A Marketer's Guide To Succession Planning- Liz Weber [Interview]

About Liz Weber

Liz Weber is the president of Executive leadership coaching, at Weber Business Services. Her main interests are in the field of Strategic planning for associations, Executive coaching, and strategic advising. She is a highly sought after Keynote speaker, for various topics which include Leadership retreats, succession planning, and leadership training.

A Marketer's Guide To Succession Planning- Liz Weber [Interview]

Aishwarya Jain

We have the pleasure of welcoming Liz Weber today to our interview series. I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. just a quick intro of peopleHum, peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work with AI and automation technologies. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around  2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.

A Marketer's Guide To Succession Planning- Liz Weber [Interview]

About Sekar

Sekar is the EVP of Engineering. His prior stints include various product Engineering roles in Successfactors/SAP, Yahoo, and Informatica with 30 years of experience in both enterprise and consumer internet products.

Sekar

Welcome, Liz. We’re thrilled to have you.

Liz

Thank you, Sekar. I appreciate this. 

Sekar

Thank you. 

So the first question I had for you, Liz, was to tell us a little bit about your work with Weber. What does Weber Business Services really do?

Liz

Well, basically, what we do is we’re a small company. We specialize in working with organizations in three different areas. So one of the things that we do is facilitate strategic planning sessions and workshops.

So we will work with boards of directors, company owners, leadership teams, executive teams to help them identify and map out – where do they need to take their company or their organization over the next 3, 5, 10 or more years to stay viable, successful, relevant, and take it to the next level?

As part of those conversations and Sekar, invariably, as the leadership team starts to define how their organization needs to be different in the future, the conversation obviously, then shifts to, given how we need to be different, how does that affect the type of talent where we’re gonna need at that point in time in the future? 

So we start having conversations around a succession of workforce planning to identify how they’re talented skill set needs are going to shift going forward.

And so then the third thing that we do is, we also provide long term leadership development and executive coaching to help the leaders within the organizations in enhancing their skills so that they’re able to really develop the talents within the workforces that they leave to really have very viable, fluid and highly talented companies with lots of deep skillsets and talent organization-wide.

Sekar

It’s interesting. 

Succession Planning is obviously something that’s of deep interest for multiple organizations and I would be really interested to know a little bit more about your experience with some of the strategies that you have seen that organizations use for Succession Planning.

What do you think is the magic formula that many organizations use to identify the successes or leaders for tomorrow?

Liz

Well, I’ll tell you first off…

“The thing that I have seen over the years that does not work is where you identify a handful of select high potentials, and you focus your energies on them.”

Because what happens when you have these very few select group that you focus your energies on really becoming the heirs apparent? 

A couple of things happen. Number one, and almost immediately you start creating a divide within your workforce where you have a we-they mentality, where you have the chosen few and everybody else is somehow now lesser than what they were before.

Succession Planning also pulls resources to that select few away from the multitude of others that also need additional developments and you end up putting a lot of time and effort in a select few, and quite often you will pit them against themselves. And so they start cannibalizing themselves.

And then you further diminish the pool that you’re working with, and you hope that the ones that remain will rise to the top and stay with the organization. So by creating the select few, you, by default, create a process where you minimize the potential of candidates that you have to work with. 

So I say that as a process and a practice that I recommend my clients do not follow. What I have seen and what I recommend and what I do with my clients is first off, kind of the antithesis of what I just said is…

Instead of focusing on a select few, let’s create an organization where succession planning, and building depth and backfilling for ourselves is the first and primary responsibility of every position in the organization. So we do it enterprise-wide.

So whether we’re talking about a front line sales clerk or the CEO of the organization, I work with my clients to ensure that every position has one or two, possibly three individuals who, individually or collaboratively, can slide in and fill in for them, should they not be able to come to work for one day because they’re sick or in this current situation because of other factors. 

What that does Sekar is…

“On the path to true succession planning, this basic process starts building depth and starts the leadership team to get an insight into.”

So what is my current talent pool? How skilled are my current employees, and where do we have gaps and where do we have needs currently, with our current workforce that need to be addressed now that could also take us up for succession and future growth. 

So this thing’s a foundation piece first and foremost, and then we look at succession planning. We then look at true succession planning only after the organization has a true strategic plan, because that strategic plan is what’s going to define the type of organization the future leaders and future workforce need to be able to support, manage and lead. 

