One of the hallmarks of good parenting is to desire that your children live a better life than you have lived, even if that life has been a good one; you want them to be happier, better educated, more successful, or at least you should. However, sometimes parenting falls on one side or the other of this ideal: some parents say “if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my kids”. The other side of this is personified by the many, many children of rich, famous, wildly successful people who, all too often, are given so much that they lose any impetus to succeed on their own terms, but instead coast along for a lifetime on a famous name or a trust fund. Getting the balance just right is a never ending challenge, and that balance is just as important when it comes to corporate succession planning.
Let’s make the reasonable assumption that those in charge of corporate succession planning intend that the company do better in the future than it has in the past, however successful the past has been. Let’s further assume that the growing importance of innovation to corporate growth (and indeed survival) is understood, at least theoretically within the ranks of executive. If both these assumptions are true, then it would seem to be a no-brainer that most corporate succession planning should place innovation – the ability to inspire it, recognize it and manage it – front and center. I wonder if this is what’s actually happening though.
To return to the parenting analogy, if you’re like Apple executives and have a Steve Jobs at the helm, do you have the same problems as the parents of the wayward children of the rich and famous, whose children either have no motivation to be successful in their own right, or who find the thought of trying to compete against their parent’s oversized myth so overwhelming that they don’t even try? What about the other side of the parenting analogy? It is probably the more common scenario given that most companies don’t have a Steve Jobs-like leader. Do most executives believe that the methods used to spot and nurture their own talents are good enough for the next generation of leaders as well?
Currently, when deciding who this next generation of leaders will be, executives look for high performance and high potential, but there may need to be a change in perspective when considering the components of both performance and potential. Too often, a review of past performance only uses success as a metric, but failure is an important component of innovation, “fail early, fail often”. Is there a positive metric around failure when assessing performance? When considering potential, how much weight is creative potential given, or at least the potential to nurture other people’s creativity?
Innovation must begin to take front and center in most corporations’ succession planning; to do otherwise is to not do a good job of parenting the next generation of executives.