Republicans provide a cautionary tale in succession planning

The party establishment did not want Donald Trump but because they failed to properly prepare other candidates, they're stuck with him

bad bossVANCOUVER, B.C. June 7, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, is not a Republican. If ever there was an example of an organization that lost control of its succession planning process, the Republican Party of 2016 is it.

The Republicans have, in effect, hired an outsider to lead them into the next election. Since this was not the intent of the party’s establishment, something clearly went horribly wrong.

The Republican Party isn’t the first institution to fail miserably at managing its leadership succession, and it won’t be the last. While the majority of organizations don’t have the benefit or responsibility of voting for their leader, there are some important lessons for all of us about how to effectively plan for leadership succession.

  • Listen to your stakeholders when establishing the job’s critical success factors. Republican delegates clearly surprised the establishment by rejecting each of the sponsored nominees in favour of an outsider. They knew what they were looking for in a presidential candidate and Trump fit the bill. The establishment either misread the base or mistakenly believed they could power through their wishes. Either way, they clearly had no idea what qualities were going to be required to get a candidate past the post in 2016. The lesson: genuinely solicit and seek to understand the perspective of your stakeholders. In failing to understand what others are expecting of your next leader, you run the risk of supporting someone others won’t. It is critically important that the person you select be seen as a good choice and someone your stakeholders can support.
  • Identify multiple, diverse potential succession candidates. The Republicans did something right – they generated a lot of potential candidates (unlike the Democrats, which is a different kind of cautionary tale around succession planning). What they did not do was identify a sufficient number of candidates that would appeal to a broad base of their constituents. The reason for developing a pool of candidates is to give the organization choice when the succession event occurs. Things happen. Sometimes the job requirements shift due to unexpected external or internal events. Other times, a seemingly obvious candidate is not ready quickly enough. Some, like Marco Rubio, will simply not peak in performance at the right moment. The lesson: maximize the likelihood you will have the right candidate at the right time by identifying, and developing, a pool of viable potential candidates from which to choose.
  • Target development to maximize each candidate’s potential for success. Identifying your succession candidates is the first step. How you develop them will increase or decrease the probability you will have a clear successor when you need one. Development needs to align with what will be required to be successful in the job. In the case of the Republican establishment candidates, the development each undertook over the past four years to prepare to be the nominee was insufficient. Despite their background and achievements, none stood out as having the qualities that members wanted in their candidate. Trump, on the other hand, was able to convince people he is presidential material. The lesson: the development for each of your potential succession candidates needs to be carefully designed. Not only do you need to ensure each develops the knowledge, skills and attributes that will best prepare him or her for the job, each needs to develop the ability to stand out as being ready for the job.
  • Think long and hard before hiring a successor from the outside. Trump is the equivalent of an external succession candidate; someone from outside the system brought in to drive change. Clearly, the Republican base wanted more change in Washington than the establishment candidates were promising. Putting him forward as their candidate gives them, at best, a 50-50 shot of achieving that change. The hard reality is, given what has happened on the Democratic side, they actually had the opportunity through this campaign to dramatically increase their odds of putting a Republican in the White House. The lesson: organizations often believe, falsely, that achieving change requires a leader from the outside. The research on the success rate of external vs. internal CEO candidates, on the other hand, is quite clear: while the differential impact on results is infinitesimal at best, the organizational upheaval that accompanies an external candidate is often profound.

Trump, if elected president, will likely cause profound upheaval on a national scale — and then the whole nation will pay for the Republican hierarchy’s failure to properly manage succession from within.

Troy Media columnist Rebecca Schalm, PhD, is founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides organizations with advice and talent management solutions. Rebecca is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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