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The one without the silver bullet

You know those breakfast briefings you get invited to? They usually start at o’my god o’clock and are somewhere in London? This is about one of those. The thing that distinguished this session from most was it opened with one of the speakers saying “what we’re going to tell is not a golden bullet if that’s what you were hoping for”. My interest was piqued

This particular session was hosted by Wickland Westcott with their client the Co-operative Group. For those of you that aren’t aware of WW (which may be many as they are one of the best kept secrets in HR consulting) they are a small/boutique firm with offices in Macclesfield & London. I must confess now that I’ve done a fair amount of work with WW and rate them highly so may not be at my most objective in what follows.

The session was co-presented by the consultant who’d led the work, Keith McCambridge and the HRD for Talent from The Co-operative, Jackie Lanham. That was the first difference – it wasn’t a consultancy saying ‘this is how we saved our client’ and it wasn’t a practitioner saying ‘this is what we did….oh and they helped’. It was Keith who said the golden bullet line (I think he meant silver bullet) and what followed was not a review of process and procedure but rather a narrative of the shared experience of delivering a succession plan to the Co-operative.

Some of the key points shared in the session were:

Fear is a great motivator

Rather than using an argument based on the logic of “we really really should have a succession plan you know”, the motivator behind getting the work done was – look at M&S and Vodafone, they didn’t have robust succession and look at how much trouble it caused them. Not sexy, not sweet but effective!

Focus on the people who want it

The succession process at the Co-operative wasn’t an obligatory/everyone must fit in a box process but rather focussed on the people who demonstrated desire to want to advance. This sparked an interesting debate about the fact that driven people are not always competent to move forward and the competent people sometimes don’t want to move forward.

Don’t hide from the Well Poisoners

A well poisoner is a term I first heard attributed to Walt Disney and describes those people who are not only negative towards your change/initiative but actively work against your change. In this case these people were involved early on and some were included in the steering group for the project.

Process is a turn off – hide it!

As with a lot of projects of this nature, there is a lot of process involved in making it actually land. However, for the participants and the leadership this is not the element that will engage or excite them – hide as much as you can.

Context is key

The Co-operative is a high growth acquisitive organisation that means new and challenging roles will be created and drive the need for succession. This context means the appetite you create by engaging in succession planning can be satisfied by the organisation but being aware of the context in your organisation is important before embarking.

I really enjoyed the session (and the breakfast) and it was good to hear of an organisation focussing on and more importantly embracing succession planning not just as a paper exercise but as something that becomes part of the strategic development of the organisation. Jackie did share the fact that 2 executive appointments had been made internally that previously would have required external search – more than paying for the process – clear ROI, nice!

I await my next briefing….but in the meantime, Keith – cash no cheques and Jackie if I could direct you here


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