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Putting Success into Succession

One aspect of leadership that is often overlooked in the rush to achieve quarterly or year-end results is succession. The myopia that can affect even the most experienced leaders can have a significant impact not only on personal, divisional or even company-wide performance — I believe it has the potential to affect entire industries.

Young, wired and living life on the digital edge -- meet the Millennials.Now, when I say “succession”, I am not just talking about filling roles that will be vacated over time. As leaders we must think broader than this. We must consider the future impact of new workers on our work environments. We need to consider change management, business process, HR — in fact, we need to re-think the way that we manage the business of doing business. And if this post by Ryan Healy is any indication, Generation Y are ready, and expecting, to help.

Ryan sets out ten ways that Generation Y will change the workplace. And while there are some excellent points, my favorites include:

  • We’ll redefine retirement — the suggestion is that a career will be made up of multiple, mini retirements that occur in sync with life changing events (think childbirth, middle age etc) — “When we hit 65, it will be the new 45.”
  • We’ll find real mentors — Ryan suggests that the quality and pervasiveness of mentoring will improve. I too would like to see this expand particularly as it relates to women in the work place.

Let’s face it, organizations are going to need as much innovation as possible. It is claimed that over the next five years approximately 62 million Baby Boomers will be retiring, being replaced by around 40 million from the ranks of Generation Y. The net deficit is significant and the potential impact on businesses is enormous. Add to this the different approach to work that is fundamental to Generation Y and it becomes clear that leaders need to begin addressing these future challenges now — we need to begin to put “success” back into succession:

S – stimulate — Generation Y are renowned for being easily bored. Leaders will ensure that our teams have meaningful work that engages and challenges them. Provide opportunities outside your line of business to stop them looking to your competitor for inspiration.

U – understanding — Realize that Generation Y are wholly different. Change your methods of review and assessment. Decrease the cycle times for recognition and reward.

C- connect — This is the always-on generation. Don’t fear their network of connections — embrace it. There is wisdom in the crowd and it can be deployed to provide competitive advantage if managed well.

C – chaos — Generation Y demand streamlining — they reject the seeming chaos of bureaucracy and encumbrances of red tape.

E – embrace technology — To Generation Y technology is not an “enabler” it is a fact of life. They have never not been online. Technology should be used to provide flexibility (virtual teams, global collaboration etc), knowledge sharing, and career development (virtual classrooms, eLearning).

S – sayonara seniority — Promotion due to seniority is out with Generation Y. It is all about merit and performance. Workforce knowledge and career acceleration initiatives need to be put in place and embedded within your company’s DNA.

S – salaries — Demand is likely to drive up starting salaries — and when coupled with sites like and an openness in communication, Generation Y is likely to cost business more.

Nina Nets It Out: Preparing the way for Generation Y is no simple task. As leaders we need to begin re-imagining our businesses to not only attract but to retain and to grow this new generation of leaders.


  1. Nice post, Nina. Succession planning and development isn’t just about replacement planning for key senior leadership positions (although that’s still pretty important). Succession planning can start during the recruiting process, with an eye towards assessing leadership interest and potential. Companies can offer early career employees workshops to help them explore leadership as a career option and help to begin preparing them.

  2. Dan,
    Thanks as always for your comments/insights. I firmly believe that succession planning, as you say, begins during recruitment. We must always have an eye toward the future leadership of our businesses and be seeking out those that can best take over the reins. Exploring such possibilities throughout a career can ensure the interests and abilities of those that eventually rise to the challenge.

  3. I fully agree with what you wrote, but I tend to take it one step further. While we’re looking at the future America and the employees who will fill all those roles, we also have to acknowledge that more and more of these workers are going to be both minority and female. To this point, neither has had the type of training to be leaders in the workplace on a comparable level, and if special attention has to be given to both of these groups, then companies should start preparing now for that fact.

  4. Mitch,
    Leadership training should and must be offered universally, regardless of whether those offered are minorities or women – so I agree with your premise. Clearly, the current Democratic party elections show us that our country has reached a point wherein these identifying characteristics no longer represent hurdles to the extent that they have in the past. As such, corporations must take up the charge of readying members of these groups for leadership positions in growing numbers. Thanks for stopping by to offer your insights!

  5. Dear Nina Simo!
    I read your article and love it very much, but still confused that why my opnion differs. I feel that succession planning is essential but usually it is neglected intentionally, because of hedgehog of PJ effects. If the person (Manager or Above) knows that they have successor then they will always afraid of being fired or losing their position. It is not intentionally done during the begining phase (recruiting time0 as you mentioned, because then you will get successor, which mean you are getting threat of loosing job for senior position people. I worked for different companies and found that it is required where you do not have your own choice person, mean imposed by some outside influenced. It is actually consieder replica of key senior leadership which is usually not accepted.Any how thanks very much for nice translation of Success.
    Best Regards

  6. Amer,
    Thank you for your comments and insights.

  7. Hi Nina,
    I started with reading the HBR article on traps that leaders fall into when chosing successors and that led me to your post. I love your comment about rethinking the way we do business. My observations and experience have me believing that it’s much easier (and more often) said than done and starting from the top to set the example, every leader has to be committed to making that change. The reference to great mentors is important to the succession and so is taking advantage of executive coaching so leaders can really understand and commit to future success of their people and through them the organization. Succession becomes the real legacy of good leadership. Considering Gen Y-personally, I love the enthusiasm and ideas, but I do have concern over the lack of regard for experience. Any suggestions on balancing between boredom and the need to achieve a level of expertise or mastery which comes with time and learning from mistakes?

  8. Shann,
    Thanks so much for your comment. In my own experience, I have found that Gen Y folks, generally speaking of course, are eager to do great things at work. They do see “greatness” as perhaps different from traditional views of what that used to mean, however, I strongly encourage my managers to empower these folks to do what they see as important, but within guidelines that make sense for the overall business.

    So, as I see it, leaders should hire smart, energetic people, set a direction for the organization, sound the starting gun, observe and adjust course as needed. I have had many a talk with folks on my teams that do things very differently than I might do them. But, I have been humbled over the years enough to know that my way is just one of many ways to an end. This was an important and invaluable lesson for me as a leader.

    As for experience or mastery developed over time, I surely won’t discount the tremendous value of this. However, as I wrote about in a prior entry [], “…someone once said to me when I asked what they knew about my business, “my ignorance is my most valuable asset.” At first I thought this was a flip answer to my question, but upon reflection, this is a rather insightful and accurate statement. It is, in fact, an outsider’s ignorance that allows them to ask questions without being unduly influenced or constrained by existing paradigms and allows for comments/feedback that might not be given by someone more “in the know.” In truth, I have even taken to hiring from outside the industry to reap the benefits of this blissful ignorance!” This said, re-frame a Gen-Y’s lack of experience as a potential asset vs. a liability. Then, combine that with showing them how those of us with experience can add value in a synergistic way with their energy and enthusiasm.

    I hope that offers some perspective, Shann!

  9. I love the “ignorance is my greatest asset” quote and will be reusing that! Thanks.

  10. Shann,
    Enjoy….no royalties needed as it isn’t mine either! ;-))


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