by Michael Friedenberg

Are You Ready to Replace Yourself?

Jan 28, 20152 mins
CareersCIOIT Leadership

CIOs rarely get to name their successors, and companies overall do a poor job of succession planning. CEO Michael Friedenberg says it's time to get serious about closing the succession gap.

I was recently talking with a CIO on the verge of retiring after nearly 20 years, and I asked who would be replacing him. What he said surprised me.

“I don’t think they are going to take my recommendation,” he said frankly, referring to his endorsement of a senior IT leader. “I wish them the best of luck.”

So many organizations talk a good game when it comes to succession planning, but very few actually play it through. I asked this retiring CIO if this was just his personal recommendation or if his company had an internal succession plan in place. He admitted there was no plan, adding that he knew departing executives don’t get to pick their successors. Yet he’d been hoping his 20-year track record would make his opinion count for something.

I’ve heard estimates that fewer than 10 percent of CIOs are succeeded by internal candidates, so this isn’t an unusual story. Nor is the problem confined to IT leadership. In a recent Deloitte Consulting global survey of 260 senior business leaders, 52 percent of the respondents said they had no succession plans in place and (even worse) had little confidence that their direct reports would be following them into the C-suite.

With so many succession gaps looming across our enterprise landscape, why are so many companies ignoring their responsibilities? Isn’t it time we all took succession planning more seriously? Not only for our own roles, but further down the executive ecosystem, as well. Talent always trumps strategy. Why do we spend so much time mapping out product strategies while blithely ignoring the need to cultivate the talent required to deliver results?

From some of my recent reading, I’ve identified these three guiding principles to strengthen succession planning:

1. Develop, don’t just plan. Provide real growth opportunities and stretch assignments for your high-potential employees.

2. Keep it simple. All succession planning has to do is focus the key development activities. It doesn’t need to be complex.

3. Be transparent. Once you’ve identified potential successors, talk to them about their career objectives. Make sure you’re on the same page.

I’d love to hear more from you about how CIOs are stepping up to this challenge. What are you doing to close the succession gap and, when the time comes, replace yourself?