Planning Leadership Growth and Transition

– Sukhdeep Aurora, Group Chief People Officer

“Leadership Transition” is a critical phase for any organization, more so in the context of  fast-growing, experienced start-up firms. The start-up firms are primarily driven by the  vision and leadership of the founder/entrepreneur, who builds a winning team during the  formative phase of the company, and gains confidence and credibility of key  stakeholders. With a strong growth story, led by the founder and his leadership team, any  changes in the leadership may get associated with risks such as a loss of organizational  momentum, lower morale, lack of trust, and loss of goodwill among stakeholders, which  may have huge implications. Steve Jobs’ announcement of leave of absence led to a  10% drop in the stock price of Apple Inc.

It, therefore, becomes imperative for an entrepreneur to think beyond the formative  phase, and establish a leadership transition plan, to ensure a smoother progress of  organizational leadership and its consistent evolution. While succession may not be  imminent, as a leader one should be prepared for potential transitions and to “visualize  to actualize”. There are multiple aspects that need to be balanced while devising the  “Leadership Transition Plan”, as follows:

Managing Emotions/ Expectations: Leadership transitions are fraught with emotional  tensions, and historically, organizations have witnessed exodus of key leaders from the  company, along with leadership transitions. While managing everyones’ expectation  may not be possible, initiating changes effectively, proactively developing and  managing expectations, fosters a positive atmosphere for change.

Develop or Hire: Both have their pros and cons. “Grow your own” organic strategy is  better, and motivating for existing employees, however, it requires a comprehensive  succession plan to identify and manage talent. “Hire from outside”, on the other hand is  perceived to be more risky, and time/ resource consuming, but can bring fresh  perspective and momentum to the organization, and is more relevant for re-alignment  of transitions.

Aligning Transition to Organization Strategy: Transitions at the leadership level are driven  by various motives such as Re-alignment, Sustaining Success, Turn-around or New Business  Development. One needs to understand their current business situation and develop a  transition plan that matches and supports the going-forward organization vision and  strategy.

You may have heard of organizations that have emerged stronger from transitions and  also organizations that lost momentum on account of prolonged leadership gaps. Most  often, it’s the inability of the leader to let go off the day- to- day business activities that  delays the transition planning. However, given the high risk and uncertainties associated  with leadership transitions, corporates must adopt flexible frameworks to enable gradual
transitioning, through a thoughtful deliberation, stakeholder understanding and  collaboration.

  • Leaner/ Flexible Organization Structures: Organizations are moving towards more  leaner and functional structures, from the conventional rigid organizational structures.  Leaner structures bring in Organizational Agility, which is more amenable to change, and hence enables smoother transition.
  • Effective Communication Mechanisms: Inadequate communication combined with  transition, may create anxiety within the company. A well deliberated and  communicated leadership transition planning program reinforces the confidence of  all stakeholders in the capability to handle the task of executive selection, onboarding and business continuity. Further, while the transition is in process, the leader  should effectively use the communication strategies and interpersonal exchanges to  facilitate the transitioning initiatives.
  • Spotting Future Leaders: As briefly covered in my previous article “Leadership Deficit” is a key growth challenge faced by companies today. An entrepreneur has the flair  to identify and pick potential leaders from the organization and fast-track them. If  managed properly, your company can become the breeding ground of future  leadership for the company which requires considerable mentoring.
  • Unlocking Leadership Potential: The identified leaders need to be coached, to help  them think through and prepare for enhanced responsibilities. They should be  challenged to adjust their leadership/ management styles suited to the new role, and  eventually maximize their potential as a leader invariably with demonstrated strategic  and execution skills.
  • Result Oriented Action Plan: The first few months for the new leader are critical to build  the momentum and establish credibility with the team. A well articulated action plan,  such as a 100 day execution plan, can be quiet useful in securing early wins which  then lay down the foundation for a strong future. 

As a leader, an entrepreneur needs to play a very crucial role in setting stage for  leadership transitioning, and use this as an opportunity to establish a leadership culture in  the organization. At YES BANK, we have developed creative & flexible organizational  frameworks, and invested in developing leadership capacity and bench-strength at all  levels. There are numerous examples of home-grown talent who are now leading  individual business units within the bank, and am sure I will see many more such instances  in future.

Successful transitioning of leadership, while preserving the values/ ethos of the  organization, and trust of the stakeholders, allows it to adapt to changing business  scenarios, and continuously excel in business endeavors. I would like to mention the  name of Tata Group, India’s oldest and best known business conglomerate, which has successfully executed this in the past, and is now looking for a deserving successor to  lead their large business empire.