So quite often with my clients, once we get this basic enterprise-wide depth building methodology and mindset in play, then we take a pause and we say, Okay, let’s now really work on your strategic plan to start educating everybody on that. And if you don’t have a clear strategic plan, let’s get that in place now because that’s the kind of company your leaders need to be up to lead in the future, so let’s tell them why we’re building the skill sets that we’re building.

Sekar

It’s interesting, slightly off the list of questions.

How do you actually then make a distinction between the high performers during the succession planning stage versus the average performer during the succession planning stage? Or should there not be any distinction at all as part of the succession planning?

Liz

So that’s a great question. I’m really glad you asked that, because if there is a term that frustrates me, it’s a high performer, because what is that? What is a high performer? And it depends upon the person who says it in the organization.

So a high performer to one manager may be an employee who comes in every day. It doesn’t cause any problems and does exactly what you tell them to do and maybe a little bit more. And for that manager, man that employee is a high performer because they don’t cause any problems. 

Where for you and me a high performer might be somebody who comes in and just completely does amazing things every day.

“So the term ‘high performer’ to me is bothersome. Because again it can cause teams to pull apart because of what it means to different leaders. So instead of using the term high performer, this is again where I encourage my clients to say, Let’s not focus on high performers. Let’s focus on, given the organization, let’s think about an organizational chart now. Okay?”

So if we have our current organizational chart and we have all of our current employees identified in this organizational chart with their current position title and then in each one of those boxes where we have identified each one of our team members below their name, we have 1, 2 and 3 and in those 1, 2 and 3 spots, we can identify who backfills for them. This goes back to my prior comment. 

We start getting a full picture of our organization and where we have depth and where we have a lack of depth. Now what starts happening here is when we look at that org chart and stage one here we can start to identify high performers or individuals who are really strong in their role because what will happen is we will have individuals who will have their own name in their little box, but they will also have people that can fill in for them because they’re not afraid of power and others knowing what they do. 

And we’ll also get a sense by looking in those boxes where we might have, well, here is Sekar and there’s nobody in the box below him because he doesn’t think anybody can do his job. Well, one manager might say, but he’s a high performer, and my book will say, no, no, no. He’s a control freak because he’s not sharing information. And so this is where we’re, again,… 

I want to look at who is able to do the jobs that we’re currently paying them to do, and we expect them to do competently and who also is willing to build depth in that position because they want to ensure that the work can continue to flow through that position, regardless of who is occupying it at the time. And that is a completely different mindset than looking at a high performer.

“A high performer is an individualistic viewpoint. I want someone who understands. Yeah, I’m a key player, but it ain’t all about me.”

Sekar

Excellent. Thank you. It’s very insightful. 

Many companies now days are also using HR technology tools for doing succession planning and so on. What’s your opinion on these tools? Do you think these tools are effective when really doing a succession plan?

Liz

I think any tool can be effective if you know why you’re using it and it somewhat goes back to some of our prior comments here Sekar, is, if you’re using a tool that allows you to better visualize your current workforce, current skill sets, future needs and future skill sets and analyze that data then that’s wonderful but if you’re using a tool because you anticipate the tool is going to give you the answer, then I think you’re using the wrong tool and you’re using it for the wrong reason. 

You’re not really understanding what Workforce Planning and Succession Planning really is. I hate to say it that there are many managers, and there are many HR professionals who view succession planning as ‘let’s fill boxes with names so that when one person retires or leaves or is terminated, I know who else I can move in to that slot’. That’s filling slots. That’s not succession planning.

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Sekar

Cool. 

So shifting gears a little bit, from your experience working with multiple organizations, can you tell us what will be the ideal way for a leader?

To keep that team members motivated during these really challenging times where team members are distributed across the world multiple time zones, I’m not able to get face to face direct interactions with them. And obviously people are also juggling their home chores along with their work commitments. And they need additional flexibility, all these types of things that are there.

So what do you think as a leader, you would recommend for people to keep their teams engaged and motivated during these types of challenging situations?

Liz

Again, it’s a great question. It’s honestly something Sekar that I have been communicating with my clients regularly about for the past several weeks and the first communique that I sent out to all of my clients and then followed up with videos and things like that is exactly what you’re talking about.

