Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke

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Leadership and Succession Planning

Volume: July 2017

General Electric has done it again! The poster child for excellent succession planning executed a series of high-profile moves just last month. Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s CEO for the past 16 years announced his retirement effective August 2017. Simultaneously, GE announced that John Flannery will be assuming Mr. Immelt’s CEO duties. More impressively, the company announced who will be taking over Mr. Flannery’s position in GE’s healthcare division, and who will be taking the position that that executive vacated to take on Mr. Flannery’s duties. Impressive. GE’s almost matter-of-fact announcement seems so effortless, but, the preparation for and execution of such strategic succession planning is far from it. 
 
How does General Electric ensure smooth transitions of leadership? In my opinion, there are 5 key factors surrounding GE’s success. 

  1. Culture. General Electric was founded by Thomas Edison in 1886. It is the oldest company on the Dow Jones list of 30 industrials. Heck, it’s one of those rare companies that has a two-letter stock ticker symbol. GE’s tenure as an organization and its ability to endure through many rough economic waters has led its employees to view it as a perpetuity. This belief is part of GE’s organizational DNA. Everyone believes that GE will go on forever. This perpetuity mindset feeds GE’s organizational confidence and makes it commonsensical to take actions that support effective succession. As such, they plan so that there are clear leadership succession paths.

  2. Strategic Planning. If you believe that your organization is built to last, you better plan for that. GE most certainly does. Like so many excellent organizations, their strategic plan stretches well beyond the point that most organizations can see. In other words, while they have one and five year initiatives, they also have a vision that runs decades into the future. Simultaneously, they operate with a sense of urgency. It is only the most skillful of leaders that can balance the yin and yang of short-term execution with the demands of long-term planning and vision. For 130 years, GE leaders have fine-tuned this balancing act. With the precision of world-class acrobats, I might add.   
  1. Coaching & Development. The only way to execute excellent organizational succession is to thoroughly prepare your people to lead! GE coaches and develops their leaders in three important areas: Soft skills, technical skills, and organizational acumen. GE invests training dollars in the right team members. The result is terrific organizational performance and handsome long-term leadership returns.

  2. High & Clear Expectations. GE seeks to stock their organization with talent, and then expects every team member to overachieve. If you do not succeed to GE’s exceptionally high goals and standards, you are out. Frankly, this is not a culture that everyone can stomach. That being said, it is an exciting and competitive culture in which many professionals thrive. The point here is that being clear on performance expectations is critical. Further, there is nothing wrong with maintaining high performance expectations, as long as team members operate in an environment in which they can succeed.

  3. Agility. In today’s dynamic marketplace, it is the agile organization that wins. Keep in mind that agility connotes being anticipatory. Effective succession planning demands that organizations are anticipating the future wants and needs of staff, as well as shifts that can alter the course of the marketplace. GE has been quite an agile elephant. Over the past 15 years, they have exited markets in which they appeared to be entrenched and deepened their commitment to markets that they deem to possess current and long-term potential.
 
Bottom Line: If you believe your organization has staying power, succession planning is essential. Strategically plan for the future and position organizational talent accordingly. Enable coaching and development for your key people so that they continually grow their skills. Seek to create a nimble, agile culture. The world is changing and we must shift our organizations accordingly. The future holds amazing opportunities. Position your organization appropriately and you will see that succession leads to success! 
 
Until next time, be well.
 
Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, strategic planner, and Certified Speaking Professional. Call 941-776-1121, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or visit LeadershipSimplified.com.  
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