March 6, 2017

Will your career path take you to the top?

By Jim Annis, CEO


Succession planning is the cultivation of new leaders to replace old leaders. Today we’re writing it from the employee perspective. Why? Sometimes as employers we really do not know how to identify future leaders. Other times employees who could be leaders are screaming at us – in nonverbal ways – that they’re interested but we are too busy to notice. Employees, here are case studies demonstrating how to break through the noise and create a path to succession:

1. Robert has been a loyal employee of a local nonprofit for 20 years, moving from role to role with institutional knowledge above all others. The president (who came aboard three years ago and appears threatened by Brandon’s tenure), announced an outside search for an Executive Director. Brandon was crushed. He thought that his experience would put him next in line naturally; however, he realized that he had not overtly expressed desire to become executive director. He changed it up, first by taking a more active role at board meetings and networking to bring in several large donors. During his review, he asked the president about his vision for change. The president offered a few ideas. Brandon asked to champion the priority projects. In the meantime, a new executive director was hired, but left after only six months due to a family emergency. By that time, Brandon’s projects were successfully implemented, and the president brought forth Brandon’s name for the position, which was met favorably.

2. Calista is a supervisor and millennial who has combated the generation’s negative stereotypes. She has self-direction and knows several boomers retiring in three to five years. She began grooming herself for a leadership role. Calista has always been a detail person and accuracy accounting software gives her confidence. She identified the need for personal development in communications, leadership training and hands-on experience in managerial finance. She began to express curiosity to the CFO about the financials and asked if she could be involved in their preparation. During that experience, she opened a dialogue about suggestions for the budgeting processes which were adopted. Although it was not a requirement, she began the MBA program, understanding that the big picture would help her lead. She proactively scheduled a career path meeting with the CFO and the VP of HR to throw her hat in the ring for promotion. She will be considered as one of the three internal candidates in one year when they begin the transition process for the current CFO to become the new CEO.

3. Tom got the nod to be the CEO six months ago. He had been VP of sales for 15 years and seemed to be the natural choice of the current CEO who appreciated the company’s growth. Tom’s official start was a month ago. He has changed his mind. Tom loves the travel associated with his sales role, but the role of CEO requires physical location in the Bay Area. It was stifling. Although he realized he should have acted sooner, he enlisted the help of the HR department on a confidential basis. Though the EAP program, the company provided a personal professional coach and sports psychologist, as Tom was a former professional athlete. The coach took him through a personality test and assessments, then helped Tom identify areas of the CEO roles in which he needed support and resources. Tom avoided demotion to his VP role. Promotion followed by demotion typically does not work. He would need to leave soon after. Against the odds, Tom beat the Peter Principle (selection of a candidate for a position based on the candidate's performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role), eventually embraced the CEO challenge and became a successful leader.

Employees are all in different situations and have different goals in their career path. Finding the next leader takes work from both the employee and the succession planner.


Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Applied's COO, contributed to this article.

As seen in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

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