And I simply said “Now, more than ever, you need to be talking with your employees who are now dispersed wherever”, because we don’t fully appreciate the value of interactions by simply bumping into somebody when we’re going to refresh our cup of tea, where we don’t appreciate that when I walk by Sekar’s desk or cubicle, I look in and I can see he doesn’t look quite normal,  that stopping and saying, Hey, how are you doing? That matters.

And it’s for many of us as leaders where we think all this is now touchy-feely. I don’t want to get into it, but we all have certain levels in need of social interaction. And so, one of my clients reached out to me because she had actually had a zoom call earlier that day with all her bureau directors and she was really frustrated because she said Liz, “I told them to call their team members every day and check on them and I got severe pushback”, and she said “I don’t know what to do? They just don’t want to do this!”

And so I had to talk her back a little bit to say, it may be too much to have your managers call every team member, every day, to say How are you doing? That is a bit too much. Particularly if you don’t have that type of relationship anyway. But at a bare minimum, at least once a week, managers need to be having one on one communication with every team member. To simply check on productivity at a bare minimum, you’ve got to check on productivity.

The other thing that I have spent a good bit of time talking with my clients about is whether through coaching calls or just communique is also becoming Hypersensitive. As soon as you get a sense that there is a terseness or friction or stress being communicated through Slack channels, through tweets, through your emails, through text messages. As soon as you start getting a sense that this team member seems a little bit stressed today.

I highly recommend that the manager just sit back and not dash back a nasty response but instead just kind of sit back and wait a couple of minutes and then reach out to that person and say you know what we haven’t talked in a while? I just wanted to check in and  I just want to take a zoom coffee break. Let’s just take five minutes to grab a cup of coffee. 

Those types of insights go a long way, and I can tell you I’ve done that with my little team because, as you elude for a lot of our team members, this is really challenging right now because we’re expecting them to work a full workday and be highly productive. 

They don’t have access or easy access to their work files, their work equipment. We have a lot of people at home with children who do need to be supervised, who need help with schoolwork. You may be competing for access to computers at home and it can be stressful. So we need to acknowledge that.

The other thing and I just did a session last week for a client who held an all-staff zoom pizza party over lunch and what the company did is the company said, Look, we’re gonna pay for all of you to order pizza for lunch. Let’s get on a Zoom call at 12 noon and let’s just talk. And I was on for 10 minutes at the start of that meeting, and I walk them through the change process to help them review what the four stages of change are and how it affects us individually and as a team.

And in that session again, it was just a way for this company and in this leadership team to say, Look, we know we just need to socialize every now and then so let’s just do a zoom pizza party and we’re not gonna talk about work. We’re just gonna talk and find out how we’re all doing over lunch. The same group and others you know, they will have after work zoom social hours where people can log on and have a glass of wine together. If nothing else.

“I’ve had a number of zoom coffee and tea breaks during the day with clients or with my team. You know, those types of things to keep the communication chains open and to realize even though we may not be physically in the same facility, we may not be hanging out in the same office. We can still connect. And as a leader, it’s your job to make sure you do that”.

Sekar

Excellent Insights.

What do you think would be the future of work after we come out of this Pandemic? Do you think the future of work would change significantly? I’m sure that they’re going to be some changes?

Would like to hear your thoughts on how our work culture, the future of work is going to be when we come out of this again?

Liz

Again, It’s really timely because actually, just yesterday I created a template that I’m gonna be sharing tomorrow with my clients and on YouTube, a template to basically do an assessment with clients of, So where are we now? What have we learned through this process? If we’re going to close down, how are we going to do that? If we’re going to re-enter what we’re going to do before doing re-entry. And then what is our new normal gonna look like? Because things are gonna be different. 

There are a lot of things that many of us learned through this experience so far that, honestly, you’re kind of in need, I don’t know about you and your world, but I’ve had some clients that have resisted zoom meetings and zoom coaching and I assume strategy sessions, and this has forced them to experience it. And they’re like, this actually works is like, yeah, this actually works and it saves a lot of time and it’s highly productive.

“So the use of more virtual meetings, virtual gatherings, obviously is going to continue to explode. For a lot of organizations, this has created a resurgence in what I call stage one leadership skills in the need to understand how to review and refine systems, processes, and procedures in really ensuring that we’re doing best practices and how we operate, particularly when we have a number of people doing the same job”.

Let’s ensure in this current environment, we know we have uncovered many, many glitches where we have individuals who are doing things differently because they’re no longer working in the same physical location. 

