article banner
From where we sit

Do you want me to succeed you?

Anton Ng

A few days back, while I was having lunch with my four-year old daughter, I asked her if she wants to study at the University of the Philippines, where her mother and I studied. Instead of answering my question, she told me that, when she grows up, she wants to work at her mom’s office. “Not in my office?”, I queried her, not because I wanted her to follow in my footsteps, but because I was curious about how she would reason out. She resoundingly shook her head, while telling me that I have too many “homework,” which I suppose she is not a fan of. “What about mom’s work?”, I continued to ask her. She replied that her mom doesn’t have homework, and “all she does are attend meetings (telephone conferences) and text her officemates.”

Great leaders, they say, create more leaders. This is particularly important for organizations whenever we talk about succession planning. In our respective organizations, we plan to ensure that new streams of leaders are ready to take over when the current holders of leadership positions retire or leave the organization. Apart from identifying who these new set of leaders are, we also focus on mentoring these up-and-comers to prepare them for their future in the organization.

That is all good until we realize that the people we are eyeing to succeed us do not want to. Either their career plan does not include staying longer in the organization, or they have certain perceptions about the demands on the current leader that makes the position undesirable.

Seldom do we think about how successors view current leaders, so much that sometimes it can be detrimental to our succession plans. We often focus too much on teaching the X’s and O’s that we forget the other factors our people might consider. When they see us work, do they like what they see? Are they inspired to aim for our position when we interact with them? Do they entertain the thought that, someday, they will be sitting on our chair?

When we talk about preparing the next generation of leaders, we often forget about whether the successors we are preparing like to succeed us. It is possible that, whenever they see us, whenever they think about our responsibilities and the pressures we are dealing with, they are not inspired to move up the ranks; they would rather retain their current positions or move out of the organization, whether it is because they are not confident they can handle the demands of the higher position or they just do not want to be like us.

People see things differently, shaped by their own biases and experiences. Whether it is about long hours in the office or facing the demands of stakeholders left and right, there are people who may not want any of those in their lives.

Part of our role in the succession planning strategy is to determine what our potential successors are aiming for, what their goals are, and what aspirations they have. It is important for us to also understand who they are and what values they hold highly. It should never be enough for us to assume that our high performers are delivering, because they aspire to be future leaders of our organization. There are simply people who have strong work ethics, regardless of their career plans. Therefore, it is very important that, apart from identifying who the potential successors are, we know our people deeper than the results they deliver.

Another matter we need to be mindful of is how our people see us in the work we do. Is their perception close to our reality? In case there is misalignment, we may choose not to clarify this with them but, remember, it is in the best interest of the organization to ensure that the potential successor’s perception of the position they are being prepared for is correct.

I am not espousing that we become pretentious to make our positions desirable. Neither am I suggesting that we project a more “likeable” image. This is a call for us to remember that succession planning can be derailed, simply because we do not know our people enough; that there is not enough transparency between the leadership and its people to plan collectively for the future of the organization. |

As I look back on the conversation I had with my daughter, it led me to think whether her observation is correct. Am I really always doing my “homework” when I am at home? It dawned on me, however, that regardless of whether her observation is correct, if I want her to make the best decision for her life, the way she perceives the things I do will be a factor in the decisions she will eventually make. A little more transparency between us two would not hurt.

Anton Ng is a Partner of the Audit & Assurance Division of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 900 staff members.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 23 January 2019