It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

– Steve Jobs

Advisors play an important role in every corner of society; investors have financial advisors, the Prime Minister has exempt staff, and universities have student councils. Business is no different. When the stakes are high and performance is important, leaders are better when they work together.

A powerful example of advisory in corporate leadership is the Succession Advisory Team (SAT). SATs are the collection of people who devise, implement, and manage a company’s succession plan. Together, the SAT collectively sets goals for their succession plan and seeks to gain buy in and engagement from other members of the organization. The SAT is responsible for ensuring progress is made by holding people accountable to their roles in the succession plan. In essence, the members of the SAT are the “champions” of succession planning in an organization.

Benefits of the SAT

Among the most common succession planning pitfalls is the tendency for organizations to delegate full succession planning responsibility to one individual. This may seem to be a quick way to devise a plan, but it is not an appropriate method for establishing a company-wide initiative.  Succession planning is a strategic process that will require the perspective of multiple key stakeholders in your organization. Board members, CEOs, executives, and senior management must all be involved. Studies have shown that without the support of senior management, 70% of succession planning initiatives fail within two years. That’s why establishing your SAT is so important; it’s a surefire way to maintain executive-level support and include a variety of perspectives in your succession plan.

Building the SAT

Team building is perhaps one of the most difficult and important functions of organizational management. It should come as no surprise then that the process of building a succession advisory team should not be taken lightly.

When choosing your advisory team, think about the following:

  1. Who has time to commit to the SAT?
  2. Has anyone demonstrated interest in employee development and succession?
  3. Who is persuasiveness enough to motivate others?
  4. Does someone have the authority to hold people accountable?
  5. Who has the ability to make decisions about succession?
  6. Is someone flexible enough to adapt to changes in the organization and adjust the succession plan accordingly?
  7. Who has the organizational skill set required to execute an effective succession planning process?

Note that your SAT should possess these qualities collectively. It’s not necessary (or possible) for every member of the SAT to be strong in each of these areas. An effective SAT will bring a variety of skills, perspectives, and ideas to the table, which strengthens both the initial plan and the day-to-day implementation.

The Skill Set

As you consider who has the organizational skill set required to execute an effective succession planning process, look particularly for leaders who are:

  • Future-focused. Your SAT must be able to see beyond their short-term goals or circumstances. The benefit of succession planning is allowing the company to prepare for the future long before new leaders are needed.
  • Strategic. Your leaders will need to be aware of organizational strategy so that they can develop other leaders who will be able to understand and execute it.
  • Visionaries. It’s important to find people who understand your organization’s mission and vision so that they can identify people who have the potential to carry it forward. This is an important part of maintaining an organization’s corporate culture and not just its financial viability as a business.
  • Organized. Look for employees who possess strong organizational skills to support the implementation of an organization-wide succession planning initiative.
  • Influential. Members of the SAT must be respected leaders. They will need to motivate succession candidates to take on critical roles while also guiding managers throughout the grooming process.
  • Connected. The primary function of your SAT is to identify and develop potential leaders in the organization. Find people who are well connected through exposure to junior staff, mentoring relationships, or cross-departmental responsibilities.

Building Diversity with the SAT

Far too often successors look exactly like their predecessor. This happens because incumbents promote their prodigies without considering the range of potential candidates in their organization. By establishing a diverse SAT, you’ll be more likely to recognize potential in a variety of different forms. Diverse SATs include members with different experiences, perspectives, and even demographic characteristics. Consequently, it’s this range of representation that will allow you consider a broader range of succession candidates and make more robust decisions.

It’s important that the members of your SAT represent functional diversity. When looking to the advisory team, people often choose most or all of their c-suite executive team. However, they should also look outside this group. Are there department heads that could be good advisors? Administrative staff? Any other critical, influential, or responsible individual who would make sure the plan stays on track? We recommend including at least a few senior leaders, someone from HR, and other people with critical roles in the organization.

Finally, it’s important to remember that advisory teams will look different in each organization. The goal is to elect a team that will best serve and represent you.

Getting People on Board

To establish your SAT, you may find that you first need to invest some effort into getting people on board. This process often involves making a business case for succession planning and explaining the importance of having an advisory team. For additional resources on how to begin this process, check out our blog on selling succession to your CEO. You can also take a look at our succession planning services here, or contact us below if you have specific questions about how SIGMA can help you.