I don’t normally follow the market too closely but recently noticed that the value of my Apple stock was declining faster than the overall market. Analysts have speculated that concerns over Steve Job’s health and lack of viable successor have caused the decline. The thinking goes like this: with Jobs, Apple is able to produce hot-selling products, such as the MacBook, that sell for 2X what competitors like Dell are able to charge. Without Jobs, Apple’s products (and stock value) are on par with Dell’s.
If the analysts are correct about the reasons for the drop in stock value, the market has placed the cost of the lack of viable succession plan for Steve Job’s in the range of $5B to $8B. Forks, that is a lot of iPhones and iPods.
The articles I read reminded me of the value of succession planning for project managers and other leaders. Do you have a viable succession plan? Do you recognize the cost to you and your team if you don’t? If you are the one indispensable part of your team, then you limit the team’s ability to take on new challenges. You have also limited your ability to take on new challenges.
For those of you who do not have a succession plan, my guess is that you are scared. I know for me, I like to be perceived as the guy who gets it done. My dark secret is that I fantasize about being so important and valuable to the team that they cannot live without me. I want nothing more than to hear, “we couldn’t do it without you Anthony”, or, “you are the key to our success”. This line of thinking believes that if someone else could step into my shoes, then I must not be very valuable.
Of course, that is really just my ego talking and that would be a very foolhardy approach. I probably acted that way when I was in the early part of my career, but now I know better. I don’t want to be the critical linchpin of the team. What I want is to create the most effective team possible and turn them loose to achieve the goals of my customers. In the process, I want them to grow in their abilities and I want to continue to grow as a project manager and leader.
I think I am doing a pretty good job of succession planning. For example, I have been leading a large IT program since June of this year. Two weeks ago, I offered to take on a leadership role for two troubled projects and I transitioned the IT program to my deputy. We made the transition in a week with very little formal communication.
I think the reason for the smooth transition was that we had prepared for this. I had delegated a large share of the project management and leadership responsibilities to him. I let him lead; rather, I expected him to lead and supported him to step up to leadership in various areas. He ran the daily standup calls. He ran the overall program schedule. And he was my backup when I was not in the office. Even though he was my subordinate, he was able to quickly step up to overall leadership for the program because we had shared the leadership and program management roles.
I challenge you to pause and to evaluate your own succession planning. Are you grooming the team under you so that one or more of them can take over for you? Are you delegating work, giving them assignments, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses on a regular basis?
If you are not, evaluate what it is that you fear. Do you fear being replaceable or being replaced? Do you fear not being perceived as valuable? The cost to you and your team may not be in the billions of dollars, but I guarantee you that it is pretty high.