Succession Planning: Are You Prepared?

By Arthur Langer  |  Posted 09-27-2010

Recently, I have had a number of conversations with executives who say they are seeing the same faces and people recycled among various firms when new CIO positions become available. The question I always ask is: Why not promote from the inside?
The typical answer is disturbing: There is no one even close to taking on the position, especially in the eyes of executive management. Why is that the case?
Upon further investigation, I concluded that there are two major problems:

  • The CIO has not provided a long-term plan for the role of technology in the firm. Many CIOs simply tell me that their executive management is not interested. But I think the problem is much deeper--one that suggests that the CIO has not provided a vision of where IT fits in. So, logically, one can conclude that when that CIO leaves, the executive team is not clear on what IT's role needs to be. As such, top executives frequently see an opportunity to bring in someone from the outside with fresh ideas. The downside, of course, is that your second-in-command managers are devastated because they feel passed over.
  • Perhaps more relevant is the lack of succession planning to fill your own role-- regardless of whether you are promoted, moving on or retiring. I have received a number of calls from CIOs asking if I know of candidates who could fill their own position. This usually occurs when those CIOs move into more senior "operational" positions. It is amazing how many have not prepared their replacement.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Take inventory of your staff. Do you have someone who can potentially fill your job? If not, either recruit someone quickly or provide a path for someone over time. Also, you should have more than one candidate. Allowing multiple candidates to compete for the job is not such a bad thing. You might lose one of them, but that is part of management development.
  2. Clarify your vision. Are you able to provide at least a short-term vision of IT's role? It's not only important for the enterprise; it's also essential for succession planning. No one wants to wait for a promotion to a job that they don't understand. Your vision must be clear and have structure, or candidates will lose confidence in your ability to get them into the C-suite.
  3. Bring your deputies to more meetings. Let them participate, and allow your peers to get to know them. Executive management often decides to go outside because they simply do not know your senior managers. Allowing more executive interface opportunities for your people can be a great motivator in building interest in your role.

Remember, all great managers--and great companies--focus on the importance of
succession. It's a fundamental executive responsibility: You should be influencing your successor. But you cannot influence at the last minute. In the end, it might take one to two years of preparation. If you have not established a successor yet, I suggest you do so soon -- especially if you want that next promotion.

Art Langer is senior director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Community Engagement at Columbia University.