So there’s gonna be a lot of clean up. I have a lot of my clients right now, also in this process, this situation has caused a lot of organizations to basically implement aspects of their business continuity plans and they’re finding deficiencies in those clients.

“And so what’s happening here is it’s also forcing organizations to now look at what are our most mission-critical products and services versus what were we doing that we thought were most value added?”

Now that sounds really different, but they’re two very different things and a clarification that’s coming out…

With most of my clients that I’ve been highlighting for them is in a crisis, and when you’re in business continuity situations, you focus on mission-critical activities. When you’re in strategic planning, you are focused on vision critical activities. They’re two different things.

And mission-critical really causes us to take a step back and strip away all of the cool things that we do and look at what are the real core, most important things that we do, and so it also then refines, where do you really need to make sure you move your resources? Where you make sure you are really putting effort into the people that support those mission-critical resources to ensure that they have what they need to carry the organization forward. 

So it’s shifting a lot of priorities, it’s going to shift a lot of products and services. and I think we’re also going to see a much-heightened awareness of the need for employees to be much more adaptable and fluid than what we had challenged them to be in the past.

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Sekar

In addition to remote collaboration tools like remote meetings or document sharing and things like that, what other types of technology trends do you see really picking up after this pandemic comes to a new, normal state. 

Do you see some other technology trends other than typical increased usage of remote meetings, collaborations of documents? Do you see any new technology trends coming up?

Liz

I really don’t. I think those are the big ones for my exposure with my clients because there’s yes, there is some, obviously a good bit of, you know now virtual meetings and sharing of digital documents, but not enough, and it’s and it’s not consistent enough. 

This kind of goes back to the need for Stage one leadership in this and the need for really tightening up some of the processes and the systems around those because this whole situation has highlighted still a continuing strong dependency of paper and physical documentation. 

And it’s not age-based, it crosses industries that crosses age groups and it just simply with my exposure to my clients, that is where the big push needs to happen next, with just simply better understanding and better technological capabilities in those areas. 

And I can tell you, here in the States, we need much stronger infrastructure for Internet connectivity because there are just too many people that live in relatively remote areas that do not have strong connectivity, and it limits their ability for school work and now working remotely.

Sekar

Ya It’s Interesting. You did mention about different age groups in the workforce. Obviously, there is a greater number of the millennial workforce now, and there is a rise in also the gig workforce. 

How do you think the leaders have to prepare for these types of scenarios where we have all sorts of jobs done by gig workers?

Liz

Well, I think this situation has actually been a strong impetus to enable that group of potential support workers to really be more valued in ways that they had not been valued before. What opportunities as we look at refining the way we do business? What opportunities do we have for the traditional, eight hour day, nine-hour a day employee? 

And what are those special projects that work more to the gig economy, to the gig type worker and then what responsibilities do we have to the gig worker to build brand loyalty and support. You know that whole area really needs more work of how do we support the gig worker? Because they’re part of our brand. They’re an extension of our brand.

And I think that is also Sekar, one of the things that I’m hearing more and more is a positive coming out of this whole situation is, at least so far there has not been animosity and antagonism between entities. It’s been much more collaborative of How do I help you because if I help you, you help me in return and together we’re stronger. 

So there’s much greater willingness to look at supply chains to figure out. How do we help our entire supply chain, stay viable? Because if I can help my entire supply chain, we can all help our customers going forward and vice versa. So I think there are some positives coming out of it that will allow gig workers and others to be more included in the planning of organizations going forward.

Sekar

Lastly, any important soundbites that you would like to leave for our viewers?

Liz

I’ll go back to something that I stated before is it’s communicating now more than ever and being hypersensitive to the way that we communicate through the written media, whether it’s slack, tweet, text, emails because it again I’ve had a number of situations where, from very senior level to frontline workers, we’ve had coaching conversations about making the relationship right. 

“So if you get a sense that there is any stress, any animosity being conveyed or picked up through written communication, stop communicating in that medium and pick up the phone schedule a Zoom chat. Talk to the person because it’s more important to save the relationship. Than try to clarify and write what you meant”. 

Sekar

Thank you. It’s a really, really wonderful insight. It was a pleasure talking to you, Liz. I really, really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us. It’s been an enriching learning for us and for me personally and will surely be for our viewers too. Let’s keep in touch. And have a safe and healthy time ahead of you. Thank you and good day.

Liz

Thank you Sekar. This has been wonderful. Thank you so much. 

Sekar

Thank you.