakespearean tragedies aside, the mark of a true leader is the ability to create new ones. Succession planning helps the leader as much as the employee and not just for mushy reasons. John Maxwell, in his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, explains that "leaders who develop followers grow their organizations only one person at a time. But leaders who develop leaders multi- ply their growth because, for every leader they develop, they also receive all of that leader's followers."

Communicators often suffer from a lack of resources and influence. Building strong teams adds to the chances of expanding both. Having strong staff who engage and develop trust increases the sphere of influence. Senior management increasingly respects those who demonstrate an ability to attract, manage, and develop good talent. Also, having exceptional number twos leaves more time for a communications leader to provide forward-looking strategic counseling and build relationships.

The dilemma is balancing growing internal talent with hiring from the outside. Organizational missions, structures, and lines of business frequently change. Refocusing communications departments often lags that of other business units, making it more difficult to keep pace with demand. Resource cuts contribute to the challenge.

How to decide when to train and when to buy? Company culture is a consideration. If loyalty and longevity (officially or unofficially) are prized, then a greater focus can be on finding ways to teach and augment existing staff. This takes time, and immediate results are seldom seen. But paying a short-term price for longer-term success is a good leadership strategy. If the culture and company call for immediate impact, then be more cold-eyed (not cold-hearted) about new needs. Assess what's needed, and bring it in. There's nothing loyal or caring about putting people in situations where there's a high probability of failure.

Maxwell identifies another leadership trait called "the law of legacy." He writes: "Just about anybody can make an organization look good for a moment - by launching a flashy new program or product, drawing crowds to a big event, or slashing the budget to boost the bottom line. But leaders... take a different approach. They lead with tomorrow, as well as today in mind." Looking and moving forward is essential; yet, reputations are made on what's left behind.

A former boss, when told by an employee that she was leaving for a new position, replied, "I see that I've fattened the frog for the snake." The boss crassly acknowledged that he had grown talent. He missed one other fact: With a kiss, a frog can become royalty.

Lisa Davis is VP of corporate communications at AstraZeneca. Each month, she looks at a different aspect of counseling senior management from an in-house viewpoint. If you have any comments or suggestions,
e-mail her at
lisa.davis@prweek.com.

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