Women are making progress in corporate leadership. A record 41 female CEOs are scheduled to run Fortune 500 companies in 2021.
Along with this positive news about diversity and equality in the workplace, business observers think another good example was set by a male CEO deciding to step down in 2021. Zalando’s Rubin Ritter said he is leaving his position so he can put his wife’s career first.
While these actions atop corporate structures signal steps forward for women, the challenge at many companies remains how to create a culture of diverse and equal succession planning at all leadership levels, says Jennifer Mackin (www.jennifermackin.com), ForbesBook author of Leaders Deserve Better: A Leadership Development Revolution and a leader of two consulting firms.
“Diverse teams are built through a focused and strategic succession plan, which identifies the best talent early on and commits to developing those people over a long period of time to replace leaders who inevitably leave,” Mackin says.
“It’s been proven that executive teams with varied backgrounds and leadership styles offer important advantages to businesses. And the C-Suite must drive the succession planning strategy in order to maximize the process.”
Mackin offers five ways for companies and their HR departments to create a culture of equal and diverse succession planning:
Intentional emphasis by top leadership. Through her experience working with many organizations, Mackin has found that even among companies focusing on diversity and inclusion, most haven’t hit their goals. One of the problems, she says, is a lack of clear initiatives backed by leadership. “Many companies don’t implement a succession plan consistently,” Mackin says. “If current leaders don’t have the time to devote to it, it comes back to bite the company when potential replacements aren’t properly prepared. It requires a culture change, where top leadership embraces diversity as a foundational part of the succession plan and the company’s future growth.”
Commitment for the long term. Mackin says it can take three to five years for a company to have sufficiently prepared people for their next move. Yet many companies find themselves in a position where they lose a key executive and they haven’t planned well enough ahead for the transition. “Succession planning is a long, detailed process that takes into account all the demands of the job while determining who best to fill it,” Mackin says. “That requires documenting key knowledge and skills needed for success, and the company identifying support and development needs to make the replacements ready for their new role.”
Focus on all leadership roles at all levels. “A sound culture top to bottom relies on the HR team to ensure that potential leaders at each level are thoroughly prepared,” Mackin says. “That requires a broader development plan for every individual in the organization.”
Measuring performance objectively and subjectively. Mackin says consistent and high-performing employees who keep improving and take on more responsibility may have the right stuff for leadership. But determining how to objectively measure the performance of a possible future leader is critical to the overall process. “It is difficult to create a succession plan without objective data and leadership coaches, who can extrapolate that data and know what it means in terms of leadership capability,” Mackin says.
Share company plans with leadership candidates. “Sharing the plan shows employees that the company is thoughtful about their future plans, is willing to invest in employee development, and that there are opportunities to work toward,” Mackin says. “Communicating and outlining all roles will help others aspire to gain the knowledge and skills they need to fill them in the future.”
“Diversity and equality need to be a cornerstone of succession planning,” Mackin says. “That kind of culture starts at the top and never stops, showing that real progress means everyone’s included.”
Jennifer Mackin (www.jennifermackin.com) is the ForbesBook author of Leaders Deserve Better: A Leadership Development Revolution, and a leader of two consulting firms – CEO of Oliver Group, Inc. and President and Partner of Leadership Pipeline Institute US. As an author and speaker with over 25 years of consulting experience, she is a recognized leadership development influencer, having worked with CEOs, human resources managers, leadership development leaders, entrepreneurs, and other senior leaders in all industries. She earned her BS in marketing from Indiana University and her MBA from Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University.