‘Next Person Up’ Should Remain Top Priority

By April 19, 2019Beyond Supply Chain

The phrase “next person up” is often used in the sports world to describe the time when one player has to unexpectedly step in for another, often due to injury.

Today, select professional franchises are identified by the phrase because of their success at being able to replace player after player, year after year, without losing competitiveness. The New England Patriots — the American football team — are perhaps the most notable example. The fact that a team can do this over and over highlights that it is the organization’s preparation that determines the outcome, not just the individual. In business, we call it succession planning.

In today’s unstable environment, it’s easy to push succession planning down on the priority list or forget about it altogether. After all, we are busy trying to predict the future of economic unions, tracking presidential tweets to determine which country is next on the tariff list or figuring out how to get product in the country should borders abruptly close.

Despite all of that, succession planning needs to remain at the top of the list. Business periodicals and case studies are littered with companies that rose to the top under a particular leader, only to falter within a few years under the leadership of someone else who didn’t fit the company, the times or both. Steve Jobs’ creation of Apple, his departure, subsequent collapse, his eventual return and the successful handover to supply chain alum Tim Cook is a multi-chapter case example that highlights the need for the right “next” person.

While that example is at the CEO level, the same plays out within supply chains across the globe. But proper succession planning is not easy. Research shows we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to picking and planning not only our own successor, but those of key areas in the business.

At times our own career ambitions cloud our ability to provide an unbiased assessment of peers. We may only promote our own preferred candidates or direct reports as potential successors (consciously or unconsciously). We may identify successor candidates only from within the organization, neglecting external searches as an attempt to “protect” what we’ve built. All too often we limit successors to the pool of direct reports instead of looking deeper in the organization or outside traditional paths to the role.

One of the biggest errors: thinking the heir to your role or another key role within the organization will lead the same company you are. Chances are the next person will inherit a very different organization than the one you did. It needs to be recognized that the “next person up” may need to look and think very differently than you.

Just how different could it be? A survey led by my colleague Dana Stiffler showed that over one-third of supply chain executives believe the talent pool will need to substantially or totally change to cope with the profession’s evolution in just the next three years.

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This is way too big to go it alone. Every leader needs help. To ensure a higher degree of success, and that we get out of our own way, Gartner identified six key roles that should exist throughout the succession planning process:

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It does not matter what stage of career lifecycle you find yourself. You might need succession planning for key roles to keep the organization you plan to lead for years from skipping a beat. Alternatively, you might be a few years from entering a new phase in your life, with the “next person up” continuing the legacy you started.Source: Gartner

Whatever the case, succession planning is much too important to let slide down the priority list, no matter how busy we get.

Michael Uskert, Chief of Research, Gartner Supply Chain



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